Originally Posted: September 27, 2020
Lowellmina had managed to lower Falanya’s guard by taking her side during their conversation with Cosimo. And when that happened, Lowellmina pounced. – Toru Toba, during the anniversary ceremony of Mealtars joining the Empire.
In this story of a princess’ first foray into diplomacy, we see the jaws of the veterans bare down on her. Will the fire that is political maneuvering be too hot? Or will it forge Falanya into Natra’s greatest diplomatic asset?
The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt (Hey, How About Treason?), Vol. 4 is the newly released entry to the fantasy light novel series where well-planned words trump the emotional sword swing. And in this next step of Wein’s endless troubles, we see many converging paths and blossoming growth under adversity. In a sudden turn of events after their wars, the Kingdom of Natra is invited to the merchant city of Mealtars to attend a summit that will (hopefully) settle the Empire’s inheritors. Doubly suddenly, Natra’s young princess – Falayna – asks to go in her brother’s stead! This is a story of meddling older brothers and blossoming princesses: one expertly weaved with politics, action, drama, and comedy by Toru Toba. With Falmaro’s beautifully expressive illustrations continuing to complement the writing, the whole book is a treat for series veterans to enjoy.
Hey everyone! It’s been a while since the last Genius Prince review, and our format has changed a lot. But like a certain princess, we still have much growing to do! Now, as a disclaimer, this is one of my favourite series. Thus, I will try to highlight the best parts to get you to read it (and talk with me about it!) However, as I did for The Alchemist Who Survived review, we will also talk about some of the weaker aspects – just in case you’re on the fence on continuing. With all that out of the way, let’s get on to our regularly scheduled spoiler-free review!
To start, let us appreciate the very colourful cover for Vol. 4 (as compared to Vols. 1 & 2). As the series grows, it seems their art budget does too! And I’m quite excited to have it add more energy to my bookshelf. Moving on to the coloured inserts, we see that the series has solidified its decision on avoiding fan-service-y scenes. This allows them to focus on more important moments and introduce the many faces we’ll encounter. With that, I have one minor gripe: the third insert should have focused on another not-as-spoiler-y but significantly-more-critical scene. Lastly, as per the series standard, a map of the relevant region is provided (see below). Other than my previous notes of better setting development, I’m happy to see that we’ve expanded well into both the East and the West. With a story set in four states (Marden, Gairan, Cavarin, and Systio here), I’m excitedly anticipating the next region we get to explore. Now with first impressions out of the way… let’s bite into the meat of the text~!
As mentioned before, the focus in this volume is the imperial summit occurring at Mealtars. It is a gathering of the four imperial children to settle the Empire’s inheritance. Many of their supporters are also present to appraise the situation as it develops. The summit is important for many reasons, and we will name a few: (1) it focuses on the huge background conflict occurring in the Empire since Vol. 1, (2) it’s timing creates an opportunity for characters beyond Wein to shine, and (3) it is at an intersection between the worlds of the East and West (each given a spotlight in Vol. 2 and 3, respectively.) All of these factors give the potential for an exciting story: one filled with previously loose ends and unexpected reunions. The choice of such a premise by Toru Toba is narratively strong; it develops ongoing stories and creates new opportunities to keep things fresh. Will Vol. 4 uphold its promise of a great story? We’ll talk about this at a later date. For now, The Genius Prince continues to choose interesting situations in which our cast is forced to react.
Before we continue, let us talk about the city of Mealtars – specifically its value as another region in the world of The Genius Prince. It is a merchant city set near the border of the East and the West. The positioning along an opening in The Giant’s Backbone makes Mealtars an important military and trade center. Thus, the city’s support is very valuable to the Empire’s inheritors. But like Natra, it has some special privileges granted to it – mostly autonomy and the lack of meddling imperial soldiers. And with some additional ties to the West, it became a wild card of sorts. This makes it the perfect political battleground for the imperial candidates – a narrative strength. It is also interesting; it has a citizen’s parliament and troubled history. However, it lacks some finer details that would help it be more world-consistent. Two examples, in particular, are given: (1) the influence of Levetia’s teachings aren’t seen in Mealtars, and (2) the absence of imperial troops makes it a poor military checkpoint. For (1), in Vol. 3, we see the West’s entrenched disdain for women (e.g. Caldmellia) and Flahm (e.g. Ninym and Nanaki). From that, there is a surprising lack of hate for the likes of Lowa, Ninym, and Falanya from a city with ties to the West. And (2) is an inconsistency whose presence affects the later parts of the volume. Overall, the choice and initial design are great but suffer from consistency and connectedness issues. The ever-expanding world will continue to harbour these risks but such errors do not detract too much from the story – their absence only removes a subtle flavour from the whole dish.
Like the setting, we give the focus to the characters beyond the norm. In particular, we see many developments from Falanya, Ninym, and Lowa. As the latter two have been around for longer, we’ll describe the adorable little sister. Falanya Elk Arbalest is the princess of Natra and younger sibling to the titular prince. Up to now, we’ve only seen her interactions with citizens of Natra – and for good reason. Falanya is a coddled girl: one who lives in the shadow of her older brother. Her admiration and love for Wein are what makes her want to improve. But she is left without any chances because Wein gobbles them all up. However, with the prince tangled with war recovery efforts, Falanya finds her opportunity! While her initial motivations are very brother-oriented (*ahem*), the princess does develop throughout this entry. At first, it can feel frustrating as Falanya clings to her thoughts of Wein – as exemplified by her conversations with Lowa. But then there are moments of naivety, inexperience, and uncertainty. And among them are points of growth, independence, and curiosity. Slowly but surely, she will stand alongside her revered sibling. We will not go into further detail as I believe it is a treat one should read for themselves. To summarize, I love Falanya. Despite the lack of deeper motivations (like Wein and Ninym), her arc is welcomed. For a series that lacks characters changing over time, Falanya is that spark that hopefully kicks off further development from new and current cast alike.
After Falanya, there are many other characters present at Mealtars (for one reason or another). For spoiler reasons, we will avoid doing any detailed analysis. Instead, let us talk about a series trend of characterizations: particularly, the antagonists. For those who have read up to Vol. 4, you may have noticed that many of these characters are shallow and non-recurring. They are also generally unredeemable. At best, they’re played for absurd twists and comedy; at worst, they’re just a stepping stone for Natra’s expanding influence. It is for these reasons that defeating them feels unimpactful and forgettable – like a one-off comic villain. However, Vol. 4 improves the formula a little more by re-introducing and adding recurring antagonists. This gives time for such characters to develop and generate some nuance. Additionally, it seems each of them symbolizes a different political strategy – thus, requiring unique solutions from our protagonists. And the summit at Mealtars is the perfect event for such a change in the series. Arguably, Lowa somewhat opposed Wein and Ninym starting in Vol. 2 but she is more of a rival-type rather than an antagonist. In short, while the shallow characterizations for many of the antagonists remain, Vol. 4 decides there is always room for improvement and takes the path towards it. Hopefully, we will see the fruits of such a decision in future entries.
Now with the premise, characters, and setting lightly discussed, let’s talk about some plot elements. Without delving too much, Vol. 4’s structure is similar to the other entries in the series. Political maneuvers in the form of schemes and large-scale action in the form of factional war are both present in Vol. 4. The biggest change comes in the form of a focus on Falanya. Relatedly, there are many more perspective shifts, and this feels disorienting at times. Such implementation can become very cumbersome as the number of characters increases. But The Genius Prince always makes such decisions to further thicken the plot and build-up to great twists (comedic or otherwise). Next, one coincidental improvement is the use of multiple antagonists. Despite the weaker characterizations continuing to affect the political intrigue (as discussed in the Vol. 3 review), the interactions between plans from conflicting schemers create excitement and interesting results. This was something missing from Vol. 3 that Lowa had added in Vol. 2 – and now taken to the next level in Vol. 4. On the other side of matters, large-scale battles have lost much of their spectacle with Toru Toba shifting focus towards the politics behind it. This removes the unimportant formation descriptions and replaces them with more political dealings – a doubling-down on what makes the series great. For me, this is a welcome change. And there will always be assassination attempts and alley fights for action-junkies. To summarize, Vol. 4 is seeing some changes from the formula in all of its parts. While they all seem to improve the story presented, we will see if The Genius Prince continues their use in the future.
To end it off, we’ll talk about some additional details. As always, Toru Toba continues to pack in a great amount of world-building, excitement, and dialogue into its short length (~180 pages). The first two chapters are an excellent example of this; they wrap up Vol. 3, set up the premise for Vol. 4, and connect them seamlessly. And this is all done with a coating of humour – mostly directed at Falanya’s brother-complex and Lowa’s horrid(?) personality. Of course, the comedy extends well beyond this to include some absurd, but not illogical, twists. Now, one aspect I especially enjoyed was the pre-trip flashbacks to Wein describing the plans to Falanya. These sections were well-done given the siblings’ relationship, the skewed exaggerations about Lowa, and Wein’s perspective on every new world element and character. Consequently, the density of the text makes the pacing feel quick. And unlike The Alchemist That Survived (Vols. 1-3 review here), this is amplified by the laughs and action sprinkled throughout – thus, Vol. 4 is quite the page-turner. Then, in a semi-related topic, Vol. 4 feels like it is better written. Vols. 1-3 had issues with twists lacking build-up and foreshadowing that are mostly absent in here. This is helped by the mountains of background and world-building available now as compared to Vols 1-2. Finally, the last of the last is the art. As always, it is detailed, fantasy-appropriate, and expressive. Falmaro continues to amaze with their great skill and sustained refinement over time. This time around, the (subjective) improvement comes from the many male characters illustrated. The focus remains on the female leads (such as Ninym, Lowa, and Falanya), but it is refreshing to see Falmaro’s skills applied to the likes of Glen, Strang, and Nanaki. To conclude, with all of the aforementioned minor improvements, my confidence remains in the author-illustrator duo for maintaining a great series.
Overall, The Genius Prince, Vol. 4 is an improvement from Vol. 3 and lands itself somewhere alongside Vol. 2. This is a result of many changes, big and small. Particularly, the shift of focus away from Wein and large-scale battles brings about better character developments and political intrigue. However, weak base characterizations and small world inconsistencies are still present. These shortcomings are balanced by an increased number of recurring and new antagonists; the resulting intrigue has interactions between multiple schemers and added depth from previous encounters. The strong writing from Toru Toba – as exemplified in the density and seamless flow – and amazing illustrations by Falmaro continue to be strong parts for the series. Seeing them improve and optimize their skills after every entry gives me confidence in the series’ maintained success. And now, with the world and plots ever more entwined after Mealtars, I’m extra excited for Vol. 5. I can’t wait~!
4.6 / 5 – Highly Recommended
To readers looking for that uptick after the weaker characterizations and political intrigue found in Vol. 3.
To lovers of strong little sisters looking to grow beyond the shadow of their older brothers.
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. For this non-Vol. 1 review, I tried to cover things that weren’t discussed in the previous reviews.
If the above review hasn’t convinced you… please go to the featured image (at the top) and stare at Falanya. That’s how I’m looking at you right now – but maybe not as lovably.
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!