The Fall 2020 Manga Guide
What's It About?Lady Elianna Bernstein comes from a family of readers – and that might be putting it lightly. All she, her father, and her older brother really want to do is retreat to their family estate and read, but during her debutante season at court, Eli is proposed to by Prince Christopher, the heir to the throne. She's not keen on the idea of marrying him, but he offers her access to the royal archives, a repository of rare tomes, and tells her that her social duties will be limited if she accepts. Eli decides that this is worth being his show fiancée, because why else would he propose to a girl better known as “the library ghost.” It turns out that Chris definitely has his reasons.
Bibliophile Princess is based on the light novel by Yui. The manga is drawn by Yui Kikuta and J-Novel Club will release the digital version of its first volume on December 2 for $8.99. The light novel the manga adapts is also available at J-Novel Club.
Is It Worth Reading?
I have been enjoying the original light novels that are the source for this manga since they started coming out, so I was a bit worried whether or not the manga adaptation could maintain the charm of the books. I'm happy to say that it's so far, so good on that front – Eli and Chris' story is every bit as entertaining when told in this manner as it is in the first half of novel one, which this covers.
In large part that's because as a bibliophile myself, Elianna is a remarkably relatable character. While Eli doesn't have a whole lot of real-world experience, she's been to the far corners of her world and discovered any number of forgotten bits of information through her reading. Not only has this made her invaluable to the kingdom (something she's totally unaware of), but it also earned her the nickname “Bibliophile Princess,” something she doesn't entirely understand to be a compliment. Because she spent so much of her life between the covers of a book, which most other noble ladies assuredly do not do, she sees herself as somehow lacking; not only does she take her nickname as some sort of slight, but she's also convinced that Prince Christopher has only become engaged to her out of mutual convenience – girls stop chasing him and she gets to bow out of social functions for husband-hunting and just keep reading her books.
That Eli misunderstands Chris is really his own fault. He frames it in just that way, presumably to make being engaged to him sound like something she'd want to do (even sweetening the deal with access to the Royal Archives), but not realizing that he's giving her the impression that he's just pretending to be engaged to her. And really, since he never once said that he loves her, what else is she supposed to think? Being a reader doesn't automatically mean that you have a keen understanding of yourself even if you learn how to understand complex fish-based economics, and fiction, even realistic stories, still can feel very removed from your own reality. It isn't until her engagement is threatened by a pretty little upstart that Elianna even begins to think about her own emotions and what they might be.
There's something kind of sweet about how hard Chris is trying to keep Eli from worrying, even though just being open and honest with her would have worked better. Eli's clearly the only person who doesn't get what's going on, but she is a quick study, and by the time the volume ends, she's very close to catching the clues that are flying around. The manga does give her much more expression than the source material did, but that feels like a good thing in this medium, and the art style is impressively close to the novel's illustrations, meaning that there isn't too much of a disconnect. Things do move a bit quickly, but that doesn't detract too much. All in all this is a good adaptation of a charming story, and one I won't mind following both versions of.
It's hard for me to talk about how I feel about Bibliophile Princess, because to be honest, I'm really not sure yet. The first volume felt more like a prelude than anything else, and how the story progresses is really what will determine my feelings on it in the future. The question is, will I care enough when the next volume comes out to read further?
Four years ago, Prince Christopher proposed to Elianna. He wanted to get his mother the queen off his back about finding someone to marry, and this arrangement will give Elianna full access to the royal archives and more time to read, since she can skip the court social season as an engaged woman. Elianna figures the engagement is just a mutually-beneficial ploy with no love behind it, but as a life-long book lover, she happily accepts and settles in to read as much as she possibly can for as long as it lasts.
It's not hard to see where it goes from there – Prince Christopher is sincere in his affection, and Elianna falls in love with him but doesn't realize until it seems to be too late. She thinks she's not beautiful, but obviously is. She helps people all around her without realizing it. When a scheming wench of a rival named Irene appears and plots to make Elianna look bad and steal the prince's heart using duplicitous methods, everyone bands together to defend Elianna and the engagement is restored.
It's a common storyline, the played-straight version of what all the villainess isekai like My Next Life as the Villainess are parodying. Not bad, just kind of trope-y. However, Elianna is a completely passive protagonist. Everything just happens around her, while she wanders around with her nose in a book and thinking about how the prince clearly doesn't love her and their engagement is fake but it's okay because she's happy as long as she can read as much as she wants. Even the little she accomplishes through her bibliophilia is entirely accidental, as she just did it as a way of pursuing her interests rather than trying to help people.
I'd really only be interested in following the story further if Elianna becomes a more active character. At the very least, I can see why Prince Christopher wants to keep her around; in addition to his very apparent affection for her, someone as well-learned and intellectually curious as Elianna is would be an asset as a queen. However, I have no interest in heroines who everything happens around and happens to, rather than them taking some kind of action. I don't need Elianna to pull out a sword and start slashing down her enemies; she just needs to be proactive in some way.
That's the big issue with a lot of manga adaptations of light novels: the pacing is off. Most of the time, the first volumes are devoted entirely to setup, more of a prologue or a prelude than anything else. It's hard to gauge if I like something based just on that.
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