Reviewby James Beckett,
From the opening of its first chapter, Rachel Aaron's Garrison Girl: An Attack on Titan Novel is a profoundly strange reading experience, at least if you're coming to the book as a fan of the original material created by Hajime Isayama and adapted into animation by Studio Wit. Unlike the series' other Japanese spinoff novels, Garrison Girl was written in English by an American author. According to Aaron's comments on the series' popular subreddit, Kodansha reached out to Quirk Books to specifically produce an Attack on Titan novel that could tap into America's YA novel market, which is something that I have never heard of happening before.
So as a cross-cultural-cross-media tie-in, Garrison Girl is a unique novelty. Now, you might be wondering the same thing I did when I first discovered this project. Is Aaron's novel intended to serve as a canonical addition to the Attack on Titan universe? As Aaron explains, Isayama provided his official stamp of approval on the project, even sending the American team notes and feedback to ensure that the book fell in line with the manga's timeline. Setting aside the book's interesting production history though, the real question remains: is Garrison Girl any good?
As it turns out, the answer is complicated. Aaron herself describes the book as essentially being “official [Attack on Titan] fanfiction”, and while that label thankfully doesn't carry as much of the derogatory implications it might have even just a few years ago, Garrison Girl is definitely both defined and hindered by its relationship to its progenitor series. This is a distinctly Western take on a very Japanese product, a young adult fiction novel starring almost entirely original characters that can only interact with the main Attack on Titan storyline in limited ways.
For instance, take the central plot of the book, which sees Rosalie Dumarque coming to grips with her place in the Garrison while trying to survive the incredibly harsh command of Jackson Cunningham, aka “Jax”, who's as brooding and mysterious as he is handsome and vulnerable. I've consumed enough YA in my time to immediately guess nearly every beat of Rosalie and Jax's relationship, and without spoiling too much, I didn't miss a single mark. We have the initial bickering that eventually gives way to begrudging respect and mutual attraction – there are entire sequences that feel lifted straight out of a Disney film, with one particular scene between the two feeling like it could have been pulled straight out of Beauty and the Beast. It involves books and learning to better yourself through reading, and it's exactly as cheesy as it sounds, though that kind of saccharine romance might be exactly what you hope for from an Attack on Titan YA romance spinoff.
What really surprised me was just how much of Garrison Girl's story is devoted to those familiar relationship beats; I found myself constantly asking when the actual plot was going to kick in, before realizing that Rosalie and Jax's romance was the plot. There are the prerequisite detours into Rosalie's noble life and the Garrison's daily routine guarding Wall Rose, but the cheesy teen romance provides the book's only real through-line, which could not feel more separated from the gory warfare spectacle and complex horror-fantasy politics that have defined Attack on Titan for so long.
That isn't to say there isn't any Titan-killing action to be found in Garrison Girl. When Rosalie, Jax, and their compatriots do fly into battle, the book feels absolutely akin to its older cousin. Aaron's action prose is sharply written and superbly paced, so that it almost feels like reading a shot-for-shot description of one of the series' better battles. It's a shame that there are only a few action scenes in the entire book, because all of them are delightful, especially a climactic set piece that takes up most of the book's final forty pages, where Rosalie finally contribute to one of the series' key events.
But in between those authentic action beats, what we mostly get is very stock YA romance that's frequently peppered with references to the original series, as well as some cameos from minor characters. You can tell that Aaron has done her research and put a lot of effort into making Garrison Girl feel like part of the franchise, but for some the vast gulf between Western prose or YA tropes and the original Attack on Titan aesthetic may be too much to reconcile. The book's dialogue especially struggles to feel authentic, often falling victim to overwritten banter and long-winded exposition dumps.
Despite these criticisms, I ended up enjoying Garrison Girl for what it was, a familiar teen fantasy with a healthy dose of Attack on Titan references laced throughout. I enjoyed Rosalie's rapport with her Garrison buddies, Willow and Emmet, and her relationship with Jax is perfectly acceptable if you keep in mind this book's slightly different demographic. Despite the clunky dialogue and predictable tropes, Garrison Girl manages to be entertaining and satisfying in a sugary sort of way. It's a bit disposable but good fun all the same. Plus, the story leaves room for Rosalie and her friends to become even more involved with the Attack on Titan universe in the future, and I will admit that I'm curious to see how their continuing adventures might unfold.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
+ Incredible action sequences, interesting nods to the Attack on Titan universe, a great entry point to the series for newcomers or younger readers
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