Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!
Katarina's time at the Ministry has been keeping her busy and (sort of) out of trouble, but being engaged to a prince means that she can't always avoid her duties as a member of the nobility. With the annual international assembly being held in her home country of Sorcié this year, Katarina is expect to attend as Jeord's fiancée – and no one expects it to go off without a hitch. With royals and nobles from around the world in attendance, is there even a hope that Katarina won't somehow get herself into trouble? Or accidentally entrance another person? Yeah, not even a little…
After two decidedly lackluster volumes focusing on Katarina's post-school life as an employee of the Magical Ministry, My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom is finally back on its feet. In large part this is because the original, charming cast of characters is back together again, something that has been mostly missing from novels six and seven as everyone went their separate ways after the events of Fortune Lover finished. While Maria, Sora, and the criminally underused Raphael were all at the Ministry with Katarina, the rest of the cast only put in the odd appearance, and even the introduction of a Fortune Lover 2 subplot and its attendant new guys failed to keep the series at its peak of fun.
Volume eight largely works because those new characters and the Ministry are jettisoned in favor of putting Katarina back with her original gang and in the original setting from volume one: the homes of the rich and noble. The excuse for this is that Sorcié, the kingdom she lives in, has yearly Assemblies with the ruling classes of other, nearby countries, with each land taking turns hosting it. This year is Sorcié's turn, and because Katarina is both the daughter of a duke and the fiancée of one of the princes, her attendance is required. Since no one, including Katarina herself, wants her to get herself into trouble – which she attracts as if she were sugar and trouble was an ant – it's quickly arranged that not only will Keith, Nichol, Alan, and Jeord be present, but also Mary and Sophia as well, even though Sophia is not strictly required to attend. That way Katarina will never lack for supervision, and, per Keith's narration, Jeord won't be able to force their marriage by seducing her. (Sora and Maria also both pop up in the novel, but they get far less page time than the others.)
Having the original core cast reassemble does wonders for the story. These are the people we know the best, and bringing the fight for Katarina's oblivious affections back to them after some time has passed is a good way to demonstrate that while Katarina doesn't seem to be maturing all that much, everyone else certainly is. This does make sense given where and when Katarina's previous life was: in modern Japan, being seventeen or eighteen doesn't make you a fully-fledged adult, and despite the fact that she is working, she's still in the mindset that she's a child to a degree. Yes, she's been raised in this fantasy world for the second time, but her original personality is the driving force behind her character, meaning that she's more likely to be following Japan's theory of adulthood rather than Sorcié's. Her friends, however, are not, and so they're acting much more like the adults Sorcié culture assumes them to be. While part of the issue remains Katarina's astounding obliviousness, it's also clear that everyone else – especially Keith and Jeord – is interested in doing things besides just kissing.
Although the book is still pretty firmly in PG territory, we can tell that the stakes have been upped. Certainly some of that comes from Keith's narration specifically – he's afraid that Jeord will manage to seduce Katarina and take her virginity, which in the 19th-century-based world they live in will mean that she won't be able to refuse or put off their marriage. Keith also sees himself as being the more mature of the two young men because he is able to resist going down that route – it's not that he doesn't want to, but more that he doesn't want to force Katarina's hand, something he doesn't believe Jeord will have any compunctions about doing. Nichol is in a similar position (much to Sophia's chagrin), although when Sophia has Katarina go to wake Nichol up he thinks he's dreaming and shows that he's just as interested as Jeord and Keith are – in fact, he gets the farthest. (Much to Sophia's shock – for all of her romance reading, she's clearly as, if not more, naïve than Katarina.) Interestingly enough Alan comes off looking the best in terms of how he reacts to Katarina; unlike the other three young men and Mary (whose romantic efforts are cut short by an ill-timed nosebleed at the thought of bathing with her love), Alan is able to keep his cool throughout the story, especially when Katarina inevitably finds herself in danger.
That plot point is one that also involves Maria, who, with Sora, is on an undercover mission at the Assembly, masquerading as a servant. As a demonstration of how other countries' societies function (something we started to see during Keith's kidnapping a few volumes ago), Maria is accosted by two foreign men, whose culture believes that servants are lesser beings who are fair game for sexual assault. Again, this feels like an indication of the maturing characters, because when Katarina goes to save Maria, she shreds her fancy dress in order to be able to climb a tree, and when Jeord and Keith rush in moments later, they immediately assume that she's been raped. (Katarina, meanwhile, is still at the point of referring to sexual activities as “stuff,” her italics.) While I don't see the series getting much more overt in terms of sex, it's definitely become a factor.
As has been the norm with this series, this volume does introduce a new love interest in the form of a foreign prince named Cezar. Cezar is interesting in a few ways, but the most pertinent in terms of the plot are 1) that he's clearly got a very different worldview than the Sorcié contingent, which stands to be a major factor in the human trafficking storyline introduced at the end of this volume and 2) that Katarina may actually be forming a crush on him. She and Cezar meet without knowing who each other is, and since she died before Fortune Lover 2 came out, she has no preconceptions about him as a person – meaning she doesn't need to learn to see him as a person rather than a character. There's an ease to their interactions that definitely bears keeping an eye on, especially since Cezar is in the best position to change the status of her engagement as another prince.
Volume eight is a return to form for the series. It's back to being funny, a little romantic, and Katarina's antics are back in full swing. It's a shame Maria's mostly absent, but since this book made me excited to keep reading again, that feels like a small enough price to pay.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ A return to the main cast of the earlier books and to form, characters (who aren't Katarina) are clearly maturing. Cezar is a good addition.
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