by Theron Martin,

By the Grace of the Gods

novels 1-3

By the Grace of the Gods vol. 1-3
Ryoma Takebayashi was a 40ish bachelor who lived alone and worked for a “black company” – emphasis on was, as a freak occurrence while sleeping cost him his life. He finds himself face-to-face with a trio of gods, who tell him that they are reincarnating him into their fantasy-style world as part of a scheme to draw unused magic from Earth, as they need to replenish supplies depleting from overuse. Ryoma doesn't have any mission in his new setting; he just has to live well, with some protection and blessing from the gods. Starting as an eight-year-old in a forest, he uses skills from his previous life and his new magic ability to live comfortably while studying slimes, the lowliest of monsters. After three years of this he comes into contact first with soldiers and then with the duke that they work for, who invites Ryoma to join his family's travels after proving of great help to the duke's underlings and showing remarkable potential for innovation. That sets Ryoma on a course to becoming first an adventurer and then later a business owner as he furthers his research on slimes, all the while amazing those around him with how useful the contemptuously-regarded monsters can be.

Though Ryoma does become an adventurer and has a handful of significant battle scenes, By the Grace of Gods is, at its core, more a “daily life” series than an action series. Ascendance of a Bookworm is hardly a perfect comparison, but the first three novels more resemble that in spirit than something like, say, The 8th son? Are you kidding me? or Isekai Cheat Magician. This is a series which, at one point, spends dozens of pages describing how Ryoma and his slime familiars clean out cesspits (and prevent an epidemic in the process!), at another point deals with a basement flooded by garbage from a landfill, and at yet another point describes in great detail how Ryoma builds and staffs the fantasy equivalent of a dry cleaner.

While some parts of this are as boring as they may sound, Roy keeps the content afloat by showing how inventive uses of magic and slimes can be applied to everything. Based partly on his experiences in Japan, Ryoma customizes and combines standard spells to create new and practical effects, such as using rotating blades of wind to effectively make a power saw or placing cold spells inside a barrier to effectively make a refrigerator. He also uses alchemy in his cooking, which sounds so strange at first that he even wonders himself if it's all right to do. (It does make a lot of sense if you think about it, as some cooking practices are not far removed from alchemy as it is.) Further innovations come from his research into slimes, a creature so disrespected that people in that setting rarely explore too deep into how adaptable they are. Some start to change their minds after seeing what Ryoma's evolved slimes can do.

The series is at its most interesting when delving into things like Ryoma's innovations and how slimes can be used to clean clothes, make waterproof clothing, or even drain the blood from creatures that have been killed. Some of the world-building aspects can also be interesting, though only to a point; the scheme for the gods drawing on Earth's unused magic is a bit different, as is the notion that gods normally have little to do. However, by the end of volume 3 no explanation has yet been offered for how numerous past isekai cases seem to have all been drawn from modern Japan and yet are scattered over centuries in the new world. The setting also falls back on the standard game-like skill and appraisal system.

The series is also at its best when Ryoma is acting alone, as Roy does not show a lot of talent for writing character interactions. Dialog exchanges are often inane, and dialogs with multiple participants rely too heavily on context for identifying who is saying what. (Based on the first episode of the anime, this aspect should work much, much better in anime form.) This also affects characterizations, which do fine when focused on a single colorful trait but are much less effective on any of the sparse attempts to flesh out characters. Though Ryoma reminisces on past experiences from time to time, he never shows much of a personality beyond being polite and a workaholic, either. When he finally shows that he can actually get angry at something, it is a bigger character growth moment than it probably should be.

Like many light novels in recent years, By the Grace of the Gods got its start on the Japanese novel incubator Shousetsuka ni Narou (“Let's Become a Novelist”), originating there in 2014 and then moving on to published form in 2017. It has also both a manga adaptation and anime adaptation, both of which are due out in the last quarter of 2020. What's a little different here is that writer, Roy, apparently isn't native Japanese; he mentions moving to Japan and being shaky about the language in the Afterword of the first volume, and further comments that he originally started writing as a tool to remedy social isolation, rather than because he actually aspired to be a novelist. Some of that backstory can be felt in the narrative elements of the work he presents here. That less conventional background has no other impact on his writing, however, as the presentation and style here are very typical of other titles which have originated from that website.

Through the first three volumes, the story shows only the vaguest sense of any underlying plot. A few comments here and there by gods (who pop up periodically) have started to suggest by the end of the third volume that Ryoma's misfortunes on Earth may have been divinely influenced, but if this ever amounts to anything then it could linger in the background for a long time. In the fantasy world, there are some minor subplots about uncovering corruption and dealing with adventurers with a grudge, but otherwise Ryoma is just mostly doing his thing and hanging with the duke and his family and servants in a way that seems all too casual. The very vaguest hints of a potential future romance with the duke's like-aged daughter get dropped, but given where things stand at the end of the third volume (and them both being only 11), a time skip is probably going to be needed for that to develop into anything. Side stories at the end of each volume also detail what's going on in Japan: the first volume as a lead-up to Ryoma dying, and the second and third as a follow-up.

On the whole, Roy's writing quality is about average among light novel writers. Though the first anime episode (which debuted at a Funimation event in early July) reordered things quite a bit, the flow of the storytelling in that form felt like an improvement. Each volume is on the short side, with even the longest one counting under 200 pages, and they have the standard array of color illustrations in the front and respectable-quality black-and-white illustrations scattered throughout.

If you want to check out this series before the anime starts airing in the fall, you will have to rely on the digital versions from publisher J-Novel Club. The first three volumes are available that way, but physical releases for them do not start until November 2020. It has just enough interesting things going on that it might be worth a read for those looking for a more laid-back, detail-oriented isekai stories, but honestly, I recommend waiting for the animated and/or manga versions, as a lot of its content would probably work better in a more visual form.

Overall : C+
Story : C+
Art : B

+ Innovative uses of slimes and magic, some interesting foundational concepts
Still relies heavily on game mechanics, underwhelming character development and dialog writing.

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