Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Eccentric Master and the Fake Lover
Nichika's new role as the Spirit Priestess may have given her a better reason for being in this strange new world, but it certainly doesn't mean that that life got any easier. In an effort to find the second great spirit, she goes undercover at Elminage, the premier magic academy where Oswald once went, but things quickly end up heading in an entirely different direction when Lambert, the disembodied voice she met back in book one, shows up in person. Now she, Oswald, Lambert, and Wolfie are off to find the Great Wind Spirit, but the forces working against Nichika are gathering strength…and just might be closer than she thinks.
It's always a treat when the second volume of a novel series surpasses its debut volume, and that's definitely the case with The Eccentric Master and the Fake Lover. While the first book of Roka Sayuki's isekai fantasy series felt more interested in spit-heavy descriptions of kissing to the exclusion of other relationship and plot aspects, this second is much more adept at progressing the story and tempering bad-natured romantic interest Oswald, and the result is a fantasy adventure with much more at stake and some truly interesting plot twists.
The book picks up shortly after the conclusion of volume one, with Nichika and Oswald (and Wolfie, naturally) preparing to infiltrate Oswald's alma matter, the prestigious magic academy Elminage. Since Oswald has become something of persona non grata in the witching world, this isn't without its risks, but Nichika is so excited to live her Harry Potter dreams that she barely notices; she's having more trouble remembering to call Oswald by his alias. Oswald is more interested in trying to figure out what's behind the disappearance of Yuna, the de facto goddess of the world, and how much a fringe group of witches has to do with it, but he also finds himself dealing with something he never expected: a rival for Nichika's affections.
To say that this is a much-needed development for Oswald might be understating the matter. He was one of the trickier elements of the first novel, coming off as a complete and total jerk, so seeing him forced to face his feelings goes a long way towards redeeming him as both a character and the probable endgame of the romance subplot. Lambert, who was behind him in school, is the new rival, and the fact that Oswald had an antagonistic relationship with him in the first place makes his entry into the field somehow even more unwelcome. What's more interesting, however, is the fact that both men have ulterior motives behind their feelings for Nichika, at least to a degree. In Oswald's case, reconciling his need to use Nichika to further his own goals feels at odds (to him) with his growing affection for her. As we see during the first mercifully saliva-free make-out scene of the book, Oswald truly is attracted to her on both a physical and an emotional level, and he's more than willing to give in to those feelings…but he's also afraid that if he does, all the rest of his plans will be ruined. Just what those plans are isn't fully clear by the end of the book, although we do get a few hints, but he clearly feels like he has to choose between them and Nichika, which may not ultimately turn out to be true. Nichika can, of course, pick up on his internal conflict, but she doesn't know what to do with it or her own tumbled feelings; all she can really say with confidence is that she doesn't want to leave him behind. Since the whole “bodily fluids from the opposite sex” thing has been resolved with the creation of the magic candy that suppresses the fake lover parasite, both of them have to realize that their physical attraction, at least, is no longer due to “necessity.” Obviously, this is something of a complication.
More interesting in terms of overall plot is the fact that all men in the book appear to want Nichika for their own potentially nefarious purposes. That there may not be any actual good guys here beyond Nichika herself – at least in the main cast – is a plot point worth focusing on as the stakes get higher. The named villain (as in the one who makes no bones about what he's doing), Phantom, on the other hand, may have some very human hurt lurking behind his actions, which begs the question of whether or not there's any real distinction between good and bad apart from the end results within the story's world. That's a level of writing that wasn't evident in the first novel, and it marks an overall improvement in the quality of Sayuki's storytelling. It feels as if she's moved from trying to write something slightly edgy into telling the story she wanted to all along, a fantasy with strong romance elements. There are several scenes with downright wonderful description, chief among them an emotional gut punch that carries a lot more honesty than scenes of someone facing a mutilated corpse typically do, and Sayuki also lays the groundwork for some developments between Oswald and Nichika later that could change, or at least charge, their relationship. The increased connection between Japan and the fantasy world also feels significant, and it should, if nothing else, make us question just why the woman Nichika is trying to revive has such a Japanese-sounding name.
The Eccentric Master and the Fake Lover's sophomore volume is the best kind of surprise – a book that improves on the strengths of the first while downplaying, eliminating, or working with the weaknesses. It's officially become a series to follow, and the developments set up for the third volume (which the author discusses a bit in the afterword) make it sound like this is only going to keep getting better from here.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Improved plot, writing, and characters. Interesting twists.
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