Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Eccentric Master and the Fake Lover
Nichika's just walking home from school one day when she falls through her very own rabbit hole into another world. Scared and confused, she ends up meeting Wolfie, the familiar of the witch Oswald, who offers to bring her home. Oswald's not pleased with Wolfie's actions, but he agrees to let Nichika spend the night, only to regret it as soon as Nichika is fooled by a parasitic plant known as “fake lover.” Having ingested its seeds, Nichika now must ingest the bodily fluids of a member of the opposite sex to stave off the plant's evolution (which would result in her death), and Oswald reluctantly agrees to help her. Now the two are on the run from the Witches' Council and searching for a real cure to Nichika's problem…and having to remember to indulge in deep kisses along the way.
If descriptions of messy kisses with lots of swapped saliva aren't your thing, this may not be the light novel for you. Vaguely reminiscent of Mysterious Girlfriend X in terms of its use of spit-sharing, The Eccentric Master and the Fake Lover definitely trades in the idea that spit is a sexy part of kissing, and depending on how much you agree with that statement (or like reading about it) may very well indicate your tolerance level for aspects of this story. That author Roka Sayuki isn't a particularly deft hand with said descriptions does compound the issue somewhat, but certainly there's nothing worse here than you'd find in a western YA novel with a similar level of raciness; it's just that all of the author's description is used solely for kissing.
In some ways, that's the most interesting part of this book. In western romance fiction, at least of the variety that usually lands on bookstore shelves (self-publishing in the genre varies much more), there's typically much less focus on the wetter aspects of lip-locking. Likewise the directive Oswald gives to Nichika after she accidentally ingests the fake lover seeds is that she must have “bodily fluids” from the opposite sex, would generally be interpreted somewhat differently in western romances, YA or otherwise, which makes The Eccentric Master and the Fake Lover feel oddly innocent at the same time it's indulging in fairly descriptive kiss scenes. This can at times be a bit jarring when reading, but for the most part it's simply an interesting bit of romance genre trivia, and one that makes the novel feel like it at least attempts to rise above its otherwise fairly standard isekai roots.
And yes, this is another novel about an outwardly-ordinary teenager who ends up in another world to discover that they may not be so ordinary after all. In this case, Nichika is some sort of special spirit priestess, a role that she fits into seamlessly after it is very abruptly introduced into the story. It feels as if she may have not so much been spirited away to this otherworld as returned to it, more like The Twelve Kingdoms than anything else, and that has some very intriguing possibilities once the series gets its feet on the ground. Not only does Nichika embrace her new role, she's also been itching to learn to use witchcraft since she got thrown in with Oswald, so while she's a bit confused, Sayuki does make a good case for her being naturally good at it. Likewise her special position allows for Oswald to feel better about having her along in the first place, giving him a window to see her as valuable that reconciles better with his prickly personality than him simply coming to like her would have, largely because the latter would have left him too much wiggle room in terms of talking himself out of it.
Oswald really is the biggest hurdle to overcome in the novel, at least as far as characters go. He fits the model of the “bad (for you) boy” in fiction, which basically means that he's an enormous jerk. While Nichika technically did agree to enter into a contract with him – or two, if you want to be picky; she's also his apprentice along with the kissing covenant – that still puts him on fairly shaky ground when he kisses her with more force than she's comfortable with or makes it into a humiliating experience. Since Nichika's not in a good position to say no to him – he's pointed out that her only other viable option for staying alive is prostitution – this compounds the issue, setting her up to be dependent upon a man who could be termed her (emotional) abuser. More than the awkwardly descriptive kissing, this is really the make-or-break moment for readers, and while it is absolutely within the accepted bounds of the romance genre (what's called “Old Skool” by genre enthusiasts), it isn't going to be everyone's taste.
Despite these issues, there is an enjoyable story here. Nichika is a generally strong character, making the best of her situation and recognizing when Oswald is being unreasonable or a jerk, and she's willing, and in some cases enthusiastic, to do what it takes to make this journey her own. While the plot does unfold at a rapid pace, Sayuki still manages to develop the characters, with Oswald becoming more filled out towards the end of the book, and the rapid progression feels more like the result of an author who is enthusiastic about the story she's telling and can't wait to get it written down than an attempt to check off points on a journey. While the pacing is rushed, with the revelation about Nichika's status as a priestess feeling very much like it comes out of nowhere, the author's clear glee in the story she's telling does a lot to make that more acceptable than not. Sayuri's not quite as skilled an author as some others being translated, but her enthusiasm is contagious.
The Eccentric Master and the Fake Lover has some issues that might turn a reader off, but it is making an effort to be a fun fantasy and a slightly dangerous romance, both of which can be very appealing genres. While some of the description is a bit overwrought and Oswald is no prince charming, this feels as if it will develop into something more than this first book is capable of being. If you're looking for something a little racier than the typical light novel fare aimed at a female audience and you don't mind your heroes on the jerkier side, this is worth keeping an eye on.
Overall : C+
Story : C+
Art : B
+ Author's enthusiasm comes through, Nichika does the best with the situation she's in, making things more palatable.
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