Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Accomplishments of the Duke's Daughter
Now that Iris has made a success of both the Azuta Corporation and the Armelia domain, her time in social exile appears to be over: the Queen Dowager personally invites her to attend a fête at the palace. Iris isn't sure that she really ought to go, but since she's back on good terms with her brother Berne and needs the connections, she decides to attend. Unfortunately, this puts her right back in Lady Yuri and Prince Edward's path. Can she use her combination of past life memories and current life social knowledge to navigate these eel-infested waters?
It isn't really fair to compare Accomplishments of the Duke's Daughter with My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, but it likely happens anyway. That's because the two are close cousins in terms of both plot and genre – the “reborn in an otome game world” variant of isekai with both heroines taking on the role of the mean girl. (The third series in the genre being translated into English, Obsessions of an Otome Gamer, avoids this trope and thus the comparisons.) That, however, is largely where the similarities end. Iris, the heroine of this story, is an intelligent, competent young woman who puts to use her financial skills from her previous life as well as the basic political knowledge she gained from working for a government agency in order to turn both her life and the welfare of her family's domain around. There's negligible romance in the story at this point, and if people like Iris, it's not because she's adorably incompetent in the way Katarina is. It's a much more political story than its genre companion, and that gives it an appeal all its own.
That's an appeal that wasn't immediately obvious, as the manga adaptation appeared to have some trouble truly getting off the ground in volumes one and two. While three was a marked improvement, especially towards the end, this fourth book is where things really begin to get intriguing. In part this is because Iris has by now had time to establish herself as a smart businesswoman and a ruler who is both kind and competent. It makes her bullying of Lady Yuri (the original game heroine) look more like the bad choices of a teenage girl in an awkward situation than anything more indicative of her internal rottenness, and, as one of the characters remarks in this volume, like she has bloomed now, just like her namesake. All of this paves the way for the major event of the book, which was introduced at the end of the previous one: Iris is being invited out of her social exile to attend a royal function by no lesser person than the Queen Dowager herself.
This is important in more ways than one. The court is currently fractured by discussions of who, precisely, ought to be the next king out of the two princes, and the Queen Dowager, as their grandmother, is not only powerful enough to have major influence in this decision, but also is in a position to actually know both of the young men in question. If she likes Iris enough to invite her back to court, that sends a message that she's quite put out by Prince Edward's choice of Yuri as his fiancée, because Edward threw Iris over for the other girl. Without the Queen Dowager's approval of the match, Edward faces a much more uphill struggle.
Not that he or Yuri seem to be aware of that fact. It isn't clear whether Edward is just a twit in general or whether he's under Yuri's spell, but there's something very odd about the entire situation. True love would be easier to buy, but that doesn't seem to be what's going on here, and Iris is starting to pick up on that. In the previous books, Iris learned that Yuri was performing seemingly charitable works for the kingdom's impoverished people, but with her business acumen, and that of her advisors, she quickly realized that Yuri's actions were nothing more than the veneer of charity; in reality, she was spending funds such that continuing on that path would quickly bankrupt the kingdom. Now looking at the apparently slavish devotion of the young men around her, Iris (and the reader) is forced to start to wonder what's really going on with the other young woman. Berne has been snapped out of Yuri's spell, and when Dida does the same for another member of her harem, it really does look like he's been under a curse that's been broken. When you combine that with all the talk in the book about the threat from another country who previously warred with Tasmeria it begins to make you wonder if Yuri's really the angel her young men think she is…or if maybe she's actually an enemy agent.
It would be a good spin on the genre if that turned out to be true, and at this point just having those odd notes makes for an intriguing possibility. That and the fact that Iris is now much more in the thick of things makes this volume the most interesting in the series thus far. It still does suffer from what feels in places like a condensed adaptation, although it's much less of an issue than it was when the series began. The included short stories from original author Reia are still a nice addition to the book's value, but in reality pretty much just serve to remind us that Iris isn't a villainous character, which we can get from the main story of the manga. Artist Suki Umemiya isn't terrific with consistency – Iris' figure seems to keep changing and the clothing runs the gamut from late 18th to early 20th century (not counting Iris' special-order gowns), both of which give a sense of being off-balance that doesn't add to the reading experience.
On the whole, however, Accomplishments of the Duke's Daughter feels like it has hit its stride with this volume. The political intrigue, interesting possibilities about Lady Yuri, and the lack of an overt romantic subplot make it a more serious story than some of its brethren. If you're looking for something a little less fluffy in the genre, at this point I feel secure in recommending this series.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : C+
+ Intriguing political plot with hints about the game's original heroine, Iris has come into her own
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