Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Record of Lodoss War
Novel 1 - The Grey Witch [Gold Edition]
The island of Lodoss lies off the coast of the continent of Alecrast, and it's seen as “cursed” because of its bloody past. For centuries it has been manipulated by heroes and villains alike, some out for their own gain and others, like the Grey Witch, simply playing the sides off of each other to see what will happen. Things have been relatively peaceful on Lodoss for most of teenager Parn's life, but all of that changes abruptly when the daughter of the Priestess of Marfa is kidnapped. Since this is accompanied by other dangerous changes in Lodoss' political landscape, Parn joins a group intent of rescuing Leylia – and putting a stop to the forces behind her disappearance.
It's been a long wait for the original novels behind the Record of Lodoss War anime series to be translated into English in an official capacity. So long, perhaps, that many anime and light novel fans now may not be aware of the series. Fortunately Ryo Mizuno's sword and sorcery tale of elves, dwarves, thieves, and all of the other requisite fantasy types holds up well, even in a genre that has largely moved on from its particular subgenre. Seven Seas' hardcover release brings us the book that provided the plot for half of the thirteen-episode 1991 OVA series. It follows the core group of Parn, Deedlit, Etoh, Slayn, Woodchuck, and Ghim as they try to figure out what is ruining the balance of the island's power and who the mysterious Grey Witch is.
Parn is very clearly the lead character. A young man living with his widowed mother in the countryside, Parn is the sort of proto-hero fantasy adventures are built on. He's good with his sword, less good with his brain, and has the heart and courage to make up for his mistakes. He practically drools every time the possibility of an adventure is raised, which is how he and his best friend Etoh, a fledgling priest, end up almost getting themselves killed trying to wipe out a nest of goblins. They're saved by Ghim, a dwarf, who later becomes their traveling companion as they set out into the world. For Parn, this is equal parts his big chance and a decent-sized humiliation. He's been living in his father's unfairly tarnished shadow for most of his life, and the fact that he failed in the quest he set for himself smarts. On the other hand, Ghim offers he and Etoh the opportunity to embark on a much more meaningful adventure, and Parn really needs to learn how to work well with others and to control his impulsive nature if he's going to become a successful adventuring hero. Etoh largely fills he role of temperance to his friend; he's generally calm and collected, and having grown up with Parn, he can stop him before he gets himself into trouble in most cases. It's unfortunate that he doesn't really get a chance to evolve beyond that – Mizuno has not matured enough as a writer to be able to manage six main characters deftly yet, and only Parn and Deedlit really come out of the story with any sort of major development.
Deedlit, as the sole female in the main party, suffers surprisingly little from being The Girl of the group. In part this is because she's also the only elf in the band, which sets her apart far more than her gender, but also the fact that she and Parn are mutually attracted to each other fairly early on (earlier for him) makes it clear that she's not intended to be an object of admiration for the entire group. Deedlit's narrative is also similar to Parn's in that she's also looking for a more adventurous life than the one her home in Lodoss' forests primeval can offer her. That's what landed her in human territory in the first place, and her willingness to work towards understanding humans (and, if she has to, a dwarf) allows her to avoid too many stereotypes. She and Parn are both learning how the world outside of their sheltered existences works, and that gives them something to base their relationship on beyond initial physical attraction.
The plot is smoothly executed, giving each of the six main protagonists a chance to have at least a little development and past explored, while also providing the needed backstory for the Grey Witch. Fight scenes are, while not perfect, at least competently executed with sufficient excitement. The book is written at a level somewhere between middle grade and young adult, and in all honesty could easily be read by a fantasy fan who is not necessarily into Japanese pop culture. The art, provided by Yutaka Izubuchi, doesn't scream “anime” either – interior black and white illustrations look as if they were done in pencil with a graphite wash and show a lot of movement. Izubuchi also has three color illustrations in the front of the book which are attractive if a little less striking.
On the subject of illustrations, this edition also has a lengthy full-color gallery at the back, with more art from Izubuchi along with others, including a beautiful two-page spread some readers may recognize from the OVA's opening sequence. This does help to soothe the high price point ($28, more than many hardcover novels for a similar age group), as does the fact that the book itself just looks good: a black faux-leather hardcover with the title and logo embossed in gold. (The best comparison is perhaps some of Barnes & Nobles' hardback classics.) If you're picky about keeping your books looking nice, this one does not show fingerprints easily, a definite plus. Pages are also relatively thick and feel nice on the fingers, and Mizuno's afterward is more informative than many.
Record of Lodoss War: The Grey Witch is a book that's both long overdue and that holds up well despite a 1988 publication date. Its classic fantasy story is from a subgenre that's no longer particularly popular in the west, but that doesn't stop this from just being an enjoyable read. Neither too dark nor too fluffy, Ryo Mizuno's first fantasy should appeal to both readers familiar with the franchise and those who are not.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : A-
+ Story holds up well, beautiful hardcover edition and illustrations, Parn and Deedlit are nicely developed
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