Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life
Now comfortably established in the Labyrinth City as an apothecary/chemist, Mariela is enjoying reclaiming the life that was paused two hundred years ago with Sieg, who is increasingly more her friend than bodyguard, and Lynx, the youngest member of the Black Iron Freight Corps. But hiding her true identity as an alchemist with a nexus to the local leyline is getting more difficult as the potions supplied by the Aguinas family begin to run out or act unexpectedly, and forces are in motion that may compromise Mariela's safety and freedom.
Unwieldy title aside, The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life is one of the more interesting light novel fantasies to come out recently. (You can read our review of the first volume as part of the Fall 2019 Light Novel Guide.) It is a straight fantasy series, meaning there are no otherworld shenanigans, but it does has the vague feel of an isekai story that helps to make those works so popular, because protagonist Mariela spent the past two hundred years in stasis after she performed her spell a little too well to survive a monster incursion now known as The Stampede. This means that she's in a city both familiar and not, working her best to not only keep her status as an alchemist under wraps (The Stampede made the creation of new alchemists impossible) but also to understand the changes in her ideas of the world. That she manages to do this while still coming off as a sixteen-year-old girl who isn't particularly special or “chosen one-y” is a major strength of both books currently available in English.
This second novel takes place after Mariela's efforts to establish herself in what is now known as the Labyrinth City. (It was the Citadel City during her first life.) After the events of book one, she's now got her shop set up and open for increasing amounts of business and is starting to really make a name for herself as a purveyor of medicines and other pharmaceutical items. Sieg, whom she bought as a sick and injured slave in the previous book, has become something like a best friend to her, although he's clearly got stronger (and conflicted) feelings for her. Likewise Lynx, one of the people who initially picked her up in the forest in the first volume, has become a regular visitor and friend to Mariela, and like Sieg, he may be harboring a crush on Mariela, one he's less hesitant to act on. That neither of the men is ready (or willing) to say anything to Mariela yet makes the romance plot something easily brushed over if that's not your genre preference. Mariela herself is totally oblivious, but in a more natural way than in something like My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! – she's not especially interested, so the subtle signs that readers may pick up on just aren't something she's keen on finding for herself.
Despite Mariela being the protagonist, most of the action of the novel revolves around the side characters. In the time that has passed while she slept, the Citadel City's metamorphosis into the Labyrinth City was due to the appearance of a giant dungeon, or labyrinth, beneath it, and until the labyrinth is conquered, the city will be unable to generate new alchemists or reliably sustain a thriving human community. Therefore, defeating the dungeon is a major factor for many of the city's inhabitants. This ties in to Mariela in that the soldiers desperately need the potions only she can make, and when they begin to figure out that the Black Iron Freight Corps has this mysterious source, the actions of several major figures in the subjugation of the labyrinth begin to revolve around her. Not that she's fully aware of this; Sieg, Lynx, and Malraux all want her to be kept out of it as much as possible so that she can live the life she wants. While this is undeniably well-intentioned, it does smack a bit of paternalism, so it's nice that Usata Nonohara has included the magic contract device, which prohibits Malraux or Lynx (or any other member of the group) from disclosing Mariela's true job; this means that we can read their desire to protect her as also stemming from an urge to protect their own continued well-being. In either case, it also pits them against Leonhardt and Weishardt Schutzenwald, the leaders of the city, and the Aguinas family, who were charged with keeping two-hundred-year-old potions and distributing them until such time as the dungeon is cleared.
This shift in focus is a bit of a double-edged sword in terms of narrative interest. The scenes with the Schutzenwald brothers are undeniably more exciting, as they deal with battles rather than potion creation, but they also read as being a little less fresh than the first novel, although it's worth mentioning that there are no levels or other gamespeak involved. The Aguinas plotline, which involves the increasingly unhinged Robert and his sister Caroline, the latter of whom befriends Mariela, is easier to get invested in, in part because it involves Mariela more directly, but also because the outcome is less easy to predict and has a great emotional heft. In Robert Nonohara has a character who is easy to despise but who also becomes understandable as we learn more about him. He's never a “good” person, and he undeniably does horrible things, but Nonohara does give us a reason why he is the way he is, and that also makes the Aguinas family storyline the stronger of the two in the book. Equally worth noting is that both plots involve the role of greed in the events that happen both in and beneath the Labyrinth City, and that may have greater implications for how The Stampede happened in the first place, because no matter how much time passes, people are still people.
Another thing worth noting in the book is the way that Nonohara uses the device of the slave trade. It certainly was a bit eyebrow-raising in the first novel and certainly not a great storytelling tool in general, but in this volume there's a greater effort made to explain how and why the system exists, as well as to crack down on the people who abuse it. It's presented as a penal system in more depth than we previously saw, and while that still doesn't fully excuse its use, it certainly feels a bit like a step in the right direction world-building-wise, and like the author may have realized that it wasn't a great choice overall.
Although not quite as strong as the first novel, The Alchemist who Survived now Dreams of a Quiet Life in the City's second lengthy effort is still a good read. It mostly functions as a way to establish how Mariela is going to be able to live as the lone alchemist with access to the leyline in a city where none are thought to exist, and now that that's taken care of, the field is open for further character development such as we saw more of in the first book. It's an enjoyable time, and if you like your books long, this is a series to check out.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Establishes more about the world, good use of themes. Aguinas storyline is strong.
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