English Title: Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina
Japanese Title: 魔女の旅々 — “Majo no Tabitabi”
Author: Jougi Shiraishi — “白石定規”
Illustrator: Azure — “あずーる”
Translator: Nicole Wilder
English Publisher: Yen On (Yen Press)
Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina is a series of adventures held together by their shared main character, the witch Elaina. While the book has some semblance of linearity, it does not have an over-arching narrative. This is more of a magical travel log than a novel.
After passing the certification exam to become a full-fledged witch, Elaina decides to follow the inspiration from her favorite series of books and explore the world. While she sometimes gets pulled into events, she does her best to maintain an impartial and distant stance and act only as an observer. After a short period of time, days at the most, she leaves, whether situations have been resolved or not.
There are fourteen tales in this first volume. Some give background on Elaina and also on how one becomes a witch. A few are linked by goofy characters and played strictly for laughs. But the majority are standalone stories that have a mostly melancholy tone. Some chapters are stronger than others. Overall, the book seems more concerned with giving us glimpses into an odd and magical world. There are times when the stories present a slightly heavy-handed moral, typical of fairy tales, but overall they fall more into the category of showing the nature of the world and its humans without commentary.
Part of this lack of commentary comes from the detached nature of Elaina herself. In fact, one of the more jarring things to me about this story was the lack of a clear hero.
My natural inclination was to think of Elaina as one who would right wrongs or fix things which are broken. But she isn’t that person at all. More often, she flies away with her back to the horrors still occurring, or set to occur, behind her. Even her voice makes her feel distant from the events of the stories–she is snarky and judgemental. It is often at odds with the events happening around her. For this reason, I initially disliked Elaina. In the beginning I found myself asking, “how could you not do anything?” This was particularly an issue immediately after the first story, where Elaina seemed more willing to help someone in need (even though, looking back, she was only doing it because she was currently stuck in that town).
But after spending some time traveling with Elaina, I started to change my way of thinking about this book. It isn’t a typical light novel filled with wrongs for the hero to fix. Instead, it is a journal about a world with flaws and wonder to match. And all of it is narrated by this young girl who has a bit of a sharp tongue who keeps most of the ugliest things at bay by never getting too involved herself. As we traveled further, I found myself intrigued about seeing more of this world. And with the chapters giving us some more insight into Elaina’s character, I found that I liked her a bit more with each trip.
I suppose what I’m saying is, I ended up really enjoying this book despite myself. But it took realizing that the world, not Elaina herself, is the main character. Elaina is our guide, not our hero. I think it also helped to improve my thoughts of the novel as it progressed as the stronger of the stories occur later in the book. This could be due to the webnovel origins of the series as the author would’ve become more acquainted with his character and world as they wrote more.
I see where down the road, perhaps that might change. After all, there are some hints Elaina might be more than she lets on. Is there a reason she needs to see the world? Will her judgements after seeing all there is have larger ramifications? I don’t know the answer. I don’t even know if the author intends for any of that to matter. But I am intrigued.
In the end, Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina is not going to be for everyone. It’s lack of cohesive narrative and tone will turn some people off. But this world held wonder for me. It was a different experience than most light novels. And for that reason, I intend to journey with Elaina again. Recommended for fantasy fans who love exploring the world as much/or more than the actual stories told there.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Justus R. Stone has been running a light novel dedicated YouTube channel since 2014. He’s also the founder of the Light Novel Podcast, one of the first English language podcasts dedicated to Light Novels. In addition to his love of Japanese light novels, he is also the author of his own light novel-inspired series, The Bleeding Worlds.