Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Dawn of the Arcana
Nakaba is torn between her platonic love for Loki and her growing attraction to her husband, Prince Caesar, not sure if accepting the latter means betrayal of the former. Then when important visitors from Belquat's ally Lithuanel arrive for a visit, she is reminded of just how little she can trust her in-laws. When she, Loki, Caesar, and Lithuanelian prince Akhil make a startling discovery, Nakaba must consider her course of action and how she can learn to master her special power.
How long should an author take to assemble her main cast of characters? To set up her plot? Nominally these questions are dependent on the genre the author is working in and her own style, but Rei Toma's Dawn of the Arcana may have taken just a bit too long, epic fantasy genre conventions notwithstanding. Fortunately volume three is considerably more plot-heavy than volume two, and with the focus shifting from Nakaba's daily life in the Belquat palace to the intrigues of a despotic monarchy, Toma's story is regaining lost momentum.
A quick flip of the book shows a Nakaba with a distinctly different hairstyle than she has sported in the previous two volumes. While this new design is less visually pleasing, the way in which it comes about is one of the strongest scenes in the book. With allied country Lithuanel coming to pay a visit to King Guran's court, the king is eager to conceal the shame of having a Senanese princess with red hair. Neither Caesar nor Nakaba find his tactics appropriate, and while Caesar makes an impressive show, it is Nakaba's actions and words that really drive home to the reader what a strong character she is. This was apparent in the series' first volume, but decidedly absent in the second, and its presence early on in the third restores hope for the heroine. Likewise the introduction of Akhil, the fifth prince of Lithuanel, helps to showcase Nakaba's determination and to move the story in a forward direction. Akhil, it seems, knows more about the mysterious “arcana of time” that Nakaba has inherited from her forbears, and this helps both us and Nakaba to understand the phenomenon. While Akhil isn't willing to give everything away immediately, he does provide some clues that help Nakaba to begin to comprehend what she is capable of as well as giving readers a small piece of the puzzle to work with.
Loki remains one of the more interesting characters in the story. While it is clear that Caesar is not the callous jerk he at first appeared and that Nakaba has greater strength than anyone imagines, Loki, true to his namesake, is still difficult to pin down. A flashback reinforces his past devotion to Nakaba, as do his actions in this volume, but if Nakaba were ever to side with Caesar on an issue that Loki opposed, how would he react? Would he place duty to his race, the Ajin, above his feelings for the princess? These questions keep him in the shadows and keep his role in the story uncertain, a bonus given the familiar retread of “I hate you because you are different” that serves as an underlying theme for the series.
With this volume Toma more firmly establishes her world, but she does fall prey to some of the traps that have snared more seasoned fantasy writers. For example, while each country does have its own unique native apparel, the introduction of the Lithuanelians gives us people from “an arid land far to the south” that is “almost entirely desert, but that desert is the only source of many rare minerals.”If this sounds suspiciously like the contemporary Middle East, that is only reinforced by the native dress of the Lithuanelian men – garb that looks an awful lot like the traditional clothing of countries like Iran and Iraq. The name of the country as well – Lithuanel – looks a lot like “Lithuania,” something that is a little confusing when reading. While this is not on the level of, for example, Tamora Pierce's thinly veiled “Yamani Isles” in her Tortall books, it is still a step back from the more creative aspects of the universe that Toma previously established.
The art in this volume is a step up from the previous two, with backgrounds playing a bigger role and characters in general looking more distinct. The scenes involving hair look especially nice, and some of Toma's quick sketches, such as one of Loki, are just as nice to look at as the more finished artwork. Action scenes are slightly static, which could become a problem later on, but for the most part this volume's art is an improvement and works seamlessly with the text.
Dawn of the Arcana stumbled at bit in its second volume, but with this one we seem to be back on track. Readers may be frustrated that the titular arcana has yet to play a more significant role, but with the political action heating up and Caesar's character improving by the chapter, not to mention Nakaba's own strength, this looks like a fantasy worth buying into.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Nakaba remains an admirable heroine, Caesar is improving by leaps and bounds. Increased level of detail in artwork and a plot that's heating up.