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by Rebecca Silverman,

Drab Princess, the Black Cat, and the Satisfying Break-up

Novel 1

Drab Princess, the Black Cat, and the Satisfying Break-up Novel

Seren, the elder daughter of a duke, has been engaged to Crown Prince Helios since he was born, six months after she was. She's always tried to be the best fiancée she could, learning the many skills required of a crown princess and queen, but one day she realizes that maybe she was just going along blindly when she hears Helios' friends putting her down and extolling her younger sister Marietta. Suddenly Seren sees that she could do something else with her life, especially if Helios married Marietta, and the best way to void her engagement is to become a vaunted High Mage. Seren asks Viol, Archmage of the Third Mage Guild, to help train her, but there are more things going on than the innocent Seren is aware of, and her plan may not be as easy as she assumes.

The Drab Princess, the Black Cat, and the Satisfying Break-up is translated by Evie Lund.


You can walk a path your whole life without realizing that it isn't the one you want to be on. That's what happened to Seren, fiancée of Crown Prince Helios. The two were engaged as soon as he was born, six months after her, and she's just gone along with it ever since. It was, she thought, her destiny and her duty to wed the prince, and while she has nothing against him, there's also not a lot of any kind of emotions involved. Complicating matters is the fact that she's known around court as “Princess Drab,” outshone by her vibrant younger sister Marietta. Seren has tried to ignore the nickname, but when she arrives at the salon where she helps to handle administrative tasks one day and hears Helios' friends pushing him to dump her for Marietta, she can't keep on keeping on anymore. Bereft, she runs outside, where she bumps into Viol, an immensely powerful young mage, and asks him to help her train to become a High Mage. Seren's thought is that if she can pass the High Mage exam, she'll be able to annul her engagement based on how necessary High Mages are to the kingdom, and set herself free.

As you might have guessed, there are a lot of misunderstandings running rampant throughout this novel. That's not, however, a bad thing, at least in part because of the way the novel is narrated. Seren and Viol take turns giving us their first-person perspectives on events, and unlike most similarly-styled light novels, in this one the story moves forward with each new chapter – it's just a question of whose eyes we're looking through. This allows us to experience both Seren's unreliably naïve voice and Viol's much more canny one, with occasional chapters from other perspectives sprinkled throughout as well. The result is a surprisingly full picture of the situation at court, with each character's flaws and biases balanced out by another person's perspective. Viol very quickly starts to figure out what's actually happening as far as how people feel about Seren (while being upset on her behalf) while Seren learns to think for herself and about what she might actually want, with Helios, Marietta, and others stepping in to fill in a few gaps. While this doesn't completely negate the tendency towards overwriting that we often see in light novels, it still goes a long way towards making the plot feel more important than unnecessary details in practice as well as in theory.

Seren's main issue is her low self-esteem, and we can see this mostly stems from the fact that she's engaged to Helios, who has the interpersonal skills of a rodent – he sort of dashes in, makes a brief interaction, and then runs off again. Thanks to this and to people her own age continually reminding her that she's less than her sister in looks and vivacity, Seren believes that her only value to Helios is in how much his parents like her and how good she is at working hard. She's able to turn that around when she meets Viol, and we learn that she's ridiculously gifted in her magic powers and abilities. Were she not Helios' betrothed, she'd probably be a High Mage already, so her parents' well-meaning social ambitions (giving them the benefit of the doubt since we've not seen otherwise yet) are really at the root of her problems. Had she been offered magical training from an early age, Seren probably would have grown up into a much more confident woman. This is something the story is very well aware of, and while the comments by several characters that arranged marriages are archaic can largely be seen as them wanting to marry Seren themselves, it also promotes the narrative that Seren being put into the arrangement before she could even walk really is the start of the entire situation.

While there are very clear reverse harem aspects to the story – Viol's not the only one crushing on Seren by midway through the novel – the real love triangle is between Seren, Viol, and Helios. Seren herself is the wild card in the romance plot, because she's never even thought about romance for herself, and she's thoroughly convinced that Helios is in love with Marietta. Part of the appeal of becoming a High Mage is the idea that she could marry someone else or not marry at all, and even as she begins to put the pieces together – and to fall for Viol while seeing Helios in a warmer light – it's really not a primary concern for her. Similarly the book has elements of the villainess story, but only in the way that Marietta and Seren are compared to each other, so while the novel is comfortably familiar, it's also not a retread of any number of other books.

The illustrations for this novel are worth mentioning for a few reasons, one of which is how cute Viol's “cat familiar” Vi is. The people are just okay, but Vi is adorable, which makes up for pretty much anything else in the images. There's also a nice level of detail in the clothing and hairstyles, so it really is quite pretty to look at. The translation is smooth and avoids obvious anachronisms and overblown descriptions, so this really is a more pleasant read if you're not a huge light novel fan.

The Drab Princess, the Black Cat, and the Satisfying Break-up is a very pleasant book. Its use of perspective helps to tell the story smoothly and the mild reflections of familiar tropes work in its favor because it doesn't lean into them. Seren's journey is probably going to be a rocky one, but whoever she chooses, at least we'll know she's also going to be choosing herself.

Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B

+ Cute cats in the illustrations, good use of mixed perspectives in narration.
A little slow-moving, Seren's naivety can be a bit much at times.

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Production Info:
Story: Rino Mayumi
Licensed by: Cross Infinite World

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Drab Princess, the Black Cat, and the Satisfying Break-up (light novel)

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