Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Mia, the princess of the Tearmoon Empire, lost her head to Madame la Guillotine at the age of twenty, the victim of her own self-serving policies and willful ignorance. But mere moments after the blade came down, Mia wakes up in her own bed – and she's twelve years old again! At first she thinks it was all just a nightmare, but the presence of her blood-soaked diary beside her lets her know that it wasn't, and for whatever reason, she's been given a second chance. Since she has zero interest in being beheaded again, Mia determines to figure out a way to change the future…and if it's one that doesn't involve too much pain and hardship? That'd be great, thanks.
Despite sharing some surface similarities with many of J-Novel Club's other shoujo novels (at least such as have been released as of this writing), Tearmoon Empire takes a fairly different approach to its reborn, reverse harem antics. The major one is, of course, that it's neither an isekai story nor is there anything like a game plot or mechanic involved – everything takes place in a totally game-free fantasy world, and if any mentions of something like “leveling up” are made, that's for our own reference as readers and a wink and nudge towards current genre conventions. Instead this is a straight-up reincarnation story not a little inspired by the French Revolution and The Terror, which brings us to the other major difference between it and other surface-similar novels: Mia, the heroine, isn't actually all that reformed.
This is not to imply that she's a hateful or terrible person, fortunately. But whether she's twenty or twelve, Mia is basically someone who'd really rather take the easy way out every time and isn't all that keen on putting in the work to improve her country – unless there's something in it for her, of course. Since she's also remarkably averse to pain and death, that means that she has zero desire to live through the events that led to her doom the first time around, but rather than first trying to change herself, she sets out to find others to implement the changes that need to occur in order to prevent her untimely demise, which was preceded by three years in a dungeon. She does end up changing as a person (and for the better), of course, because it would be a remarkably unpalatable book if she didn't, but most of the humor and plot progression comes from the way that Mia's actions are completely misinterpreted by those around her as signs of great wisdom and altruism when they really come from much pettier roots.
The romance subplot is probably the best example of this. Partway through the book, Mia leaves Tearmoon to attend a prestigious boarding school for royalty and nobility in a Vatican-like country, where she begins interacting with some of the people instrumental in her previous doom. One of those people is the prince of a powerful neighboring land, Sion, who sided with the revolutionaries in her other go-around. But he also ignored Mia's relentless crush on him at school, and she developed a clear sense of blame for him in terms of her death, so now she's utterly determined not to give him the time of day. Instead she focuses her attentions on Abel, the second prince of a less-impressive country, simply because it has a large army and she wants to be able to call on it if things go south. To Sion, however, it looks as if Mia is just being nice to the other boy because his jerk older brother is picking on him; later he decides that Mia must be pursuing Abel because she sees some hidden talent in him she's trying to cultivate. All of this, plus her other kindnesses in an attempt to not make enemies, draw him to her, and this time he pursues her. Meanwhile the fact that she's being nice to him makes Abel start to feel like maybe he is worth something after all, drastically changing his future from the one where he becomes a useless playboy, all while throwing Abel and Sion into a rivalry for Mia's affections that takes as its base their own totally wrong assumptions about her.
What Mia isn't aware of, of course, is the fact that by alienating Sion by spurning him for Abel may end up making him dangerous to her down the line anyway. Although Sion is largely described as being basically perfect, his companion/valet Keithwood notices that he's definitely suffering from uncharacteristic jealousy and a hint of bitterness, and that could come back to bite Mia, especially since she's only vaguely cognizant that she may be at risk of returning Abel's crush on her. In fact, Mia's so busy reacting to her previous life that she's not entirely on top of her current one, and while several major changes have already been made in her favor – most of which are attributable to her apparent gift for delegation – she's still largely oblivious to the day-to-day realities.
All of this combines to make a book that, once it gets going, is a lot of fun. The disconnect between everyone's different impressions of what's going on makes it like a giant game of “telephone” in that no one's hearing the same thing, and Mia's inner monologue is so far off from most people's assumptions that it almost becomes absurd. The author reminds us of all of this with interjections along the lines of “Reader, they were wrong,” which mostly work; less successful are Mochizuki's frequent mentions of things that will happen in the future with “but that's a story for another time.” This can work if used sparingly, but Mochizuki does cross that line, making it a bit annoying.
Tearmoon Empire isn't precisely a breath of fresh air, but it certainly is one worth taking. Mixing absurdity with satire, it capitalizes on current light novel trends while still managing to be its own story. It's simply a lot of fun to read, and that's never a bad thing.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : A-
+ Illustrations are especially nice, good tone of absurd satire plays with the plot and characters.
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