Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Crimson Empire: Circumstances to Serve a Noble
When Sheila was a child, her mother put her hair up in pigtails and sold her into slavery. A few years later she was bought by a mysterious organization to be trained as an elite assassin. Now that organization has placed her in the kingdom of Luxonne as a bodyguard for Prince Edvard...disguised as a maid. Sheila now must defend Edvard's life at all costs while interacting with other handsome men who are varying degrees of dangerous.
If you're going into Crimson Empire expecting it to be like Alice in the Country of Hearts (or Clover or Joker), adjust your expectations now. Where otome game purveyor QuinRose's Alice series is fairly easy to follow and has a clear, if bizarre, plot, Crimson Empire, subtitled “Circumstances to Serve a Noble,” is rather less clear. A large part of the issues plaguing this introductory volume (the main series is three books long) is the fact that it is based on a game that most English language readers will not have played, and that game isn't rooted in a literary tradition that said readers are already familiar with. This is a case where the game summary and cast of characters that Seven Seas has provided in the front of the book are very useful, and with each new face encountered, readers may find that a flip back to these pages can help to keep everyone straight. This is, however, a bit of an annoyance when simply trying to read a book.
The story follows Sheila, a young woman who was sold into slavery by her parents as a child. She was bought by a group of assassins, who trained her to be a ruthless killer before deciding that as a woman, her skills were best used under cover. She was therefore packed off to what is referred to as a “tributary nation for Luxonne,” although just precisely what that is is never explained. Now firmly established, Sheila is the head maid for Prince Edvard, heir to the throne, a position that serves as cover for her true job of bodyguard. Clearly this is a thinly veiled way to get Sheila into a maid costume and under the sway of several handsome royal or noble men, although it also offers our heroine a chance to be a certified badass, able to hack and slash her way through any threats that she or Edvard may face. Simply put, there is an odd juxtaposition of fantasies being played on here: the charming maid who lives to serve her master versus the warrior woman who needs no man. Elements of both are present throughout the story, adding an element of the unknown to the tale.
Although there are a large number of side characters, some of whom are clearly romantic options in the game, the main focus of this book in terms of love seems to be a rivalry between The Two Princes, Edvard and Justin. Edvard is the younger prince, but born to a higher ranking mother, so he is the heir. Lovely on the outside but twisted on the inside, Edvard is Sheila's primary charge, and it at times looks like she must defend him from the elder prince, Justin. More ominous in his appearance, Justin keeps making comments about saving Edvard's death for his own hands while also practically oozing romantic tension around Sheila and, as of this first book, being rather more intriguing a character. Regretfully neither of the princes gets much page time, as the book is much more interested in introducing all of the other contenders for Sheila's heart as well as a couple of her fellow maids, giving this the feeling of a set up.
Art is provided by Hazuki Futaba, a mangaka who has several stand alone titles to her credit, as well as another adaptation, Ixion Saga ED. Futaba's pages are very easy to follow, and she does her best to keep characters as distinct as possible. Her grasp of anatomy is tenuous at best, particularly as concerns the lower half of the body; legs can get spindly to the point of ridiculous and occasionally look detached from the rest of the body. She does do a fine job of enhancing the shock value of the story's opening scene, which is arguably the best in the entire book, although a couple of later moments are also well done in terms of both writing and art.
On the whole, Crimson Empire: Circumstances to Serve a Noble is not off to a terrific start, but it is still interesting enough that fans of otome game adaptations or reverse harems in general should find themselves something to enjoy. Sheila has a lot of potential as a character, as do both Justin and Edvard, and the main thing that seems to be holding the story back is an attempt to cram in every single character from the game. There's the distinct feeling that this might have made a better anime than manga, but with its combination of romance, action, and maid fantasy, there's enough going on to keep you reading. Throw in a couple of truly brutal moments and you have a story that's got potential. This book, however, isn't quite living up to it.
Overall : C
Story : C
Art : C+
+ Sheila's got a lot of potential as a heroine, some good action and romantic tension.
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