Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Beast † Blood
On a distant planet with its own diverse but harsh ecosystem, Euphemia Ashencourt is trying not to let her older sister's status as mayor of Gothic City dictate her life. Working as a research scientist, she devotes herself to coming up with a solution to the drug problem caused by an indigenous plant species with narcotic properties. Other people aren't so willing to let her live her life, however, and she's targeted by villains after her sister's reputation. Rescued by Zelaide, a Beast Blood, she's immediately drawn to him, and he to her. When Euphemia's sister hires Zelaide to be her bodyguard, Zel and Euphemia are forced to grapple with their attraction to one another even as they try to uncover whoever's after Euphemia's life.
Does it sometimes seem like male-oriented stories get all the sexy content? Maybe that's an overstatement, but there are definitely more racy stories written with a male audience in mind that are translated into English than their female-oriented equivalents. That's been changing with some of Viz's and Kodansha's manga titles, and now Cross Infinite World's latest light novel is helping to continue that small trend with Beast † Blood, which is one of the spicier light novels to come out in English.
A hybrid science fiction/romance novel, Beast † Blood is somewhat similar to the works of such authors as Grace Draven, whose romantic fiction isn't strictly within the romance genre. Where Draven's books are fantasy-based, however, Sato Fumino's is set on a planet colonized by humans from Earth in the distant past. The colony has been around long enough that large cities and a separate culture have grown up, but people still remember some of the old cultural and racial designations from Earth days, making this more of a light sci fi than anything more technology-based. More important to the story is the fact that despite living on a new planet, humans have a distressing tendency to still be human, and racial bias and an opioid-like drug problem exist and form the backbone of the novel's plot.
These two factors aren't strictly tied together, however. Our heroine, young research scientist Euphemia Ashencourt, is the younger half-sister of Erica Saionji, the anti-crime mayor of Gothic City. Erica's stance on Nightz, the plant-derived narcotic that's been the root of much of Gothic's crime, makes her unpopular with those less scrupulous people who have gotten rich off the drug's sales, and the fact that Euphemia's research is specifically into how to organically deal with the problem has also put her on their radar, even if the two women try to keep their relationship under wraps. The result is that Euphemia is attacked by men intent on raping and killing her one day, and she only survives because Zelaide, a Beast † Blood man, happens to be on the scene.
Zelaide is where the undercurrent of racism that causes much narrative tension comes in. He's a Beast † Blood, which is a human-like species implied indigenous to the planet. There isn't much to separate human from Beast † Blood – just some differences in lifespan, appearance, and diet – but as the name implies, humans look down on them as somehow lesser, despite the fact that their superior senses and longer lifespans could well be seen as putting them above humans. Because Zelaide is young, he's grown up internalizing this bias, and he sees himself as an animal not worthy of being with Euphemia, even as she spends time telling him (and showing him) that he's a good person whom she likes. While this can be irritating at times, for the most part the story does a very good job of letting us know what, precisely, caused Zel to be this way, even if he himself doesn't see that he's the product of many of his negative experiences.
One of those, witnessing the rape and murder of his mother, made Zel actively both afraid and resentful of his own sexuality; the fact that Euphemia embraces hers makes for an interesting reversal of the more typical gender roles we see in romance. Zelaide almost punishes himself for being attracted to Euphemia, and there's a definite sense that he can barely tolerate his own body as having any sexual functions at all. This wars with his feelings and attraction (both emotional and physical) to Euphemia, creating most of the tension and misunderstandings between the two. While there are several moderately graphic scenes of a sexual nature, the use of Zel's issues as the primary tension-builder in the romance plot makes things different enough that readers of romance should find the story relatively unique while still delivering the racier content required of the genre.
The balance between sci fi action and romance is well done, and by the end of the book we have enough information to make an educated guess as to who is behind the plot against Euphemia and Erica. (There are only two novels in the series, meaning the mystery won't be dragged out.) The translation is smoothly done and the writing covers themes that are interesting beyond just the plot, such as Euphemia's resentment of her beauty because no one takes her seriously or Zel's internalized prejudice against himself. It is, however, a fairly dark book with themes of violence, both sexual and otherwise, including Euphemia's reaction to her assault, so it won't be comfortable for all readers.
On the whole, however, Beast † Blood's first novel is a nice change from what we typically see in the female-oriented light novel or romance manga. It can be grim, but it pays attention to its characters' psyches and builds its world without info-dumps or other similar issues, and it fulfills the promise of “mature” in more than just sexual content. It's a digital-only release, but if that doesn't bother you and you're not looking for sweetness and light, this is worth checking out.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Interesting use of themes, solid blend of sci fi and romance
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