Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
I Became the Secretary of a Hero!
Now that the Hero Party knows that there's more to this whole Hero vs Dark Lord battle than they initially thought, Leo and Johann need to focus on creating the mirror that will transport them all to the Dark Lord's castle. In the meantime, Elias and Aki form a temporary party with Mina and Louis to take on a side quest. It all seems simple at first, but there's much more to this than meets the eye, and before long, Aki and Elias' newly-confessed feelings for each other are being used against them when he's consumed by his innate Hero's power. Happy endings are never easily achieved, but do they have to be this difficult and grim to get?
The cover of the second volume of Tsukasa Yamazaki's I Became the Secretary of a Hero! immediately lets you know that things are not going to be as happy and sweet in this isekai fantasy as they were in volume one. Where the first book's cover was done in light blues and whites, this one tends towards dark greys and shadows, and even the characters' poses indicate that something is going down in this novel. That's absolutely fair warning, because if volume one was about introducing the characters and setting up the perceived world, this one is about pushing those characters to the breaking point and letting us know that the way that most of the Hero Party thinks the world works is all a careful crafted lie.
Mostly the truths revealed in this volume revolve around Johann, the group's priest. As both a priest and a descendant of one of the Sanctuary's founding members, he's in the unenviable position of being both the friend and sort-of antagonist of Elias and the rest of the party. This was a factor in his character in volume one, but now it's brought to the fore as forces marshal against Elias in unforeseen ways. Johann is the only person who has most of the information needed to put things back on the right track, and that's a source of strain for him. His family (and job) have been hiding some very important revelations about history for centuries, and Johann is expected to continue on with that tradition, putting the comfort of a system of beliefs above the truth, while holding Elias as a person (and by extension, the Dark Lord as a person) in less regard and importance than Elias as a public figure. Politics and friendship are rarely easy bedfellows, and this has been eating at Johann, albeit quietly, until he's forced to acknowledge the truth midway through the book, at which point he needs to decide who he wants to be: a priest of the Sanctuary, or Johann, Elias' friend.
That this parallels Elias' own emotions before everything goes sideways (and then become an important factor in that sideways slip) is almost certainly intentional. (In the afterword, Yamazaki makes it clear that there's a definite plan for the story's trajectory.) Elias has been steadily resisting his growing love for Aki, as we saw over the course of the first novel, because he's been raised to believe that the Hero isn't allowed to form emotional attachments to other people lest it prevent him from adequately doing his job of saving the world. While he's still managed to become friends with Leo and Johann, he clearly thinks that falling in love is much more of a violation of that supposed rule. When he sees Aki fall into danger during their side quest, however, he decides that it doesn't matter and he'll find a way to make it work, which is great for those of us readers who were rooting for them, but ultimately shows why the “rule” was created in the first place: it allows someone to use Aki against Elias, leading to disaster.
It almost doesn't matter how intentional the disaster was (and it's pretty unintentional), because the warning has been made. How the story and the characters deal with that going forward is going to be the truly interesting thing – there's a secondary love interest all lined up for Aki (and her sister Nako, the Dark Lord's love), so pinning our hopes on a storybook happy ending may not necessarily turn out in our best interests. The fact of the matter is that Yamazaki has set things up to go either way with this warning about how the Hero's, and presumably the Dark Lord's, power can be perverted and why there's a danger to either of those archetypes falling in love. I say “archetypes” because the author has also created the distinct difference between the idea of the Hero and Dark Lord and their realities as people – and that goes back to the struggle Johann faces and likely will continue to struggle with as the story goes forward, no matter how settled his decision seems right now.
While the plot and characters themselves are moving very nicely forward, there are a few issues with the writing, mostly in the form of scene changes that feel very abrupt. This is mostly in the beginning of the book, but it is noticeable, as is the tendency of characters to have long, heartfelt discussions when they really ought to be getting on with the business of fixing the current, imminent danger. The story itself is good enough – especially from the mid-point of the novel on – that it's easy to ignore these issues, but they are present. There is also a lot of RPG terminology used, but without the annoying use of actual stats, it works as part of how the world functions, more like reading a Forgotten Realms or Dragonlance novel than a cheap world building ploy and thus making it much more a question of the reader's personal taste than a plus or minus in a more universal sense.
I Became the Secretary of a Hero! is proving itself capable of being more than just a fluffy isekai story. It still has enough of those elements to still be enjoyable for those who enjoyed them in the first volume, but it's also morphing into a much fuller fantasy story. This volume does end on a cliffhanger, but volume three already has a projected release date stated in the book (June 2020), so at least we know how long we'll have to wait to see where this is headed.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : B
+ More truths about the past coming to light, some really nice parallels between characters and tension in the plot.
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