Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!
Katarina Claes is feeling fairly secure in her second life now that she's lived past the game's ending and even being kidnapped. Graduation is rapidly approaching, she's making her plans for the future, and things seem to be going well…until her adopted brother Keith leaves the house one day and doesn't come back! Operating on the assumption that he's run away, Katarina assembles a small team consisting of Maria, Jeord, and Sora, as well as Raphael's boss at the Ministry of Magic, to go bring him home. But what the others aren't telling her is that something much more sinister may be going on, and that Keith is less likely to have left home on his own than he was kidnapped…
What's a girl who expected to have to fight to survive her role as a villainess to do once she's survived her storyline and being kidnapped? In the case of one Katarina Claes, it's try her best to keep enjoying her second life with her friends while figuring out how to put off Jeord's insistence that they get married right after graduation. After the events of volume three, where he finally got through to her about how he feels, Katarina has been trying to avoid Jeord's advances, fending off daily deliveries of flowers, attempted kisses, and, of course, his not-so-subtle suggestion that they get married right after they graduate. It's enough to make her wish for her Bakarina days where he's concerned, although she's not entirely sure why.
The reason he wants to marry her so quickly may elude Katarina, but we readers would know the answer even without the occasional passage narrated by Jeord telling us how he feels – he's finally managed to get her to be aware of him as a guy and he's not about to risk letting one of her other suitors make a similar break-through. Jeord seems to consider Keith, Katarina's adopted brother, his chief rival on this front, even as he's grateful for the fact that Keith's too good a guy to take advantage of the fact that he and Katarina live together in order to make his feelings known. This in part may be why he's so quick to insist on being part of Katarina's party when Keith vanishes from the Claes family home one day and Katarina (with some help from her mother) decides that she must have somehow driven Keith away, and as it turns out, he's right to be worried. If volume three was Jeord's book as far as making romantic advances go, book four is definitely Keith's, and Katarina's blissful ignorance is doomed not to last beyond the volume.
Of course, we might have said that in the last book, and her worry over Keith completely wiped Jeord's kisses from her mind in this one. That doesn't necessarily indicate a romantic preference for Keith over Jeord (although you could read if that way if he's your preferred suitor), but more is an indication of how deeply Katarina cares for people. It's part of what draws everyone to her, and while Jeord is understandably frustrated by his kisses' lack of staying power in her mind, even he does seem to understand that if she wasn't that worried, she wouldn't be the person he loves. This of course doesn't mean that he isn't going to keep trying while they're on their journey, and he does inadvertently provide Katarina with the tool she needs to ultimately rescue Keith, which, it could be said, in the end gives him the chance to up his romance game as Keith more boldly throws his hat into the ring.
This is, naturally, just what those who had to stay behind at school are worried about, even if they don't want to admit it, like Nichol, and Sora (arguably the most experienced in romance terms of Katarina's beaux) certainly isn't going to sit idly by on the trip. But all of this is to a degree just dressing for the main plot, which is once again tied into dark magic and the forces who initially corrupted Raphael back in the second novel. This is good to see given that the series was originally slated to end before this point because it indicates that Satoru Yamaguchi still has enough plot to keep things moving alongside the romantic comedy aspects, and Katarina's proven ability to triumph over dark magic may make her a more significant person in the kingdom than she realizes. It also gives both the princes and the Ministry reasons to fight over her that aren't romance-based, which may also be more sustainable in the long run as well as factoring into her eventual choice of partner, assuming the series doesn't end on a harem route.
While this is still vastly entertaining, it isn't quite up to the level of the first three books, at least in part because Jeord's potential “win” has to be walked back, but also because the cast has grown to the point where not being at school means that Yamaguchi has to invent ways to keep them together or to winnow down the gang in a reasonable way. Larna, Raphael and Sora's boss, is a good character for that with her authority and interest in Katarina as a magic-user, and whether or not she ends up taking charge of her in the future is likely to direct future volumes. The question of which character will come up to scratch next (my bet's on Mary) is certainly a good piece of uncertainty, as is what will happen now that it's getting harder for Katarina to play the Bakarina card, so hopefully the slightly less cohesive narrative in this book is just a transitional moment as the series gets going in a second half that was never planned for. Even if it doesn't, however, My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! is likely to remain a stand-out in the otome game rebirth subgenre, because dense as she is, it's hard not to fall for Katarina Claes.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Good book for Keith fans, Larna adds an interesting non-romantic aspect
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