Originally Posted: December 29, 2020
“Marden won’t be able to uphold this prosperity on its own. We can’t stop trading with the East.”
As they discussed among themselves, Zenovia spoke up.
“To pull off this plan… We have one chance. We must settle this before [Wein] makes his way to Soljest. Right?”
“In that case, we don’t have much time to prepare… What do you think we should ask for in return, Jiva?”
He paused for a moment to think it over.
“- A marital union with Prince Wein, Lady Zenovia.” – Toru Toba, on the frantic deliberation about Marden’s diplomatic situation.
With Marden’s growth outcompeting that of Natra’s, there are some concerns regarding the power-relationship between the two. It is only through Natra’s trade from the East that Marden may produce the required goods, but it is Marden who holds the lucrative trade routes to the West. In this uncertain future the two nations and their young rulers, what will change in this power struggle? And how will Natra deal with Soljest and Delunio’s tense relationship with their vassal?
(Warning: contains spoilers on developments up to the end of Vol. 4. Skip to the bottom for the spoiler-free summary and rating.)
The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt (Hey, How About Treason?), Vol. 5 is the newly released entry to the fantasy light novel series where politics and schemes reign supreme! In this entry, we find ourselves in a diplomatic dispute between the three nations of Natra, Soljest, and Delunio. All of which being caused by Natra’s hold over Marden (and Wein over Zenovia’s heart). In this renewed focus on the West after their ruckus at Mealtars, will we see Wein finally break under the pressure of the Holy Elite and the teachings of Levetia? This story of politics, drama, action, and comedy continues to excite under the direction of Toru Toba. And Falmaro’s illustrations evolve even further with each passing volume!
Hey! A few months have passed since our last Genius Prince review (Vol. 1, 2, & 3 reviews here, too!). It’s so exciting to see how much we’ve grown since then, and we still growing right now – that’s all thanks to you! I’m happy to see so many faces interested in this unique style of work. But we have a post to get through, so let’s jump into it! This review will cover Vol. 5 highlights and continued developments from Vol. 4. So, be warned, there are some spoilers ahead. We’ll also talk about some of its strengths and weaknesses in characterization, world-building, and more. By the end, I hope you’re better informed if you’re still deciding on continuing with this series. :)
To start, let’s appreciate the elegant cover. With every new entry, Falmaro seems to find ways to improve. The spiral staircase and dignified posing create a royal air. The detailing, colour-palette, and complete background then add to the refined feeling this book exudes. Compared to all of the previous covers, Vol. 5’s is by far my favourite. Now, if only there was some way to add some symbolism for the entry’s plot/themes…!
After the cover, we should note the length. Vol. 5 sits at 39,000 words, a > 20 % decrease on the series’ average 50,000-word volume and very short per novel standards. With that, it will need some genius-level trickery if it plans to properly dive into the three nations. We’ll find that this is not the case later on.
Thirdly, let’s talk about the coloured-inserts. There are two that involve Zenovia/Zeno and one with Soljest’s nobles. Like before, these particular scenes don’t have much substance, and their inserts only seem to introduce/spotlight some important characters. This may be an unfortunate attempt at avoiding spoiling twists. However, there is a clear effort behind each illustration. Thus, if they were additionally used to better develop each nation (Soljest’s cuisine, Delunio’s conservatism, etc.), this would be a great improvement over the current state.
Finally, I would like to note the expanded map to the West (since Vol. 3). If there is one thing I love about the first few pages of each Genius Prince entry, it’s this. We have the setting and significant locales provided and an ever-growing look at their world. To Falmaro, keep up the great work! And now, with all the first impressions out of the way, let’s get into it!
As hinted by the map and my intro, The Genius Prince, Vol. 5 focuses on the effects of absorbing Marden (Vol. 3) on the Western nations – Soljest and Delunio in particular. This flip towards the West after Mealtars in Vol. 4 is expected for this series. I’m happy to see them given more attention – especially after tying in Soljest to the Mealtars conflict. There are also a few continued developments after the slaying of a Holy Elite in Vol. 3. In short, there are three important inciting facts to note: (1) Marden’s growth outpaces that of Natra’s, (2) King Gruyere of Soljest invites Wein for a gathering, and (3) Marden used to serve as a third-party to the feuds of the conservative Delunio and the liberal Soljest’s.
From this, we’re allowed to explore more of the West, and the political air grows thick with tension. However, without any overarching conflict to resolve (like the empire’s inheritance), Vol. 5 starts off feeling rather directionless. The first step then for Wein is to discuss matters with Marden, thus setting off the rest of the story. This ever-changing plot and undecided conclusion means Vol. 5’s goal isn’t readily apparent. Instead, what it does well is keeping us guessing from the start. For me, I like solid structures. But the natural flow of The Genius Prince series means we’re not left in the dark for long.
In short, the opportunity to explore and an explosive political environment are always welcome. And seeing Zenovia is a sweet treat! I just wish there was a sort of overarching plot involving Levetia (or the Holy Elite) to bring it all together. This missing element will continue to leave the West’s developments weaker than the East’s.
After the premise, let’s talk about the value of exploring Marden, Soljest, and Delunio in addition to their relationship. Firstly, Marden has recovered from the events of Vol. 1 & 3 and are thriving with trade through Natra. This renewed state is again a reasonable threat to the comparably poor Natra. But under a new (and amicable) leader, Marden takes on a fresh face in this entry. This allows us to explore the peaceful nation in greater detail. The once war-torn kingdom bears the skin of the old tradition with the scars of battle that forged the flourishing principality. For that, and the time spent in its streets, I’m happy we see continuing development in this nation’s story.
Secondly, Soljest is one kingdom introduced in Vol. 3, an influencer of Vol. 4, and finally given the spotlight in Vol. 5. The long build-up to this nation is only matched by the likes of the empire’s three princes. It supposedly has an open-minded ruler, trades heavily, has great cuisine, and possesses a strong military. Then, does it live up to its expectations? I wouldn’t say so. And while Vol. 5’s efforts are admirable (with the comedic cuisine scene), the short length hindered any significant immersion it could provide. Given their enlarged role in Vol. 5, this is more than disappointing.
Lastly, in a similar fashion Soljest, the short time spent in Delunio gave little to no time for exploration. We are told everything about its conservatism and political situation surrounding the prime minister, Sirgis. And given the state of the plot at the time of the visit, Vol. 5 spends no time to immerse the reader. This leaves many of the ‘hints’ sprinkled into the plot feeling like trivia – rather than the oddities that form a twist. The result renders a climactic reveal completely unsatisfying.
Overall, I’m very disappointed with the world-building in Vol. 5 – particularly with Soljest and Delunio. And when a foundation hinders the overall story, you could say it is a critical flaw. In Vol. 5’s case, more time spent exploring both (like for Mealtars in Vol. 4) would have helped it immensely.
To finish off the foundations sans-plot, let’s talk about the characters. And to keep it brief, we’ll only focus on the characters of the West (i.e. Wein and Ninym remain underdeveloped).
From Marden, we have Zenovia/Zeno as the key player. Seeing her grow from an inexperienced ruler is a treat with Wein filling in as an indirect mentor. Spending time discussing Marden and Natra’s situation also cements her role as a leader. And then, she ends up playing a significant role in the overarching conflicts. With all this, it seems she’ll have a lot more room to develop and a greater role to play in the West. I’m happy to see the investments in Vol. 3 are paying off.
Then from Soljest, there are Gruyere and Tolcheila. Like their kingdom’s world-building, they come off as rather underdeveloped – especially the latter. The time spent with Gruyere provides evidence of the claims being made since Vol. 3 but not much in terms of deeper motivations. As for Tolcheila, her sudden introduction and relatively low page-time make her trope-y at best and forgettable at worst. Hopefully, all of this will be remedied with the presumed greater role they’ll play in the West.
Finally, we’ll mention Sirgis. His conservatism and cunning traits show in all of his appearances. As the symbolic representative of Delunio, he’s well done. And his role in the greater conflict of Vol. 5 is not to be understated. However, by the conclusion, he feels like a one-shot comic antagonist – only known for his extreme views and gimmicks. Like the rest of the West, we’ll hopefully see him develop in the future.
Overall, Vol. 5 doesn’t stray too far from the series standard of mostly underdeveloped characters. However, that seems to be changing with the growing cast of recurring faces (like Lowa, Zenovia, and Gruyere). The growth is slow but present, and only time will tell if it’ll pay off in the end.
Now with the rest discussed, let’s talk about the plot and recurring scenarios in Vol. 5. The plot is set up into three ‘sections’: meeting with Marden, investigating in Soljest, and resolving in Delunio. These are then tied to the three’s aforementioned complex relationships.
Without going into the details, we spend time interacting with the leaders and igniting the proverbial powder keg. Tentative solutions quickly dissolve into open fighting. Thus, witty diplomacy, tactical warfare, and background scheming are all present in this entry to no one’s surprise.
Dealing with three leaders means Wein has to employ a different strategy for each. The variety is always welcome to keep things interesting. In particular, I liked mentoring Zeno(via) and deducing Gruyere’s motivations for the invitation. However, like the world-building, the fast pace means we never get to enjoy any particular set of interactions for long.
For the action, there is a mix of medium and large skirmishes. In previous entries, I found that these tend towards chaos. Vol. 5 overcomes this by limiting its description to strategy on the largest scale and focusing on the details in smaller, more important fights. The increase in allotted page-time also allows for the reader to better process any battle’s progression. This is also helped by interspersing a parallel political battle in-between war developments. Compared to Vol. 1 & 3, I felt Vol. 5 was a huge improvement on the Western front (heh!).
And lastly, we’ll mention the scheming. Due to Natra being traditionally uninvolved in the dealings of the three Western nations, the plots are devised by Delunio and Soljest. Wein then has to deduce and counter their maneuvers. Unfortunately, they aren’t interesting. And the few Wein produces aren’t foreshadowed or built-up to accordingly. In short, this is the weakest part of Vol. 5 and is a serious flaw for a series with many great schemes in the past.
Something I want to note about The Genius Prince series is the thought-processes behind every decision. Toru Toba does well in explaining the political and social motivations of each character’s actions. The logic tends to be sound and easily understood. This creates a memorable causal connection between events. Hopefully, I can implement something similar in my works!
Finally, let’s talk about the additional details. The series continues its long tradition of packing the world-building, excitement, and dialogue into a tight ~160-page read. Similarly, the layer of humour and fun characters keep a fast pace throughout the story. All of this and more (that I’ve detailed in previous reviews) are great at engaging the reader; this has been a founding strength of my love for this series. However, the shortening of volumes and spread of focus over three nations mean something has to be sacrificed – the immersion and ‘sinking in’ of deeper messages. The former has been discussed and so, I’ll focus on the latter. Something that irked me in Vol. 5 was Wein’s explanation of his wariness of his citizens and how he later trusted them in the story. There’s a lot to bundle – perhaps too much – in the oversimplified statement of ‘treating them as accomplices’. If this message was discussed and its effects are shown throughout the story, then one could digest it in time for the climax. This is not the case for Vol. 5. The resulting philosophy then comes off as preachy and unsubstantiated. If The Genius Prince continues pushing for such world-changing ideas, then it’s going to require appropriate handling and settling for such a thing.
Now, the last of the last is the illustrations. Falmaro’s quality never seems to diminish with regards to detail or expressiveness (see below). However, with fighting taking a front-seat for a significant portion, the lack of action-shots leaves something to be desired. And so, some more critical scenes’ possible illustrations were relegated to fan-service – mostly for Zenovia/Zeno. This is not a necessarily bad choice but, with so much already dedicated to her, perhaps the attention could be better divided…?
In short, while my confidence has wavered due to some critical flaws in pacing, I still believe Toru Toba and Falmaro can push for greater heights. Just because one falls flat once in five volumes doesn’t mean to worry just yet. I hope they can improve as we (presumably) shift back to the East!
Before I conclude, I would like to note that this review may seem overly harsh. I’ve detailed why it’s good in previous posts, and many of those points haven’t changed. I still enjoyed the comedic scenes, political banter, and Wein’s keen planning. However, sometimes it doesn’t work out for me (like in a certain Tearmoon Vol. 2 review). And only the future can tell what Vol. 6 holds! For now, I’ll say Vol. 5 is a low point, but not a deal-breaker just yet.
Overall, The Genius Prince, Vol. 5 is the weakest entry in the series so far. Some improvements in the cover art and action scenes don’t make up for its critical flaws. While the complicated relationship between Marden, Soljest, and Delunio is ripe with opportunity for exploration, diplomacy, and schemes, Vol. 5 squanders it by spreading itself too thin. This is worsened by the short 39,000-word count. Relatively little time is spent immersing ourselves in the important nations (like in Mealtars) or having interesting conversations with the leaders. The combination of predictable schemes from the West and the poorly foreshadowed counters by Wein then fall short of the normally high-standard for the series. At least the comedy and engaging writing can keep you entertained through to the end. And with Vol. 5’s conclusion, it appears an overarching plot in the West is finally revealing itself. For now, I’m excited to get back to the Empire for Vol. 6 (presumably). Hopefully, the next entry will renew my confidence in the series.
4.1 / 5 – Moderately Recommended
To readers of The Genius Prince series – it’s more political banter, powerful warlords, and information control.
To lovers of fine cuisine, petite princesses, and burgeoning marquesses.
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. Hopefully, it’ll help you decide on continuing (or picking up) this series, once and for all!
I didn’t get a chance to add the last coloured image into the post. And I wanted to point out the cute Tolcheila (the Princess of Soljest). So, please look below! Will she play a greater role in maintaining relations with and/or controlling her father? You’ll have to read it to find out! Also, we get more Zeno!!! Isn’t she so cool?!
For this review, a review copy was provided by Yen Press. Thank you so much for the opportunity to continue this series, and for only one review! I’ll be sure to read even more from them in the future. :D
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!