With the war between the Principality of Wiltia and the August Federation over, military hero Lud “Silver Wolf” Langart has left his life of piloting Hunter Units to open a bakery in the quiet border town of Organbaelz—only problem, he has no customers thanks to his scary face! All hope is not lost though, when a mysterious young beauty pleads to become a waitress for the shop. Little does Lud realise, his new waitress Sven isn’t exactly what she seems.
The Combat Baker and Automaton Waitress volume 1 is the first in an ongoing series by SOW, and illustrated by Zaza. Originally a BookWalker Global exclusive in 2017, the digital release by J-Novel Club has now been made available on digital platforms as of September 2019. The book is translated by David Musto, and has previously been reviewed by Cho.
The Great Europea War has finally ended, bringing an unsteady peace to the region. Now, free from his duties as a soldier, Lud Langart is trying to open his bakery Tockerbrot and start his new life. Things don’t go too well for the former Captain despite his efforts, as his military background make him an unwelcome addition to the small town, and his rough, scarred face kills any remaining goodwill. His only customer is a young boy named Jacob, who insists on paying for his bread—and the only one aware of how delicious the bakery’s goods are.
It’s Jacob who encourages the gruff soldier that he needs a ‘fairer’ face for customers, and although Lud is pessimistic on the idea that any young girl would want to waitress for him, he’s surprised a few weeks later by the mysterious Sven. With beautiful silver hair and ruby-red eyes, the girl begs for the job—ready and willing to devote her life to Lud forever-after. The reality is that Sven is actually an Automaton, filled with the AI personality Avei from Lud’s Hunter mecha during the war. Over the years together the two formed an unbeatable partnership, and the AI grew to truly care for the man who gave her a name and thus individuality. Feeling lost and abandoned after the war, Avei jumps at the opportunity to rejoin her ‘master’—her newfound body a top-secret military project.
Despite the existence of wacky hijinks in the story—where Sven doesn’t quite understand human strength, or gets a little too overprotective of Lud—the story doesn’t feel like a comedy, or even a relaxed look into the daily life of the bakery. There’s a pervasive unrest within the town of Organbaelz, and tensions are bubbling just below the surface. Part of the newly-established region of Pelfe, the citizens don’t accept being annexed into the Principality of Wiltia. The townspeople see Lud as an outsider, a part of the military who brought death and destruction to their town only a few years prior, and refuse to buy his bread.
Aside from Jacob and Sven, the bakery’s only ally seems to be Marlene—a sister at the church who looks after the town’s war orphans—who welcomes the leftovers to feed the children. The church and Marlene play a pretty crucial role in this book, not only in the actions throughout the plot, but as an avenue for Lud to truly face the consequences of the actions he took a part in. All’s fair in love and war, but the reality of a country in and recovering from conflict is never pretty. Together, Lud and Sven (as Avei) very likely created more orphans than they could ever know—and the ex-soldier now accepts the disdain and hatred as his earned fate, willing to bear the burdens of his choices.
For Sven, she has a much harder time reconciling human emotions—not understanding how the master she loves so much could be hated by others for doing his job well. She takes it upon herself to try and convince the townspeople to try and buy the amazing array of breads, and doesn’t fully understand the nuance of upset and hurt and betrayal that the war caused. She may look human, and she definitely has a wider emotional range than the other copies of her program, but Sven (or Avei) has a long way to go before she can fully appreciate how people survive after trauma.
Later we get some insight as to why Lud decided on becoming a baker, and I think this scene gives the character some much-needed motivation and depth beyond the ‘tough soldier with a heart of gold’ trope that has become prevalent within light novels of the past few years. I can only hope Sven gets a similar sort of development in future novels, because right now her personality is painfully one-note in the ‘crazy over-protective girlfriend’ way.
There’s a lot of directions this premise could have gone, especially with a title like The Combat Baker and Automaton Waitress, so I’m glad it surprised me with a purposeful exploration of the impacts of war and survivors guilt, even if it’s dressed in a maid outfit. The book was far from perfect though, and the first half really had me struggling to read it. There’s an amateurish quality to the writing, and Sven’s utter delight in servitude to Lud is grating to read (although understandable within context). Thankfully the dynamic between them keeps the baker at a near-constant confusion at the girl’s actions and undying love—but it also makes Lud look like a clueless idiot. Sven is anything but subtle, and the plot suffered in order to keep Lud ignorant of her true identity. I can’t really say if I enjoyed this book, but I can appreciate what it was trying to do.
But the major issue I have is that for a book that has multiple plots, conflicts and characters introduced, if doesn’t feel like much happened at all. I think this was due in part to the amateur writing style, as important scenes lacked ‘impact’—it felt like the writer struggled with building the tone of each scene.
Overall, The Combat Baker and Automaton Waitress was surprise. The novel was a mixed-bag of ideas, some better executed than others, and with some surprising poignancy when it’s trying.
Gee’s Rating: Maybe Recommended
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