Reviewby Theron Martin,
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? On the Side: Sword Oratoria
The kingdom of Rakia, led by the war god Ares, has attacked Orario once again. To fend them off, the Guild calls out several top familias. Both the burden of leadership and playing a key role in the city's defense falls to Loki Familia, even though the familia's leadership would much prefer to continue the hunt for a way into Knossos. Ares' troops cannot hope to compete with Orario's top guilds, so that leaves Riveria and Aiz the opportunity to reminisce about times past, when Aiz was just getting her start as an adventurer. While Riveria relates a piece of Aiz's past to Lefiya, Aiz finds a rescue mission for a certain goddess calling back memories of the dark days after she lost her parents and before she had come to accept Riveria as her surrogate mother.
Over the last two volumes Sword Oratoria has explored the backgrounds of three of its other key members, including how they came to join Loki Familia. With this volume author Fujino Ōmori finally deals with the person in the franchise whose background has most conspicuously been lacking: Aiz Wallenstein, who stands behind only Bell and Hestia as the franchise's third most important character. In the process it fills in one of the biggest gaps so far in the franchise's continuity.
Or the novel at least partly does so, anyway. Omori has always been coy about revealing much of any substance about Aiz's origins and background, and that does not entirely change here. He reveals a little more about her parents, but not enough to make much judgment about who they were beyond being powerful adventurers. (The implication that Aiz's mother was a Spirit is not brought up here but has appeared earlier in this spinoff.) A tossed-off line from Hermes suggests what god they might have been associated with, and that god would certainly make sense given the time frame, but that is far from definite. How Aiz came to be under the protection of Loki Familia is also not revealed, as the flashbacks in the story start with her having only recently arrived and progress forward through the details about her time as a Level 1. Essentially, the flashbacks take her through the part of her life where she was known as the Doll Princess and shows how much of a handful she was at a young age, concluding with her first manifesting the winds which are her innate magic in a key battle. That battle could very well be what triggered Aiz's leveling up to Level 2 and thus made her a record-setter at the time, but the flashback stops before confirming that. They do, however, reveal the interesting tidbits that Riveria only reluctantly took on the motherly role at first and that Aiz was scouted by a far less savory familia and very nearly won over by them. It also suggests a dark, almost berserker mentality deep that has previously been only vaguely hinted at existing alongside the little girl in her soul.
The flashbacks also reveal other details about the setting that are less specific to Aiz. Though Ryu has been established elsewhere in the franchise as the person who finished off the Evils, the timelines of the setting has always been vague about what the major familias were doing about the Evils at the time. That Gareth has a connection to a certain tavernkeeper, who was establishing her tavern at around the same time as the flashback, is also an interesting addition, and seeing who was manning the Guild front desks before Eina and Misha came along expands the cast a little. (But what happened to Rose, and why she has not appeared in the current time of the franchise, is not explained.) Maybe the most important detail is some clarification on how the Dungeon reacts to the presence of gods. Volume 5 of the main series (and episodes 12 and 13 of the anime) implied that Hestia releasing her divine aura was what triggered the appearance of the Goliath on Floor 18, and one scene in one of the flashbacks confirms that such a thing can be a trigger for the appearance of an Irregular like that.
While the present-time parts of the novel do parallel and sometimes overlap with the events in novel 8 of the main series, the content from that novel which gets referenced here is hit-or-miss. Aiz's take on the scenes in the mountain village get fleshed out much more, but Finn's effort to scout out a potential wife is conspicuously overlooked; perhaps there just wasn't much more to say about that incident, and it would have been a sidelight to the focus on Aiz, but it is a glaring omission nonetheless. In fact, the only thing that this novel actually adds to the narrative of events in the main series is the insight that Loki Familia had other priorities besides fighting Rakia. A certain newcomer from the last novel also pops up again, if only briefly.
In other words, this novel is just in a holding pattern until the real meat – what's going on with Loki Familia as Bell encounters and deals with Weine – returns next volume. The backstory about Aiz is welcome, but since it does not reveal her whole backstory it isn't enough. Technical merits are the same as always: a trifold glossy illustration featuring young Aiz on one side and grown Aiz dancing with Bell in the village on the other, occasional black-and-white illustrations which all feature young Aiz, and a stat block for young Aiz from a point after she gets her custom sword. The writing quality – for better or worse – is the same as ever, and in the Afterword Omori acknowledges that this is the end of the story's second part, as volume 8 was for the main series.
Ultimately the background for Aiz makes this a must-read for franchise fans but not necessarily a priority read.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Fills in some big holes about Aiz's past and smaller ones about the world's recent history
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