Originally Posted: December 19, 2020
“After a gruelling six-month journey, the young(?) Oracle sat at her desk and began chronicling her adventures. With a cup of hot-chocolate by her side and a woolly blanket over her shoulders, the warmth that filled her home relieved her weary body of the cold outside. But one thing brought her an even greater comfort: the knowledge that her voice was finally being heard.” – Haruka Naruji, on her winter reflections.
Hello, everyone! Haruka here, and welcome to my first featured post! With this tumultuous year coming to a close and many preparing for the holidays, I wanted to do something to put it all together. And so, I’ll be spotlighting and reflecting on some series I’ve recently read. If you are still looking for a (perhaps last minute) gift for a fantasy-/light novel-lover, then please read on!
For this post, we’ll showcase a handful of series and how they improved my writing. Their introductions will be brief as much of the information can be found in their respective pages/reviews. For the bulk of the post, I’ll talk about some of my personal opinions and growth through their lessons. Hopefully, you can also take something away (and learn more about me!). Oh! And there’s no need to worry about spoilers! Now, in no particular order, let’s jump into it!
The first is The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dream of a Quiet City Life (reviews of Vol. 1-3, and 4 here). In this slice-of-life-, adventure-series we follow Mariela after she wakes up from a two-hundred-year nap(?!). As the last surviving alchemist of the kingdom, she decides to do something only she could do… open a potion shop! With this sudden overflow of an important resource, Mariela brings change to many in the city and beyond. And it is their stories that tell of a people trying to protect their quiet lives from an overwhelming threat: the Labyrinth.
The Alchemist Who Survived has a special place in my heart as one of my first light novels. It is still one of my favourites today! And what had initially attracted me was the unique and fantastical art-style – but I was soon enraptured by Mariela, Sieg, Lynx, and every other denizen of Labyrinth City.
Though The Alchemist Who Survived‘s highly-descriptive and somewhat clunky writing-style may put some off, it taught me that everyone has a story to tell. Some are more important, interesting, or exciting than others; that’s just a natural result. But all play an important part in the greater narrative of their city’s struggle against the looming threat from below. The intertwined threads remind me that change is usually brought upon by the work of many, even if the inciting decision/element comes from only one.
Then, the series’ focus on a single element’s – alchemy’s – many effects on the world taught me that depth far outweighs quantity. From spirits to potions to economics to politics, the reintroduction of alchemy to their kingdom brings about change from the foundations and trickles up. This creates an immersive world where alchemy is not some gimmick but an aspect that affects everything it touches. Such a lesson has since taught me how to build and present settings (and the tremendous effort behind that).
Beyond those two, The Alchemist Who Survived has taught me much in the world-building and plot-structure departments. What does my magic system change from our world? How do I make memorable one-off characters? And who affects (and is affected by) my protagonist? Questions like these always have me running to this series for a first answer.
The second is The Werewolf Count and the Trickster Tailor (review here). This paranormal romance series follows the titular count and tailor – Ebel and Rock – in their budding relationship. From their fateful encounter one damp evening, they end up entwined and uncover some secrets behind both of their pasts. Dinner dates, extravagant dances, and warm cuddles are all included in this sweet story. If you’re looking for a standalone(?) romance to curl up with, why not give this title a try?
The Werewolf Count was a curiosity-pick of mine a few months ago. As none of the titles I had read had an overarching romantic relationship as the main development, this was a first for me. And I’m very happy to have given it a chance!
The greatest lesson The Werewolf Count taught me about romance is the importance of mutual development. When said, it seems obvious. But this is something missing from some of the middling-to-poor romances I’ve read since. For Rock and Ebel, the developments come in many forms: learning more about each other, striving towards a common goal, and sharing new experiences. All of these together create a believable and invested relationship – romantic or not. There will be other issues such as compatibility and preference, but mutual development should be at the core if it is to be a main plot driver.
The second lesson is how to better handle romantic progression. The Werewolf Count taught me how subtle changes in a character’s mannerisms and speech can signify comfort and familiarity – important traits for the stony Rock. These add to character development without having to be explicitly noted. And having read this title, I gained a well-done example to always fall back on.
There are a few other things I would like to discuss. But I’ll leave it at that for this post. The Werewolf Count and the Trickster Tailor is by no means a flawless text. Thus, some of its lessons are what not to do. However, if you’re looking for an unconventional love from a lesser-known publisher, why not give this series a shot?
The third is Tearmoon Empire (reviews for Vol. 1, Vol. 2, and Vol. 3 here). This comedic yet heart-warming series has everything and more! Mia Luna Tearmoon is reincarnated back into her 12-year-old self after being executed at 17-years-old amid a revolution. With her bloody diary in hand, the lazy and selfish Mia is given a second chance at life. What will she do with her knowledge of the future? Hopefully, not some petty revenge against her Academy schoolmates!
Tearmoon Empire continues to be an excellent series that builds off the ramifications of a child having the ability to know the future. Oh? Yeah, that’s right. She’s mentally 20-years-old, but she won’t let that get in the way of her (lack of) maturation! And it is this playful ribbing that only touches the tip of the lessons Tearmoon Empire has imparted on me.
The first (and most important) is the power of a narrative voice. How do I sound to you? Am I warm and friendly, or perhaps cool like a machine? The tone is not something everyone is conscious of when writing, but it is certainly something we all feel when reading. In Tearmoon Empire, the narrator is well-informed, but playful with their words, and always ready to poke at the absurdities that are Mia and her deluded relations. It feels like they’re right there, laughing alongside you. And despite some shortcomings in the series, this will keep me coming back for more.
The second lesson is the power of an omniscient perspective. In Tearmoon Empire, there are alternate timelines and far-flung futures that each decision and event affects. The narrator takes this and reminds us that every seemingly inconsequential development will have far-reaching consequences. This also works to tell us what will happen if nothing is changed. Thus, even the slice-of-life moments have Empire-toppling stakes. This power to give every small kindness a weight is wielded expertly by Nozomu Mochitsuki.
Don’t let the brevity of this section deceive you. There are also many other things Tearmoon Empire does well – it’s one of my favourites as a result. But those two lessons stuck with me the most. Though the second has since been implemented in my work, I’m still trying to be considerate of my writing voice. And I hope to continue developing it alongside all of you! :)
The fourth is ROLL OVER AND DIE: I Will Fight for an Ordinary Life with My Love and Cursed Sword! (Vol. 1 review here). This action-, horror-series is chock full of gruesome violence, dangerous beasts, and cute sandwich-eating. ROLL OVER AND DIE follows Flum (not ‘Plum’ or ‘Flamme’) Apricot just before her party of heroes sells her into slavery. After surviving a near-fatal situation with Milkit, the two decide to pursue something neither ever had: an ordinary life.
ROLL OVER AND DIE is not the only series to teach me its lesson, but it certainly hammered it in. Despite its cutesy illustrations, there is plenty of blood and gore to go around. Now, I’m not one to glorify violence. But something about the horrors of battle and their physical/emotional ramifications lends itself to impactful scenes. As a result, you will never forget the way Flum cleaved through her slaver (or the various other spoiler-y conflicts) after the story is complete.
Though battles may last for only a few moments, there is always a lot happening. Whether that is an adventurer’s thought processes, a monster’s overwhelming strikes, or the collapsing remnants of their surroundings, it is simply a sensory overload. However, ROLL OVER AND DIE focuses on it all. Every swing of Flum’s sword comes with the sounds, the smells, and the resistance of carving through monster flesh. Every injury she sustains comes with the heat, the exhaustion, and the mental burden of continuing to fight. It is these detailed descriptions that put you in the moment. And despite knowing that she’ll prevail, you worry about what will linger long after it is over. What will it cost for this unwillingly enslaved girl to reach her dream alongside her love?
There are many other things ROLL OVER AND DIE does well, but it is this visceral approach to action that I picked up. And I’ve bookmarked a few chapters for great reference examples. Thus, to further enhance scenes with emotional and narrative importance, why not add a little bit of suffering to make it truly memorable? After all, any real reward is worth struggling for.
The last (and very much not the least) is Reign of the Seven Spellblades (Vol. 1 review here). This newly-released series has proven itself to have an excellent start to a magic-academy adventure. The story follows a group of six first-years as they study at the Kimberly Magic Academy. At the outset, there’s a foreboding prologue and a mysterious incident at their opening ceremony. What dark secrets do the labyrinthian halls of their Academy hold? And what will they uncover as they pull at the loose strings behind the rampaging troll?
Reign of the Seven is a recent debut that has left me a lot to digest since I completed it. Most importantly, it is an excellent example of a tightly written light novel. Starting at the outset, every scene has a plethora of purposes. From introducing a fantastical element to progressing the political drama to developing their cast, Reign of the Seven‘s layers will have you appreciating every morsel between its covers. Even the ‘dull’ moments keep the momentum going. And this is all atop a mystery that keeps fighting until the very end. The expert mix of content and pacing makes reading it a blast – I may even give it a re-read when Vol. 2 comes out!
The other lesson I’d like to note is about power-activation. Something I noticed but never internalized was the importance of consistent and simple tells. Nanao’s hair turning silver is the hint that she’s serious. It’s an easy way for Bokuto Uno to say ‘start paying attention now’. And after building up the details of her power at its introduction (increased mana circulation, etc.), you can lean on the visual changes as a shortcut for the process. This will cut out the excess description and keep your action scenes flowing!
Like the other titles, there’s always a lot more to say – like its slow start. Reign of the Seven Spellblades is a great series that deserves attention. And if you like magic, swords, mysteries, and an immersive world, you’ll surely like this one. Heck! Even if you’re just jumping into light novels, this one is a good place to start. So, what are you waiting for? :)
Finally, we’ve reached the end of these spotlights and lessons. I hope you enjoyed discovering these fantastical titles and/or what I took from them. There’s so much to read in the light novel space, and perhaps this small glimpse can start something new for you. The end of the year is the perfect time for such a thing after all!
And so, with these five titles, I’ve learned a lot in my adventures. How about you? Did you learn anything from this post? Did you decide on trying any of these titles? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!
Hello! Thank you for taking the time to read my post (even if you scrolled straight to the bottom). I hope that you take home even a little of what I’ve written down. And if you’ve decided to pick-up any of these series, let me know! I want many others to join me on my light novel adventures. <3
Here is where I’d normally put an extra blurb about a series I’m reviewing. Instead, why don’t I provide a fun fact about me? I’m technically trained and have some inventions under my belt! How’s that for cute and brainy? ;)
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!