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The Wolf and the Spices

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 1 month ago

The Wolf and the Spices


  • by Hasekura Isuna
  • published by Kodansha


An economics thriller starring a 25-year-old trader and a 600-year-old pagan wolf deity, engaged in a high risk game of Renaissance merchant lore, under constant threat of being captured and burned at the stake by the church...

Seriously, aside from the girl with wolf ears, what part of that sounds like a light novel?


The book's inherent uniqueness had me so jazzed I initially described it as flawless, but I suspect there are legitimate complaints that could be leveled against it -- the plot, despite the unique approach, is relatively standard stuff for the genre, and Hasekura's writing style could stand to be a little lighter and a little easier to follow. For the most part his style just made the book feel worth sinking your teeth into, since it was less breezy than most of these, but there were a few moments where I had to go back and read again. And he does a good job of disguising the clunkier bits of plotting with a little well placed misdirection. (One particularly gotta-get-this-story-moving-somehow moment came at the height of sexual tension between the two leads.)


But the book's strengths are probably the two things I look for first in a book -- setting and characters. Hasekura has clearly done his research, and carefully balanced fantasy elements with exhaustive research into the historical setting, making the reality of their world completely believable. While the trader initially seems a little low-key, he's interesting low-key...but really, this book's star is the cover girl, the wolf who makes wheat grow, the immortal Horo.


When The Wolf and the Spices leapt to number one on Kono Light Novel wa Sugoi 2007's ranks in the first year of publication, it was obvious why -- Horo had also nabbed the most popular female character honors. While Hasegawa claims in interviews he was merely desperately trying to make the conversations interesting and the characters developed of their own accord, Horo makes virtually every other character in the novels I've read this year seem one-dimensional. There's a trend in the books I read to create exaggerated characters, defined by a single term -- you're still surprised by what they do, but not by what kind of thing they do. They aren't predictable, exactly, but when they do something it makes sense, it seems like what they would do.

Horo is all over the place -- every reaction and action redefines your understanding of her, making her even more complex to the point of hyper-real. Every time you think you know who she is she shows another side of her personality. And she has a spiffy accent.

It's a hell of a book.

Andrew Cunningham

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