Reviewby Theron Martin,
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? On the Side: Sword Oratoria
Repair and replacement weapon costs from the last Dungeon expedition and the Monsterphilia incident are running up high bills for Loki Familia, so Aiz and the Amazon twins decide to make a Dungeon jaunt on their own to earn some cash and wind up taking Finn, Riviera, and Lefiya (as supporter) along. When they get to Riviria, the adventurer-run town in the safe zone that is floor 18, they discover that a murder was committed the night before, and the adventurer's high level, quick death, and the “honey trap” nature of the situation suggest that a top-tier female adventurer was the culprit. While Aiz and crew are investigating the murderer and her motive, Loki is doing her own investigation into the appearance of the strange plant creatures a few days before. The answers they both uncover suggest bigger and badder things are going on than anyone knew about.
I called the first Sword Oratoria spin-off novel “highly recommended reading for any fan of the franchise”, but this one jumps up to mandatory reading by adding so many extra details and clarifications to both the franchise at large and even the main series specifically, making its content essential to fully understanding what's going on in this setting. And it does all this while still maintaining its own distinct storyline.
The events of this novel take place entirely within the time frame of the main series' second novel (episodes 4 and 5 of the anime series), culminating with the scene where Aiz and Riveria find Bell collapsed in the dungeon after his first bout of Mind Down. It also deals with the brief scene from episode 4 where Aiz and Riveria are about to face a floor boss in the dungeon, although this version of the scene explicitly details the whole fight and the circumstances that pushed Aiz to do something so crazy. Those circumstances are surprisingly involved, composing much of what goes on during the Dungeon side of this story. Meanwhile, Loki's investigation around town with Bete in tow turns up some interesting revelations, including what Dionysius may have been up to in the first novel. (I am not 100% sure that I buy the story that he's selling here, though it does sound highly credible and fit with what happened at Ganesha's event for the gods.)
The real meat of the story comes from three aspects: thoroughly-described action scenes, character development for Aiz, and many new revealed details. Of these, the fight scenes are easily the most dramatic but also possibly the weakest aspect of the story. They absolutely accomplish the task of pushing the previously-indomitable Aiz to her limit with a sufficient threat; needing help just to survive a battle is a first for her in the franchise. However, Fujino Ōmori has never been the strongest at fight scene descriptions, which results in some of the complex battles being hard to visualize. (This is the main reason that I'm really looking forward to the anime version.)
Balancing that out is a greater degree of character development for Aiz. Some slight cracks in her aloof nature started to show in the first novel, as we saw that she's actually capable of getting quite angry, and more of that shows through in this novel. We discover that her feelings of inadequacy run in a similar vein to Bell's, since she regards it as a personal failure that she isn't strong enough to overcome all foes. She also gets uncharacteristically agitated over one villainess calling her by an alternate name, which suggests that there's still a depth of backstory to explore that has something to do with her parents. (Sadly, this novel doesn't do more than tease on that, so hopefully more details on that will be forthcoming.) Her push to fight the lower-level floor boss alone mirrors Bell's later fight against the Minotaur as a challenge that must be overcome to move forward; reading how that fight plays out gives a good sense about why it allowed her to break through to Level 6. The mother-daughter relationship she has with Riveria also becomes clearer, and other characters get more minor development too. Finn is revealed to revel in mysteries with his own spirit of adventure, and we get the strongest indications yet that Bete actually has a thing for Aiz. (He can't stand weak women, and Aiz is one of the strongest around, so that's only natural.)
The juiciest part of the novel is the plethora of extra setting details. The top tier of Loki Familia has always been advertised as first-class adventurers, but it wasn't apparent before that Aiz wasn't even the strongest member of her own guild; there are three fellow members who outrank her, which makes Loki Familia's standing as one of Orario's top dogs more credible in the face of the main series' recent revelations that Freya Familia has multiple Level 6s. A mysterious reference that Hermes made to Ouranos and prayers involving the Dungeon in the fifth main novel (episode 13 of the anime) is also finally explained, as we find out who Ouranos is in this setting, what role he plays, and how he's connected to the Guild, though his appearance also raises new questions about what he might have to do with the flow plant monsters. We also get considerably more detailed information about the town of Rivira and the previously unexplored sewers of Orario.
The novel's prose displays the same strengths and annoying flaws as others in the franchise: a vividly-laid out setting but also irksome stylistic habits, like how speakers in dialogue exchanges are identified. More than any before it, this novel also shows that Omori is capable at writing intrigue. The novel clocks in at 231 pages, including the traditional two-page Afterword and a profile of Lefiya, although curiously, she's listed as Level 5 in her profile but listed as Level 3 elsewhere.
With the female assassin now established as a long-term antagonist, the second Sword Oratorio novel reaffirms the spin-off's status as a worthy read. It's easiest to think about it as the power gaming side of the setting, whereas Bell's main story shows the ground-up approach.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : C+
+ Provides lots of additional setting detail, smoothly integrates with the main storyline while still telling its own story
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