Review: Wolf & Parchment – New Theory Spice & Wolf (Vol 3)

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Col and Myuri are on their way back to the mainland from the isolated islands featured in the previous novel, but a storm batters their ship before they arrive in their intended destination of Rausborne—enough that they’re forced to stay in the bustling town of Desarev whilst waiting for repairs. The two are welcomed with open arms as Col’s reputation precedes him; with stories of the Twilight Cardinal traveling around to save those without access to religion in the Kingdom of Winfel. They also meet Ilenia, a wool merchant and tax collector, who has a secret of her own. Welcome back to the world of Wolf & Parchment–New Theory Spice & Wolf.

Written as always by Isuna Hasekura and with illustrations from Juu Ayakura. Released in October 2018, this third volume of the Spice & Wolf spin-off is published by Yen On with translation by Jasmine Bernhardt.

After the events of the last novel, the holy man-in-training and the daughter of the Wise Wolf find themselves stuck in an unexpected port town after a storm damages their ship. Luckily, thanks to Lawrence’s close ties to the Debau Company and Col’s own friendship with Hyland, they have no problem finding accommodation at the local Debau trading branch, headed by the young merchant Sligh. Appreciative for the generous offers of food and lodging provided by the other man, and his own selfless nature, Col finds himself wrapped up in speaking to all manner of town residents—eager to get the blessings of a holy man in their lives. This is exacerbated by the rumors following them; about the Twilight Cardinal bringing a religious hope for the people in a Kingdom that has separated itself from the Church.

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Whilst waiting for their ship to undergo repairs, and with the pressures of the frequent requests on Col, he and Myuri decide to visit the church atop the hill, closed to the people. There’s a conversation in this scene that Myuri starts in regards to marriage—and the implication of the two of them someday getting married themselves (to each other)—that whilst wary, was handled well. I have made my distaste for this plot line and suggestion clear in the past with regards to these books, but so far, Hasekura had not betrayed my hopes yet. I’ve mentioned previously that I much prefer the dynamic between the two as a sibling bond, rather than romantic; and despite Myuri’s constant push, Col has stayed steadfast in his own disapproval. It was nice to see how clearly he defined their relationship as brother and sister, and how his mentality was unlikely to change the perception he has for the younger girl. Even Myuri admits momentary defeat after the revelation that calling Col anything other than ‘Brother’ at this point would be awkward… it seems like a strong ‘win’ against any romantic development between the two, but it may also instead be planting the seeds of possibility by making Col consider the future. The romantic subplot could still go either way at this point, but right now it still unclear which way the author wants to commit. If it does eventually end up with the two romantically involved, I can’t say I’ll be surprised, but I’ll definitely be disappointed.

Aside from this though, we also have the larger plot too. When the two are at the church they meet a young girl being thrown out by the priest. In trying to help her to her feet, they uncover spiraled horns atop her head—a sign that she, like Myuri’s mother Holo, is not in fact human. This seemingly-young woman is Ilenia—a sheep who trades wool and collects taxes—who has come to collect on the church’s back tax. There’s an outstanding debt of 50 gold pieces, but Ilenia’s motivations go deeper than just her duty to her employer. The church of Desarev is said to be the home of a certain holy relic—the cloth of Saint Nex—and the sheep avatar has reasons to want it. She dreams of establishing a country far to the north, away from humanity, where the legendary Pagan animal gods can live in peace. It’s a glimmer of promise for Myuri and her mother to live without having to hide their true selves, and the young wolf can’t help but be curious. Col, too, wants a safe and bright future for the wolf women he’s grown up with, so has little reason to dismiss the dream. She also mentions the possibility of the Moon-Hunting Bear living out of sight in the same area, protected by the fierce waves and weather. Such things are why Ilenia wants the cloth in the first place—a blessed fabric that can survive anything, to create the sails of the ship she wants to travel in. The only problem is, the priest refuses to let her in. Col and Myuri decide to help her with mediating with the church, and achieving part of her plans for the future.

The current priest claims he’s little more than a shepherd, put in place as a stand-in after the true priest escaped the town years before, and has no money to pay for the taxes owed. There’s little of value in the treasury and storage, and it’s only through Myuri’s sharp senses that the four of them uncover where the real deal is hidden away. Of course, nothing is ever straightforward when dealing with transactions between people, and trouble inevitably arises. The remaining treasures and relics are stolen, and the sheep, the wolf and the holy man find themselves caught in a trap to incriminate themselves. The grand finale to the book was action-packed and clever in the way Hasekura accels at, and I was pleasantly surprised at the turn the final chapters made. Like with the rest of the Spice & Wolf novels, many may find the action is ‘too little, too late’, but I find it’s the slow buildup over the novels that makes the conclusions so satisfying. This series (and the previous) has always valued it’s discussion of economics, theology and politics, as well as the regular witty back-and-forth between characters, just as highly as the more action-packed elements. It’s one of the largest reasons it’s persisted for so long.

Wolf & Parchment: New Theory Spice & Wolf continues to be a strong spin-off from the series that birthed it. This third volume, like the previous, has elements I’ve grown wary over, considering the track record of some Japanese media, but so far it has not disappointed my expectations. The grander plot outside of our main characters continues to be incredibly intriguing and complimentary to both Spice & Wolf and our new characters’ motivations, and the possibilities opened up in this book seem very promising. For those who have been following the series up into this point, this volume really highlights the potential for these characters—in fact I’d go so far as to say that the books are standing on their own merits, independent to the previous generation. This isn’t just a superfluous sequel series being supported purely by fans nostalgic to the original; it’s earned the right to be taken seriously as an addition to the wider world established thus far.

Gee’s Rating: Very Good

You can purchase this book online via sites like Amazon (available in paperback or as an ebook) and Book Depository (which offers free worldwide shipping). These are affiliate links, so a small percentage of sales goes toward this site.

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