Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Dawn of the Arcana
GN 8 & 9
With Caesar's decision to return to Belquat, Nakaba finds herself alone in Lithuanel with her ajin companions. Tense and worried about both Caesar and the snake woman who is terrorizing the country, Nakaba discovers more facets of her time-spanning power. But with the ability to read the future and past come revelations that may hinder more than they help, and Nakaba soon finds herself facing situations that are beyond her experience – both in matters political and of the heart.
The idea of having a magic power is one that has been appealing almost since the concept was invented. But what if that gift came with a compromise? In previous volumes, Princess Nakaba learned that overuse of her talent, the Arcana of Time, could compromise her health, and now with these volumes in Rei Toma's fantasy tale Dawn of the Arcana, Nakaba learns that there is an emotional toll to be exacted as well. While she has experienced this before, in the battle with Prince Cain, this time the stakes are far more personal, and Nakaba is forced to confront emotional realities that she would just as soon have remained in the dark about.
Volume eight, the weaker of the two books, opens with Caesar's decision to leave Lithuanel in order to claim his position as heir. Nakaba, he decides is safer in Lithanuel than Belquat, and besides she still has her promise to Senan to fulfill. Their parting is not as moving as it could be, but there is a clear sense of loss on both of their parts as Caesar, Bellinus, and Lemiria depart for a port city to catch a ship home. No sooner have they departed then Nakaba finds herself using her Arcana to try to scry out where Elaheh the snake ajin will strike next. Instead of simply viewing the future, however, Nakaba is spiritually transported to a hallway lined with doors. Through these she is able to experience the past as well as the future, and she soon realizes that she is viewing Loki's past when she was a captive in Senan.
As readers, we have suspected for some time how Loki feels about the redheaded princess, but Nakaba has not seen him as anything other than a beloved friend. Now as she learns the Game of Thrones lengths he has gone to for her sake and her view of him undergoes some major changes. Loki, she realizes, could not and would not have done such things if he was not utterly committed to her, and that commitment clearly runs deeper than friendship or obligation. It isn't truly clear until early in volume nine that there is a romantic component, which is a fault in both Toma's art and storytelling, but Nakaba's discomfort with his past is abundantly obvious from the moment she starts to view his past. This changes her waking world reactions to him slightly, though it is not completely clear whether or not, or rather, how much, Loki notices. Since we have been aware for a few volumes now that he knows a lot more than he is sharing, there seems to be the possibility that he knows more about how the Arcana of Time works than she does. Is he aware that she has been looking at his past? More to the point, would he care? Both questions seem to find a partial answer in volume nine when he offers her a choice between going to Caesar or staying with him. While he doesn't really elaborate on the statement, readers are left wondering whether or not he knows something about the future or is only speaking out of jealousy. Both explanations, at this point, feel plausible.
When Nakaba isn't using her power, the political situations in both Lithuanel and Belquat are explored, although these are fairly secondary until the final chapter of volume nine. The competition between the Lithuanian princes for the throne is exacerbated by what Nakaba learns from her Arcana, and while readers of political fantasy won't be too shocked by one of the major revelations, it is still handled quite well. The Belquat situation, though it gets fewer pages, is one that is more immediately concerning to readers, but Toma makes sure that it is clear that parties in both countries essentially have the same motives for their machinations. The one thing no one is counting on is Princess Nakaba, and volume nine's end makes it clear that she does have some power to effect changes. The real question is whether or not there are choices beyond the ones her Arcana allows her to see.
Toma's art still works and is fairly easy on the eyes, but in part that is because she spends so little effort on backgrounds. The open, airy sense of space works better for desert scenes (of which there are several) than for rooms, which appear to be large boxes containing no furniture but beds and no decoration but windows. Hallways are simply rectangles, and if it weren't for the clothing, it would be utterly impossible to tell one country from another. Fortunately she does do a good job with ethnic clothing, and while her character designs aren't fascinatingly varied, it is still very easy to tell everyone apart. There isn't much movement to the art in these volumes, partially because most of the action is verbal. Nakaba's wide-eyed look of surprise gets a little old as the books go on, but at least what she's seeing merits it.
Dawn of the Arcana is at heart a slow-moving epic fantasy about the politics of fictional countries. While it has had action in the past, these volumes rely more on explaining backgrounds and the decisions of several key players. Granted, this is not always the most thrilling reading, but Toma does still manage to keep things interesting, particularly in terms of Loki's past and what Nakaba learns about her power. If you don't like drawn-out fantasy, this probably isn't the series for you, but if you don't mind the pace, Dawn of the Arcana remains an interesting story with a heroine who isn't as strong as Story of Saiunkoku's Shurei, but is still nobody's damsel in distress.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ More background on Loki makes both he and Nakaba more interesting. Politics all clearly have the same motivating factors, which makes for nice parallels.