by Rebecca Silverman,

Bibliophile Princess

Novel 1

Bibliophile Princess Novel 1
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…

Like many another shoujo light novel heroine, Lady Elianna Bernstein can't figure out why the handsome and charming crown prince of her kingdom would want to marry her. The difference between Eli and, for example, the heroine of Can Someone Please Explain What’s Going On?!, is that Eli just doesn't care. She's a reader in the omnivorous sense that she will read absolutely anything that catches her interest and her tastes include a vast variety of styles and genres. In her case, this is at least in part attributable to the fact that she's a member of the Bernstein family; in the story's world, the Bernsteins are notorious book fiends who would much rather spend all day reading in their extensive library than pursuing any kind of power, political or otherwise. That's why, when Prince Christopher proposes to her during her debutante season, Elianna's first instinct is to say, “thanks, but no thanks” so that she can get out of the round of parties and get home to her books. In her mind, her family has no power, no interest in acquiring power, and she's pretty sure that Chris just wants to be engaged to her so that people will leave him alone. She only agrees to his proposal when he sweetens the deal with access to the rare books in the royal archives.

Of course, this being a light novel like many others in its genre, Elianna is wrong on most counts about the prince's motives. To say that this comes as no surprise is perhaps to overstate it, but the appeal of the story isn't necessarily Eli's transformation from “quiet bookworm” to “sought after woman.” In fact, it's almost the opposite – even as things begin to become clearer to her regarding people's emotions (most specifically hers and the prince's), Elianna remains firmly herself. She doesn't suddenly want to become a princess, she doesn't develop an interest in politics or power. All Eli wants is to read her books, get more books and read them, and talk about her books with people who care. Even if you're not a mad reader, there's something very appealing about that, in no small part because it makes Eli a very secure person. She knows who she is and what she likes and wants, and if the slow rearing of romance's head does force her to think about Chris in a way she's not used to it doesn't change the basics of who she knows herself to be. The story, therefore, becomes more about the way she functions in the world than about her changing to fit the world's ideals, and that feels very refreshing.

Since the novel is largely narrated in Elianna's first-person voice, that does ground things nicely. We do get two other first-person voices at different points in the book – Chris and Alexei, his cousin – which helps to broaden the viewpoint, but the story doesn't turn into anything like a “look how great she is” narrative. While Chris' definitely can skew that way (although he fortunately doesn't see her as any sort of savior or manic pixie dream girl figure), Alexei is not a contender for Elianna's heart and is simply remarking on how her reading has made her a valuable help when she offers commentary on a situation. Elianna and Christopher are an established couple, so there is no real whiff of reverse harem to the story; two of the other characters are interested in her, but that almost feels like leftovers from another draft or version that might have taken a more harem-like turn. Although Chris' voice shows his deep infatuation with Eli, her own no-nonsense (or at least less-nonsense) perspective keeps things from getting too cheesy at any given point.

With this generally more stable-feeling storyline, it's interesting that Satsuki Sheena's art is on the more classic shoujo side and appears to owe its inspiration to the manga of the 1970s and 80s. Elianna in particular gives off that vibe with her oodles of curly hair, but the whole air of the illustrations very much of that period. It's a nice change in light novel illustrations, although the melodrama the style invokes is far from what's actually happening on the page. Not that other characters don't try to bring that element to the story – the main plot of the first third of the book is that another woman is trying to claim Prince Christopher for her own and her methods are Gothic to say the least.

The novel is divided into three “arcs,” although “chapters” is a better term. The first, and longest, is about how Eli came to be Chris' fiancée and the machinations around that; this feels very much like the main story. The second section is narrated by Alexei and gives us a more thorough look into some of the incidents glossed over in the first part, and the third involves Chris taking Elianna to a special once-every-three-years book fair run by an in-world version of the Romany people, which actually works a bit better than you might expect. While it wouldn't be strictly true (or fair) to call it a side story, it does give off that impression, and the first arc is undoubtedly the strongest section in the novel.

Bibliophile Princess is still escapist romance fiction like many of the other shoujo light novels available in English (and that's in no way a bad thing), but its heroine gives it a grounding that many others don't enjoy. It's an engaging story with a good heroine, and if you're looking for something a little different in the genre, this is a good place to turn.

Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B

+ Solid heroine, good use of stereotypical plot.
Second two story arcs aren't as strong as the first.

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Story: Yui

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