The small port town of Lotto Valentina, situated on the outskirts of Naples, is not quite what it seems. As a serial killer takes their twenty-seventh victim, the town is abuzz with rumors. At the same time, in a large private library in town, the young Huey Laforet attends alchemy classes in secret—disaffected from the rest of the world, including his classmate Monica Campanella, as he flips through books during lessons. But his quiet life of avoidance is quickly intruded upon when a new student comes to town—Elmer C. Albatross.
1705: The Ironic Light Orchestra is the eleventh volume in the Baccano! series, written by Ryohgo Narita featuring artwork by Katsumi Enami. Yen Press’s English release once again features translation by Taylor Engel, and was released physically and digitally in September 2019.
We’re back with more Baccano!, but the story has yet again jumped to another timeline. Compared to the previous time this happened, in 2001: Children of Bottle, this is a jump to the past—predating even the fateful ship ride to the new world which started the crazy sequence of events in the 1930s. In this novel we see the meeting of 15-year-old Huey and Laforet who, five years later, would gain immortality together on board the Advena Avis. In the afterword, Narita explains this novel as functioning like a side story more so than an active part of the plot, but I do think it’s an important look into these characters—especially for two as interesting as Huey and Elmer. Their friendship had been referenced and alluded to in previous books, so it was enjoyable to see how the two met.
As always, we get new characters. Monica Campanella is the most notable and, from what I’ve seen around, is a fan-favorite. The pretty young teen is the closest thing Huey has to a friend at the beginning of the story, and harbors a large crush on him. Comparatively, Huey sees her as little more than an annoyance; aware of her feelings, but (seemingly) with none of his own. She herself is a strong addition to the ever-growing cast, and I look forward to (likely) seeing more of her. Her shy demeanor shrouds the true depth of her character, and we only see a small part of it revealed in this book. The other main addition is the eccentric nobleman, Esperanza Boroñal. A dedicated lover and protector of the world’s women, he is unabashedly prejudiced whenever having to interact with other men. Paired with his painted-on facial stars that give him a distinctly odd look, he’s given little respect despite being the ruling Noble of the town. He is the reason that Elmer finds his way to Lotto Valentina, and his connection to many of the people in town is ripe to explore. We also have another young girl named Niki introduced, stuck in the middle of the town’s problems and being abused by her boss. Her character is the one that is essential to the plot of the The Ironic Light Orchestra, but not the Baccano! story itself. We also have the necessary cameos of familiar characters, tying together these events with the future we’ve seen.
Of course, much of the book is focused on the characters we’re most familiar with: Huey and Elmer. Although being seemingly opposites, the two have more in common than Huey expects. Most notably: being the son of a witch. The death of his mother five years before is what fuels Huey’s hatred for the world; sure that the fault lies with the entirety of humanity. Seeing this side of his personality—so different from the fascination he has in humanity during the 1930s—is both compelling and humanizing. Huey has always existed as an enigma within the story thus far, so it’s refreshing having his life expanded. In the same sense, we can see how Elmer’s previous life experiences made him into the ‘smile monster’ others see him as. Hiding both cunning and lack of empathy behind his easy-going personality, we get a pretty direct indication of why.
Aside from being an opportunity to introduce and explore the nuanced and complicated relationship that Huey, Elmer and Monica have, the main plot of the book is about the mysterious slew of killings happening in the town—the only clues? A white mask covers the face of the perpetrator, and any witnesses are the next to die. It’s the seedy underbelly of the community bubbling up, yet the news of the multiple murders has not reached further outside to neighboring towns. Lotto Valentino has dark secrets to hide, and a community willing to do anything to protect their freedoms. The disconnect between the upper classes and the commoners is distinct, and the fine line of plausible deniability and outright aggression cranks up the tension. When things inevitably breaks down, it seems like the natural conclusion to the set up.
As always, Baccano! is a delight. Although the story breaks away from the main plotline, it’s a welcome change of pace after the three-volume long arc of the previous books. It also helps set the stage for what we know is coming in the future, and it’s yet again a testament that Narita can juggle so many characters and switch settings without issue. Although Lotto Valentino is on the other side of the world (and three hundred years in the past!) from New York, it all feels like the same story. If you’re a fan of the character interactions of the series with little concern to the actual events of the plot, this will definitely be right up your alley. I’m sure we’ll see more from the little town of Lotto Valentina in future books too.
Gee’s Rating: Recommended
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