Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Reincarnated as the Last of my Kind
The last thing she knew, she was walking home from work at night when a bicycle smashed into her, causing her to strike her head on a utility pole. When she opened her eyes, she was a baby being bundled into a protective case and set afloat in a river. Something obviously went wrong, but now that she's living in another world, adopted by a former soldier, growing up for the second time, she's determined to make the best of it and to repay her adoptive father. But as she grows, she discovers that she's definitely got a few more talents than normal humans have – is it possible that she's been reborn as something other than human?
Of all of the subgenres of isekai, the “reincarnated with adult memories as a baby” might be the most difficult to write effectively. The disconnect between what the main character knows and is capable of thinking and understanding and what they're physically capable of doing can be harsh in terms of giving readers a sense of forward trajectory in the storyline, and in some cases can also lead to character moments that are off-putting. Kiri Komori's Reincarnated as the Last of my Kind does a credible job of avoiding many of those pitfalls simply by having the main character reincarnated as a non-human.
She is not, however, a slime, a spider, or a vending machine, but rather a “demi-human” race – humanoid but with some different features and possibly a faster rate of development. We don't know precisely what she is – a racial name is mentioned but with no further explanation, and our heroine is in no real position to take anything in when she learns it as an infant – but that little detail does help to alleviate some of the issues that typically crop up in the subgenre. She also is careful to mention that, while capable of more coordination than the average small child, she's also still far too short and weak to do as much as she wants to.
All of that said, Reincarnated as the Last of my Kind really is a slice-of-life story. After the initial excitement of the girl who comes to be known as Tinaris (Tina for short) coming to consciousness in her new baby body, being sent down the river Moses-style, rescued by a magical beast, and then adopted by her new dad, things settle down quite a bit. Tina's adoptive dad Marcus finds her (or rather, is led towards her by the magical beast) while returning home to the inn his elderly parents run after having recently lost his dominant arm in battle. He's also reeling from his wife having divorced him and taken their daughter with her while he was off fighting, so finding Tina is something of a godsend in that she gives him something he wants to live and work for. From there the two begin living at the inn and taking care of his parents, and by the time we come back from a between-the-chapters time skip, Tina is four years old and Marcus is fully running the inn.
That establishes the storytelling method for the rest of the novel. There are three main chapters with Tina's narration, one each for ages four, five, and six. Between them come shorter chapters narrated by Marcus which both go back over things we saw from Tina's perspective and also introduce new events, such as when they go to buy a horse and Tina is almost kidnapped by slavers. This does allow for an organic sort of world-building as we both learn about the world from Tina, for whom everything is both new and interesting, and see it taken very much as normal by Marcus, who is a native of it. There are moments that feel a bit more like info-dumps than is good, but on the whole, the story creates its world smoothly and nicely balanced with the events of the plot.
The main plot point for the volume is less that Tina is a non-human as the title suggests and more about her learning to become an alchemist all on her own. That this is quite an accomplishment for a four-year-old goes without saying; what's even more impressive is not only that Tina learns it, she's good at it. Like, preternaturally good. We readers aren't surprised by this fact (after all, we saw her biological parents), but it becomes a constant source of amazement to the people stopping by the inn, especially as Tina uses her skills to create things from modern Japan, such as soap, that are solely the province of the ultra-wealthy in her new world. This leads people to consistently suggest to Marcus that he send Tina away for special training, something neither Tina nor Marcus is keen on. For Marcus that's because, having lost one daughter and his wife before, he has zero interest in sending his younger child away from home. He's not averse to moving to where Tina can get an education, but Tina herself is.
This does not come from a lack of desire for more education or any real attachment to the inn, as it turns out. Before she died, Tina felt that she needed to “repay” her mother for all of her help and care, and since she wasn't able to, and is fully aware that Marcus adopted her in this new life, she's even more determined that she'll repay him. In her mind, forcing him to move away from the inn and his family's (growing) grave plots is cruel and not a good way to pay back what she feels she owes him. This idea is central to Tina's character, and it can get irritating at times because she's so fixated on it. But more than that it's sad. Marcus doesn't care that they aren't biologically-related and would probably be hurt if he realized what Tina was thinking. Worse, it indicates that Tina doesn't feel that she deserves love, either in her past life or in her new one. She seems to think that parental affection comes with a price tag, and if there's one thing that we can hope she eventually learns in this series, it's that she deserves to have parents who love her (and in fact does) – unconditionally.
Reincarnated as the Last of my Kind is definitely on the slower side of light novels. The disconnect between interior and exterior Tina can be a bit much at times and the pacing is languid, but the world-building is interesting and the characters largely engaging. This isn't a book for the action-oriented fantasy reader, but if you're just looking for a slow, pleasant read, this fits the bill.