For general information on this series: The Dark Maidens entry
This review is for The Dark Maidens by Rikako Akiyoshi (with art by Booota). This standalone novel was released in English by Vertical in May 2018.
There’s a lot to unravel for a book like The Dark Maidens. First of all, is it a light novel? Well, as far as I can tell, it was first released as a “regular” novel (published by Futabasha), and then later got a re-release published by Futabasha Junior Bunko, adding in the manga-style illustrations expected of light novels. (It is this second version we got for the English release.) I imagine this was done to coincide with the live-action film adaptation that released in Japan the next month.
At any rate, the book is a murder mystery, in which the students of an all-girls school literature club meet together to work out how their club’s president (Itsumi) must have died. Was she murdered by one of them? Each girl takes a turn reading out a short story, giving her viewpoint on the various events that led up to Itsumi’s death. The setup here is what makes The Dark Maidens stand out most, working with a premise similar to the classic Japanese film Rashomon (based on Akutagawa’s short story “In a Grove”), which popularized the plot device of several characters providing conflicting accounts of a crime.
Rikako Akiyoshi takes this concept, and places it in the “Class S” genre of Japanese fiction set in all-girls schools (which focus on the close bonds of friendship between the girls). Some yuri light novel series would work with these tropes to create romance stories (such as Maria Watches Over Us and Strawberry Panic). But in the case of The Dark Maidens, the author crafts a much more sinister plot. The girls of this fancy literature club are all good friends, right? So why would any of them want to kill their beloved club president?
I’m a fan of dark mysteries, so this was a lot of fun for me to read. The novel essentially plays out as a series of short stories, with the final one stringing all the previous accounts together to provide the full picture of what really went down. The further along in the book you get, the more clues you have to work with to try piecing together who is purposely lying about what, and who is simply mistaken about what. Some of the stories here are more engaging than others, but I feel The Dark Maidens is the sort of work that’s more than the sum of its parts. It encourages the reader to guess to what degree each character is telling the truth, and to try working out what their true motivations are during certain events. There is no impartial ace detective here to do all of that for you.
Most likely what will stand out the most to readers though is the ending. Suffice to say this one makes a huge impact (and a strong lasting impression), but at the same time doesn’t feel out of place at all. The build-up is slow and steady, but when those final reveals are made–BAM. Definitely one you don’t want to be spoiled for!
If you’re in the mood for a tale of fiendish machinations, you can’t go wrong with The Dark Maidens. It’s a well-written collection of stories with a strong narration style that directly addresses the reader and pulls you into its overarching mystery. Definitely a unique narrative to be experienced here for light novel readers.
Cho’s Rating: Strongly Recommended
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