Reviewby Theron Martin,
Spice & Wolf
Novel 17 - Epilogue
Lawrence the merchant and Holo the Wisewolf always knew that their journey together would eventually come to an end. Since that was something that neither wanted, they came up with a solution: never actually go to Yoitsu to confirm what they knew was the probable truth – that Holo's kind were long gone – but instead leave it as an open, easy option and settle down nearby. Five years after the events at Svolnel, that process is virtually complete. The inn that Lawrence is building for a hot spring Holo found near Nyohhira is nearly finished, and it's time for a banquet to celebrate the inn's upcoming opening. Or is that all that Holo had in mind when sending out invitations to several past female acquaintances, among them Eve, Norah, and Diana? Lawrence suspects otherwise, and so does that trio of ladies as they wind up traveling there together and reminiscing about their own encounters with the wolf and her foolish sheep.
In the first of three short stories, sheltering from rain in an abandoned fort leads Lawrence to reminisce with Holo about his past encounter with the old knight who once maintained the fort, the knight from whom he got his trusty dagger. In the second, Col wonders about the dynamic between Lawrence and Holo as they assist another merchant in sorting out his coins. In the final one, Holo learns why the inhabitants of a village they pass through are all too eager to hear Holo's stories.
For those who might be contemplating skipping ahead to this novel to see how the story ends, much of what happens in “Conclusion,” the main part of this novel, will not make a whole lot of sense unless you have, at the least, read both parts of The Coin of the Sun (novels 15 and 16). Reading the short story “The Shepherdess and the Black Knight” from vol. 13 (the one which focuses on Nora and her dog Enek) first is also strongly recommended for making full sense of “Intermission,” the lead-in to “Conclusion,” but it is not strictly necessary.
In the Afterword for vol. 16, author Isuna Hasekura comments that he had originally planned to end the series where that novel ends. He later decided, though, that the story would not be complete without a proper epilogue. Hence we have this novel, which devotes a little less than half of its page count to concluding the franchise and the rest to one final collection of short stories set at various points throughout the overall storyline.
The drama of the overall storyline ended in vol. 16 with Lawrence and Holo's formal commitment to each other and the resolution of the Debau Company affair, so the initial two parts of this novel are purely a broad What Happens After story. Parts of “Intermission” update us on Nora's situation (again from Enek's point of view) and her meeting with Eve and Diana. “Conclusion” then shifts us back up north to look at what Lawrence, Holo, and Col (who eventually rejoined them) have been doing, though the ladies from the earlier part do arrive on the scene near its end. So, too, do several other important characters whom Lawrence and Holo encountered over the course of the 13 volumes of in the core story; the name-dropping here is quite extensive. Though great for nostalgia, that is ultimately less important than how Holo and Lawrence are getting along. After five years theirs is a relationship equivalent to a married couple even if they never formally tied the knot: they still occasionally bicker, but no longer does either have any concern about the other leaving. The story takes its time to lay out what else they have been up to: settling accounts, deciding to settle in Nyohhira, and building what essentially amounts to a hot springs inn. It also spends a little time on the particulars of Lawrence integrating into the Nyohhira government and mercantile structure, but this, first and foremost, is about Lawrence's time with Holo (and to a much lesser degree Col).
And that's exactly how it should be. While the story has dragged a bit over the last few volumes, these final vignettes feel more like something to be savored. After all their trials, Lawrence and Holo finally got it right, and seeing them finally fully at ease with one another is a treat. Those who wanted a return to Yoitsu may be a little disappointed, but it seems like the two of them finally accepted that their journey was far more important than their destination, and thus they are both comfortable with letting that destination remain unreached indefinitely. That has always been the essence and strength of the franchise as much as all of the economics has been, so in that sense the story stays true to the very end. The natures of the two leads also remain unchanged to the very end, with Lawrence still fretting about costs and Holo entertaining a secret reason for inviting everyone for the banquet. It may not be exactly what you would expect, but after reading it, a fan can only say, “that's so Holo.” Contrarily, what they ultimately name the inn should come as zero surprise to any long-time fan.
The three included short stories complement the end of the franchise by shining lights on different aspects of the overall story. The weakest one, “Gray Smiling Face and Wolf,” is told from Col's point of view, but it still provides an outside perspective on the dynamic between Lawrence and Holo. That view gives a more succinct impression of two strong wills clashing against one another, yet in a caring and complementary fashion. “Traveling Merchant and the Gray Knight,” on the other hand, seems almost like a metaphor for Holo's life, though on its own merits it also spins a fine tale about deeply-held commitment and recognizing when it's time to give up on such a commitment. The final and shortest one, “White Path and Wolf,” is also a metaphor, but this time about village life. Its ending, which marks the franchise's last published words, also symbolizes the overall story as a whole.
One minor flaw to Hasekura's writing (and this is a flaw that is, in fact, pretty common to light novels released in the States, so it may be a general stylistic point in Japan, or perhaps a quirk of the way the novels are translated) is a frustrating lack of clarity at times about which character is speaking in conversations. Over the course of the series he has also become increasingly prone to using abstract euphemisms, again almost to the point of irritation in some of the later novels. Still, you'll be hard-pressed to find someone in the light novel circuit more adept at writing characters who speak in layered meaning, and he can certainly not be faulted for the abundance of fine detail in matters of economics or practical motivations. As always, numerous black-and-white and color illustrations by Jyuu Ayakura complement the written material, including one which shows Holo and Lawrence dressed as a modern Western-style bride and groom.
The production of the novel is also up to typical Yen Press standards for the series. Like the last few novels, it includes a map of the area that Lawrence and Holo have traversed, and like the normal light novel standard, it includes several glossy color pages with preview quotes at the front. It ends with Hasekura's final Aftwerword for the series, where he talks about the satisfaction about having finally finished something (he apparently has a long-standing habit of dropping activities once he gets comfortable with them).
By the end of the series the overall story was being stretched and perhaps could have been finished in 1-2 less novels (not counting the side story collections), but this still stands as one of the better light novel series out there and one of the few which could be fully appreciated by those who favor more mature content and/or are not in the slightest steeped in anime/manga culture. These aren't teens doing things well beyond their years and shyly approaching relationships but adults having adult interactions and adult concerns. That is, and always has been, a refreshing change of pace. And while it is sad to see that go, this is the proper time and way for the story to end. Too few series accomplish that.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Very satisfying conclusion, even if it isn't what long-timer readers may have expected.
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