Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Disowned Queen's Consulting Detective Agency
Octavia de Reine, the illegitimate eldest daughter of the Earl Reine, has a secret: she's actually the last remaining heir to the throne of an empire conquered by angels hundreds of years ago. Her recently deceased grandmother intended for Octavia to carry on the family line and duty of catching and protecting ancient artifacts known as Imperial Heirlooms, but two things seem hellbent on getting in her way: her father and a mysterious man known as Phantom Thief Crow. With a marquis equally devoted to getting entangled in her affairs and a sentient talking hat, Octavia's got her work cut out for her if she wants to follow in her grandmother's footsteps…
The Disowned Queen's Consulting Detective Agency is translated by Joshua Douglass-Molloy.
Sarasa Nagase is having a bit of a moment in English translation. The Disowned Queen's Consulting Detective Agency is the second of her light novel series to be translated, following I'm the Villainess, So I'm Taming the Final Boss (Yen Press), and with a third, The Do-Over Damsel Conquers the Dragon Emperor, slated to be released by Cross Infinite World shortly. Nagase's work manages not to feel like carbon copies of each other – while all three feature headstrong and solidly determined young women, at least the two currently available also take very different approaches to their stories. That means that if you enjoy Nagase's writing, you also get to take in stories that feel markedly unique, something that isn't always true of prolific authors.
The Disowned Queen's Consulting Detective Agency plays fast and loose with a few established genres. Octavia de Reine, the protagonist, is the heir to a long-fallen kingdom and the last of her bloodline. She inherited the position and her duty from her late grandmother, who unusually held the traditional male title of Earl Reine. (The feminine would be “countess;” no explanation is offered for why she used the masculine form of the title.) This duty isn't the one you'd normally associate with an earl – Octavia is supposed to carry on her grandmother's work of rounding up artifacts from the old empire known as Imperial Heirlooms. These are magical tools disguised as ordinary objects, and when the empire fell, and its mad god was sealed away, the heirlooms became incredibly unstable, cursed by the god. Only those of the old imperial royal family can safely use them. Octavia's grandmother set herself up as a consulting detective à la Sherlock Holmes to find them. Octavia also plans to do this, but there are a few problems. One is that her father (who, despite being her grandmother's son, doesn't appear to have the same ability as Octavia and Grandma) suspects that Octavia is hiding something. He's convinced that it's riches of some kind, and he desperately wants to take them from Octavia. The second issue is that Octavia has picked up a young marquis who won't leave her alone…and a phantom thief is hanging around who's also after the Heirlooms.
If there's any one major issue with this novel, it's that the world-building and story setup feel unnecessarily complicated. Nagase combines the classic phantom thief storyline with a Sherlock Holmes spoof with a tale of courtly intrigue and a soupçon of Cinderella thrown in for good measure. It is a lot, especially when you factor in the fantasy setting, which consists of a political plotline and tension between humans and angels. By the end of the book, she has done a creditable job of ensuring that all of the elements are used, but it can become overwhelming, especially at the start and finale of the volume. This is partly because we're left to sort things out for ourselves, which isn't bad – it's certainly better than info-dumping. But it also means that this isn't the breezy read the title might suggest, and the occasionally abrupt POV shifts are jarring. This doesn't necessarily combine well with the incredible lack of mystery about Phantom Thief Crow's real identity, either (seriously, there's a guy named Raven, which is the exact opposite of mysterious) because it feels like we're either getting too much or not enough from the writing. It's unbalanced, and that does detract.
On the plus side, Octavia herself is a stellar heroine. While she isn't preternaturally self-confident, she's also no one's damsel in distress, and she's constantly thinking about what her next moves should be and how best to carry out her goals. She couldn't care less about the whole earl thing (and Francophone readers will have already noticed that her last name and title both have the French word for “queen” in them). Still, she also doesn't have ambitions of overthrowing the angels currently ruling to regain her throne. Octavia's much more invested in making sure that the Heirlooms can't hurt anyone, and she's very keen on being a detective as well, something she's actually pretty good at. (Although the Raven/Crow thing doesn't count.) Ostensible romantic lead Raven is also interesting, and he becomes increasingly so as the novel progresses. His part of the story still has a very familiar element, mainly in the Phantom Thief Jeanne vein. It's well-executed, and Raven seems conflicted about his role in Octavia's life. There's a lot of room for development between them, with Octavia's shapeshifting talking hat (named Hat) playing the role of both straight man and jaundiced eye.
Unlike I'm the Villainess, So I'm Taming the Final Boss, this novel is written in the past tense, which helps to alleviate some of the congested feel of the prose. Its setting is also more interesting, taking place not inside an otome game but in a Gaslamp fantasy world. From the level of the technology described – cars have just entered the picture, trains are steam-powered, and streetlights are gas – we can guess the story to take place in the equivalent of the late Victorian era. Nagase seems to be using the angel/human situation in a way that may mirror Victorian colonialism. The translation nicely leans into this presumed time period, from the nods to Holmesian works to the accent given to the beleaguered police detective. It's clear that a lot of thought went into this, both in English and the original writing.
The Disowned Queen's Consulting Detective Agency is a slow read. It crams a lot of information and world-building into a relatively low page count, which can be overwhelming. But it's also an exciting start to something a little different in a light novel, and if you're looking for something that's a fantasy by not isekai, RPG, or villainess-based, this is worth checking out.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Nice illustrations, story feels distinctly different from a lot of translated LNs while still working in familiar genres. Octavia's great.
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