Originally Posted: August 23, 2020
“Once he was gone, I grabbed the first thing I thought of – my satchel – then thought better of it. Instead, I walked to the bed, grabbed a pillow… and flung it full-force at the door.” – Mayna, frustrated by her situation.
This passage is only a glimpse at the drama that ensues from Mayna and Ray’s broken relationship. When work (read: fate) forces them to be near each other, what sort of verbal fireworks and artillery can we expect to see?
Of Dragons and Fae: Is a Fairy Tale Ending Possible for the Princess’s Hairstylist is a one-shot (stand-alone) fantasy-romance light novel filled with flowers, dragons, and lots of hair! The plot follows Mayna Spring, a Flowerkin, whose first romantic encounter is with Ray Alide, a Dragonkin, who declares that she is his Bondmate (i.e. soulmate). Unfortunately for her, he realizes he was mistaken and breaks it off in a matter of days. Doubly unfortunate is that, due to work, she has to see him every day for the next month. In this story, romance and drama are braided together in this narrative and finished with an action-esque accessory. Tsukasa Mikuni (an experienced writer) brings to life a world of magic and style alongside some expressive illustration by YukiKana.
How was my description of the book? Did it get you even a little interested? Well, if you have the time, please go check it out! One can easily finish it in a sitting or two and then we can talk about it at length. For this spoiler-free review, we will make a few comparisons to The Werewolf Count and the Trickster Tailor, Vol. 1 – a paranormal-romance also published by CIW – whose review I have previously completed. Now, with that out of the way, let’s get started!
To start, let us talk about the story’s hook. There is something seemingly mundane and familiar about it. Everyone has had a failed relationship of sorts resulting in some future awkward encounters. This experience helps us empathize with Mayna’s situation. By extending the feeling, we hope that it all works out for her by the end of it all and, thus, creates interest and investment in the story even before you’ve opened the covers. That’s how Tsukasa Mikuni traps you. Then, like The Werewolf Count, this story wastes no time in getting the plot started. As if the hook must be checked off a list, we are whisked into the meeting of Mayna and Ray. Unlike the forced meeting of the pairing in The Werewolf Count, Of Dragons and Fae creates a believable situation and prepares for the drama that ensues. Overall, Of Dragons and Fae‘s hook is sturdy, quick, and effortlessly drags you in.
After the start, the overarching plot deals with the engagement of the Princess Patricia of Myulan and Prince Dario of Vaxwald leading up to their marriage. Much of the drama revolves around the politics, preparations, and issues of such a momentous event. As this is set beyond the powers of our main characters (Mayna, in particular), the narrative explores the consequences of each step rather than how our characters drive the plot. This can be good for characterization as it provides many situations for our characters to react to but risks losing their agency and, by extension, our investment in their actions. Of Dragons and Fae takes the best of both worlds by having Mayna’s reactions work towards solutions to the problems that appear. However, this creates a nagging feeling that our protagonist isn’t really the main character of the story. In short, the plot is a strong backbone for the narrative, characterization, and drama but lacks a consequentially-equal relationship with our protagonist.
Filling the roles of the plot are a wide range of characters. However, as this is a romance light novel, let us focus our attention on the main pairing. Mayna is a hair-obsessed Flowerkin in the employ of the Princess. She’s hard-working and dead-set on avoiding love after her break-up(?). On the other side is Ray, a Dragonkin knight whose rude and aggressive nature makes you want to punch him in the face. As Of Dragons and Fae is written in the first-person, I believe it properly conveys Mayna’s feelings about him. However, the first-person perspective has some negative effects on character development. As our time spent with other characters is dictated by Mayna’s interactions with them, there is a large disparity in the depth of their characterizations. This issue is especially true for Ray and other key players. Despite hinting at their pairing, we spend more time with the Princess and side characters. This leaves the poor dragon knight small snippets of time for his actions and development romantically and as a character. This issue is further exacerbated by the short length of the light novel. As mentioned in the plot discussion, the character development Of Dragons and Fae does is great but perhaps a little misdirected.
As an aside before we discuss the romance, let us take a quick look at the setting. Other than the existence of the many types of “-kin,” the world is one of a typical fantasy affair. Given the brevity of the story, this allows Tsukasa Mikuni to focus on one small set of elements. The existence of magic, knights, and human-hybrids helps build the familiar fantastical atmosphere but Of Dragons and Fae goes one step deeper. One particular scene dealing with hair styling sans modern technology was quite interesting and fun. However, the inclusion of modern figures of speech broke my sense of immersion when they appeared. While this light novel takes one step in the right direction, this critical flaw hurts the overall experience and can be a deal-breaker for others.
Now, we get to the point of the light novel. It is romance that ties everything together and contributes to the drama. The important element in Of Dragons and Fae is the concept of a “Bondmate,” something perfectly allegorical to a soulmate. Alongside our main pair, many side pairings explore conflicting perspectives around this concept. The focus on such a topic, as well as its placement at the forefront of the drama, allows Tsukasa Mikuni to delve into the implications and tie its consequences to our main developments. However, this idea is far from untested and trying to provide new insight or twists on it will be difficult – especially for a narrative as short as this one. And, as mentioned before, the length has already affected the characterization of Ray. Combining these two factors makes it hard to find much interesting or engaging in Ray and Mayna’s relationship. Further detriments to this include the clunky dialogue and Ray’s inability to communicate (perhaps related issues). Comparing their relationship to Rock and Ebel’s from The Werewolf Count, we see their issues are born of misunderstanding rather than of ideas/character. For those familiar with shounen romantic-comedies, you know this can be very frustrating and time-consuming. And the story’s length can’t afford any time to waste. Without going deeper into the book, I will simply summarize: this relationship is the weakest aspect of it all. For a hook that promises lots of drama and exploration of the pairing, the story is seriously lacking. Fortunately, the side pairings and their explorations regarding Bondmates are better done and don’t suffer from the same issues.
Aside from the romance, the author has incorporated a lot of detail and effort into hair-styling. Whether we are examining the main character or minor faces in a crowd, Of Dragons and Fae spends ample time describing their hair. As we take the perspective of the hair-obsessed Mayna, this helps us see the world as she does. And Tsukasa Mikuni’s love of the topic is clearly communicated through its inclusion. However, these sections can bore those with little interest in hair and create obnoxious speed-bumps in an otherwise speedy narrative. A better implementation would be to tie plot keys and foreshadowing to details in one’s hair (there are instances of this but they are few in number and lack proper depth). Additionally, more art with the many hairstyles would have been greatly appreciated!
Like always, let us finish with some additional details. As mentioned prior, the flow of the novel is quick. This keeps the plot tight and the reader engaged. However, this is contrasted heavily by the lengthy descriptive sections (for the hair) and dialogue. The combination makes for a jumpy read. One moment you’re flying through the plot and the next you’re stuck behind a paragraph long speech. As with the romance, the experience is simply frustrating. I would like to note that it is likely intended to weave dialogue and narrative together to increase density. However, the execution leaves much to be desired. Next, the illustrations in this light novel are beautiful and frequently placed at interesting moments. With the number present, you would think every chapter had something exciting happening (this is the case, by the way!) Though, for me, a critical flaw comes from the last illustration. This is simply an aesthetic and personal issue but, for what and where it is, I was extremely disappointed. Finally, rather than purchasing the paperback, I would recommend getting the e-book. The thin size makes the book easy to warp and lacks the heft to help hold it open. This results in an oddly strenuous experience that bears its marks after the first reading.
Overall, the book is an okay read for those looking for romance-elements in a fantastical world. It’s tight narrative and quick flow make for an engaging experience. While its hook, overarching plot, and Bondmate concept are strong foundations for its story, critical issues in the dialogue, character development, and lack of time spent really hurt the main relationship. Side pairings and detailed hair descriptions add lots of flavour but don’t make up for the weak romance. I would recommend this short read to someone who likes fantasy-romance but has yet to get the illustrated light novel experience. (Then send them to The Werewolf Count immediately after to get them really hooked on light novels.) Here’s to hoping we see more of Tsukasa Mikuni’s improved works in the future!
3.6 / 5 – Somewhat Recommended
To readers of fantasy-romance looking for a quick snack before jumping into a larger (and more rewarding) series.
To lovers of shape-shifting dragons, flower-conjuring hairstylists, and saccharine-sweet princesses.
Hello! Thank you for taking the time to read my review (even if you scrolled straight to the bottom). I hope that you take home even a little of what I’ve written down. This time around, I even changed my format a little to cover more topics and make it easier to read.
If you’re looking for just a little more reason to give it a read: Princess Patricia is just the sweetest girl. Also, her hairstyles are always pretty! The more art you get to see, the more of Mayna’s work you get to appreciate!
I’m 春華 or Haruka, aspiring novelist, light novel reviewer, and the recently titled “Effortlessly Effervescent Embodiment of Eloquence.” I’ve only started diving into light novels, so please bear with my naiveté. You can follow my Twitter for updates on my reviews and writing progress. And if you want to talk about light novels with me and many others, consider joining our Discord here! Let’s all get along!