Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Spell of Desire
When the Witch Queen comes out of her self-imposed coma, Kaoruko is freed of her mother's power...but she may also be deprived of her love, Kaname. As punishment for forsaking her service in favor of her daughter's love, the Witch Queen lays a powerful curse upon Kaname that will in the end deprive him of not only all of his senses, but also of his memories of Kaoruko. Can Kaoruko master her own magic well enough to break the curse? Or is the power of love not enough for a happy ending?
A complaint about Tomu Ohmi's previous series to get an English-language release, Midnight Secretary, is that her heroine went from being strong to just another heroine under the romantic sway of a powerful hero. Whether or not you agree with that sentiment, it is most certainly not the case for Kaoruko, also called Koko, in Spell of Desire. Throughout the series she has been struggling with not only the revelation that she is genetically a Black Witch, but also to control her Black Magic powers, which are much more selfishly based than the White Magic her grandmother taught her. While Ohmi has attempted to explain the differences between the two types of magic before, in this volume she finally hits on an easily understood one: Black Magic relies on imposing your will on the world, while White Magic requires you to want to help others. What Kaoruko must learn to do is to combine both of those wishes, which to a degree means standing up for herself where previously she has allowed events to simply happen to her. It makes for a strong finale to what has at times been an awkward series.
The volume opens with the entrance of the absent character who has driven the plot over the last four books: Kaoruko's mother, the Witch Queen. She has come to reclaim her power and her knight, Kaname, but while Kaoruko is more than willing to give her the former, the latter has no intention of being relinquished, and she's in full agreement with that. As punishment for what she terms Kaname's betrayal of her, the Witch Queen lays a curse on him: he shall lose all of his senses one by one and then finally all of his memories of Kaoruko. It's a vicious, selfish punishment (“If I can't have him, no one can!”), and everyone tells Kaoruko that there's no way that she can break it. Showing that she is no longer overwhelmed by the idea of power as she was as recently as volume three, Kaoruko decides that she's going to save him anyway, and the story takes an abrupt turn into a quest narrative.
It really feels like this is what Spell of Desire needed to come into its own, although it's too bad that it took until the final volume to do so. The focus is still very much on the romance – which makes perfect sense, given that that is its genre – but Kaoruko's new sense of purpose gives the book more heft. Previously it had been a mediocre paranormal romance that lightly traded in ideas of sex magic; with this volume it becomes a story that owns its own premise more fully. It also plays with questions of what the difference between “selfish” and “determined” is, since arguably part of why Kaoruko wants to break the spell is because she wants Kaname for herself. Is it the fact that he also wants to remain with her that makes her “strong” rather than “selfish” like her mother? That, as well as an event towards the very end of the volume, would seem to be the implication, but it's an interesting question to consider in the context of the story, and certainly gives the story a bit more to think about than you might expect.
Of course, it is unfortunate that Kaoruko's power can only come with the loss of Kaname's. On the one hand, we can see this as being about her learning that she can't always rely on him, or others, when it comes down to the wire, which is certainly something she needed to learn to develop as a character. On the other hand, we never really get to see them as equals, which is both too bad and a little troubling. That said, the ending of the series manages to pull of “romantic” very well, invoking images from “Sleeping Beauty” and a fantasy sensibility that works nicely. Ohmi's art also enhances the mood well, with the visual differences between Kaoruko's manifestation of her magic and her mother's magic being different and yet very similar, the viney quality working with the rest of the visuals very well. The huge, dewy eyes and stiff male bodies still look a little odd, but on the whole, the art has been slowly improving since the beginning.
Spell of Desire ends on a much stronger note than it began on. Kaoruko finally undertakes her own journey in this final volume, taking charge of her own power yet asking for help when she needs it. While we don't really get to see she and Kaname stand on more equal footing (which we typically do in the romance genre), the romance still concludes satisfactorily, as does the fantasy storyline.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Kaoruko finally comes into her own, the visual depiction of the two different magics is really nice. Good romantic ending.
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