Originally Posted: October 11, 2020
“Oh yeah, the upstairs guest room is my room now! Maaan, never in my wildest dreams did I think you’d be living in such a snazzy house, Mariela. Oh, Sieg, bring alcohol to my room later. And call me when the bath’s ready.” “Certainly, Most Venerable Mother.” – Freya and Sieg’s exchange in front of a shocked Mariela.
A very pushy master indeed! Freya is shaping up to be quite the burden on her pupil. Will this fiery mentor be the spark our little alchemist needs to further her newfound conviction? Or will she simply drink Labyrinth City dry in the process?
(Warning: contains minor spoilers for Vol. 1 – 3)
The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life, Vol. 4 is the latest installment of the fantasy slice-of-life light novel series where we follow the lives of Labyrinth City’s many inhabitants. These stories cover the simple to the complex and from light-hearted to deadly serious. And the appearance of Freya, the legendary(?) Sage of Calamity, gets things heated in the walled city. With Mariela and Sieg recovering from the events of Vol. 3, can the alchemist’s newly awoken mentor rekindle the drowned fire in their hearts? Only time will tell, and it’s not a luxury they can afford. Labyrinth City is undergoing some wide-spread changes, and only one thing is for certain – it’s going to be a lot less quiet at the Sunlight’s Canopy. Usata Nonohara and ox team-up once more to continue their story of potions, grilled orc-meat, and fiery seals.
Hey! Did you like the intro? Are you here to see if the series is worth continuing? Or a new face looking a little further before you decide on buying? In either case, welcome! This is one of my favourite series, so I’ll try to cover a lot – good and bad alike. If you haven’t already, please go check out my Vol. 1-3 review as we will be building on some of those discussions. As warned above, we will talk about some prior events that may encroach on spoiler territory for Vol. 1-3. However, there will be no spoilers for Vol. 4 if you choose to read it. Now, with that out of the way, let’s jump into this review! We will talk about Freya, new world-building, the overall plot structure, some new observations, and (a little) more. After this, I hope to have helped inform a decision or two of yours.
To start, it is always the first impressions. As it is with the other volumes, the cover art is colourful and fantastical: a fine addition to any bookshelf. It also features a new face, Freya, whom we will talk about later on. Then the thing to note is the size of this volume; it’s the longest so far at 400+ pages of writing and bonuses. Vol. 4 is just jammed full of stuff (as the author notes in the afterword.) After opening, we are greeted by this volume’s manga-like introduction – which both serves as the coloured-inserts and prologue. Like Vol. 3 this is where the action shots (exciting inserts) are concentrated; we get a peek at earth dragons and fire magic! Although, this leaves the subsequent written prologue feeling drawn out and hollow. At least we get more illustrations of the Schutzenwald brothers (I think they’re so cool!) Now with that described, let us bite into this thick text~!
With the general feel of the cast described in our previous review, let us talk about the new face. Front and not-so-center of this volume is Freya, the Sage of Calamity and Mariela’s master. Freya is an alcoholic alchemist backed by overwhelming spirit magic. Her whimsical attitude and bright presence make for fun situations in this mostly dreary city. And her abilities are showcased in the prologue, where she single-handedly defeats numerous A-rank monsters (earth dragons). Will this be her defining her trait moving forward? To say I was worried about her appearance back in Vol. 3 would be an understatement. For Mariela’s growth and the Labyrinth’s threat, an overpowered combat-type character would be devastating. However, I’m happy to say this is not the case. As it is with other fairly powerful characters, Freya has limitations. Instead of solving the problem herself, she acts as an alchemy/spirit-specific mentor. Freya is to Mariela what Haage was to Sieg during the events of the hot spring recapturing. As such, we see much development from our young alchemist and the world around her. Freya also acts as a narrative tie to the past; her awakening comes with answers to many questions surrounding Endalsia and the Stampede. Overall, Freya is a great addition to our interesting cast. Her role in Mariela’s arc and the overarching story is strong but not disruptive. The verbal and literal fireworks she creates also make for some extra fun. And for our lost protagonists with a newfound goal, she is a blessing. Unfortunately for all, it may cost the entirety of Labyrinth City’s alcohol supply.
Now, with Mariela’s new conviction and Freya’s sudden appearance, there are bound to be changes in Labyrinth City. Many of these are for the better. But because of them, Vol. 4 spends the majority of its time in exposition and world-building. For series veterans, this should come as no surprise. However, Vol. 4 takes it to the next level. For those who were disappointed in Mariela’s choice to not make a truck-load of money… this volume is for you. As hinted in Vol. 3, Mariela decides to step up her production of potions – for the sake of Labyrinth City and her quiet life. Logistics, resource collection, and potion distribution are all pushed along with the aid of Freya and the Schutzenwalds. These changes come with a whole host of consequences affecting those close-to-home and beyond – new and old faces alike. And those stories develop our cast in another light: one focused on economics and foreigners. Additional information regarding Endalsia, magic, and spirits come from Freya’s various interactions. Unfortunately, the focus on the world makes Vol. 4’s pacing feel particularly slow. Usata Nonohara’s comprehensive exploration of the world of The Alchemist Who Survived needs time after all. In short, the world-building continues to be strong and delves into topics usually left on the side by other fantasy worlds. There are some sections where it feels like it’s all useless info, but it should be good to know for the future. On the upside, many of the stories meet up in an exciting predicament involving outsiders and hauntings from the past. This ties many threads together to create a meaningful narrative. And it’s a nice jog after the laborious set-up and exposition.
With that, let us talk about the plot structure. (Did you like that segue [seg-way]?) In The Alchemist Who Survived, stories tend to revolve around a central development. This allows for branching exploration and parallel plots. Such developments are (Vol. 1) the setting up the Sunlight’s Canopy, (Vol. 2) the solving the mystery behind the Aguinas family, or (Vol. 3) the pushing further into the Labyrinth. This framework is the same for Vol. 4, and the topic is “increasing potion availability.” Now, what Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 do is provide an antagonist’s perspective (Robert and Jay) to build the tension – usually weaved alongside the other stories as a reminder. Thus, the fluffy slice-of-life can take center-stage, and a nagging feeling of something coming to knock that all over is never far away. But alongside the introduction of many new faces in Vol. 4, the primary antagonist and their reasons aren’t clearly defined. This creates an (albeit interesting) guessing game at the cost of character depth. Although the consequence is a loss of investment in any assumed antagonist until the reveal. For a story dependent on its world and characters, this leaves Vol. 4 with the weakest central conflict/development so far. It is for this reason that I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first three. While it was a nice experiment, I can’t say it was terribly successful. Fortunately, there is a new development that I’m very excited to see in the next entry.
After we’ve discussed the plot’s general structure, we should pick at a few details. Vol. 4 marks a turning point and (with meta-knowledge) begins the 2nd half to Mariela’s tale. Hence, it serves an important role in three-related aspects: (1) tying/finishing, (2) continuing, and (3) starting plot threads/arcs. The latter two are always well-done with Usata Nonohara’s ability to create and build atop solid foundations. Instead, what I want to talk about is (1). Without the details, Vol. 4 concludes some arcs – each with a lot of emotion and struggle behind them. It is very important to end properly as not to leave a bad impression (a certain series comes to mind). Unfortunately, Vol. 4 doesn’t give such moments the required build-up or dwelling time to achieve a payoff. And because of it, I felt a little cheated. (I’ll admit that some tears were welled, but I expected far more than that.) For a series with other satisfying conclusions (end of Vol. 1), this was quite disappointing, but there are still many ways to redeem it. I’ll keep you all updated as I finish this series!
In a similar vein to conclusions, I’ve noticed an odd trend that may be connected to the tone of the world. In The Alchemist Who Survived the atmosphere is typically fun with a touch of “something can go wrong.” But there’s never a continued sense of evil from people (other than a couple of exceptions). If someone is doing bad, it’s usually for understandably human reasons. Of course, this doesn’t mean what they’re doing is acceptable. But it would seem that any maliciousness is heavily punished in this world. From being dissolved by a slime, to becoming death lizard fodder, to getting spirited away into the Labyrinth, all those characters suffer terrible karmic fates (coincidentally). In a way, this allows for Usata Nonohara to remove any traces of malice from their world. I’m not sure how I feel about this technique. It maintains the slice-of-life tone by removing unsuitable characters but, by doing so, creates an idealistic world. With my favourite portions being where Mariela’s quiet life is in danger, I wish there were more recurring villains like the Labyrinth. Although, with a greater focus on it in the future, this will not be needed. For now, I can only wait for Vol. 5 and 6.
Finally, additional details will be discussed. As noted in the previous review, ox’s illustrations are amazing. And there are many new expressions to see (below) and characters to meet! Unfortunately, this means inserts divert from the exciting and critical moments towards character introductions and slice-of-life moments. In the latter half of Vol. 4, the absence of art/weaker scene choice is particularly felt. This gripe may have further exacerbated my disappointment with thread conclusions. Moving on to the complement, the writing, we find more of what Usata Nonohara is known for. Long descriptions and exposition for every detail and development are given. If you made it this far and enjoyed it, it’s more of the same. But some sentences go for far too long (a whole paragraph even!) There are also a few instances of typos; one had Corps turned into Corpse. I may have missed them in earlier volumes, but this is disappointing for a final (printed) copy. I suppose that is one benefit that e-books provide – a running version of a book. Overall, the book is more of what I love, even with the flaws in this particular volume.
In summary, The Alchemist Who Survived, Vol. 4 is a relatively weak entry into the series. It is more of what I love: the interesting cast and their stories, the detailed world-building, and increased potion-making depth. The addition of Freya was an excellent choice for the tone, narrative, and world-building: all despite the initial worries of her breaking the balance. And Vol. 4’s central development of increasing potion availability follows the same structure that allows for explorative stories and character developments. However, the lack of depth in the antagonist(s) and unsatisfying conclusions make for a disappointing experience. These issues are amplified by odd choices in scenes to illustrate and a few instances of typos. For a series so strong in creating a base and working from it, I’m sad to see it falter at such an important step. But one should remember this is not the end. After Vol. 1 set the stage, Vol. 2 – 3 were amazing reads. I hope the same can be said for Vol. 5 and 6. For now, I’m excited to see where the next entry takes us after teasing us at the end of Vol. 4. See you next week~!
4.1 / 5 – Moderately Recommended
To readers of fantasy worlds and overcoming past tragedies.
To lovers of fiery women with a penchant for spirits (the magical and the alcoholic).
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.
Now, for the extra point! For those more technically-minded folks… they reference supercritical water in this volume. Yes. That’s right. This basically magical state-of-matter makes an appearance. And I’m not sure if that makes this story more or less fantastical…
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!