Reviewby Grant Jones,
The Sorcerer King of Destruction and the Golem of the Barbarian Queen
A young boy wakes up in another world with no recollection of his past life or how or why he got there. He soon discovers a strange skeleton and a cottage full of magic tomes. It appears that he may be the Sorcerer King reborn! While he does not seem to be very good with magic, he still manages to summon an earth golem who stays by his side. He and his earth golem venture out into the wider world to figure out who he is and the circumstances he found himself in, encountering new friends and foes alike, while also discovering new things about each other as they go.
The Sorcerer King of Destruction and the Golem of the Barbarian Queen is written by Northcarolina, who originally started writing it online and later revised it for publication in 2018 with Shiba's artwork. The novels are licensed by Seven Seas Entertainment, and Kimberly Chan worked as the translator for this volume.
The Sorcerer King of Destruction and the Golem of the Barbarian Queen (henceforth abbreviated as The Sorcerer King and the Golem) is a great example of how a work can be much more than the sum of its parts.
At first glance, these parts all feel rather run of the mill. Let's list off the components that do not garner much excitement: Protagonist is a young man trapped in another world who has no memory of his past? Check. Fantasy world inhabited with monsters and spells? Check. Supposed reincarnation of a legendary figure? Check. Paired with a monster girl that has a strong bond with him? Check. As an example of its well-established genre, The Sorcerer King and the Golem thus gives off the impression of “been there, done that"; just by listing off those qualities, it would be easy to pass this one over for dozens of other similar options on the shelf.
That's not to say that its world is entirely bereft of creativity. There is a rather unique explanation behind the monsters' – called mana beasts – ability to use magic: they have internalized crystals to help them regulate it. The practicality of needing to master the different elements as combat arts is a fun twist, with our protagonist only being skilled with Earth. Since Earth is the element that is the most awkward and difficult to wield, it puts him at a disadvantage as a spellcaster. These are minor changes from the usual formula but they help add a bit of texture to the world.
There are structural choices to The Sorcerer King and the Golem that help set it apart too. Mild spoilers here, but the majority of this volume is a one-man show. Our protagonist (who I will not name, to avoid any overt spoilers) passes the time by talking to himself, regardless of whether he is reflecting on his surroundings or wondering what's up with the book he's reading. Even when the Earth Golem joins him, there is no (overt) dialogue spoken between them, and another character that he can actually speak with does not enter the picture until the last few chapters. I think it speaks to the quality of the writing that the volume remains engaging throughout even with such a limited perspective and cast.
But these are only minor advantages that, on their own, would not be able to make The Sorcerer King and the Golem stand out.
The real strength of this work to me is the character writing. I wouldn't say that I find the protagonist relatable per se, but there is a lived-in kind of realism to his responses to what is going on around him. He makes references to Dragon Quest and Dragon Ball, he makes goofy off-hand remarks and messes up often, and he even jokingly names his primary spell NTR – demonstrating the kind “heh heh heh that's what she said” maturity one would reasonably expect from someone his age.
He also lacks the kind of incredulous obliviousness that I have seen in similar protagonists. I have read/watched more than a few series where one or more characters are clearly attracted to a protagonist who just can't seem to understand what everyone is on about. Characters will be fumbling all over themselves to impress, touch, or otherwise just be near the protagonist, who either remains blissfully ignorant or constantly feigns confusion. Our Sorcerer King here is not only cognizant of his surroundings and the intentions of others, he also harbors an appreciable amount of self-awareness. One example is how the Earth golem's change in appearance to resemble her form as it appears on the cover has him worried that people will think he is a “weird bishoujo figure guy.”
The slow evolution of the relationship between the two leads is the real heart of the work thus far. The fact that the Earth Golem, Goltarou, is largely silent is actually a benefit to the story. Because the Sorcerer King has no one else to interact with for much of the volume, the confusion and awkwardness between him and Goltarou feels more natural. I think the slow progress through Goltarou's different forms adds an interesting thematic layer about how affection can be perceived and misinterpreted based on one's outward appearance. When Goltarou is featureless, the Sorcerer King assumes that due to size and strength that Goltarou must be male and thinks of the affection between them as something akin to a pet or fond assistant. When Goltarou manifests the later form with more traditionally feminine features, suddenly it makes him reconsider those earlier interactions and his feelings regarding them. While I'm not really qualified to discuss it, there is likely some interesting commentary regarding gender identity and social perceptions to be found underneath these interactions.
I personally enjoyed how sweet the leads are without being necessarily innocent. The Sorcerer King is no saint – an encounter with buxom temple statues stands out as one example – but he is not demeaning or overtly gross either. In fact, he and Goltarou spend most of their time thinking about one another, holding hands, snuggling for warmth, and doting on one another, which creates a cozy, wholesome vibe that I thought was welcome. Little moments like Goltarou favoring the axe kick because the Sorcerer King complimented the move were nice touches too.
The prose is strong without being overly wordy. I've mentioned in prior light novel reviews that I tend to favor more descriptive text with lots of internal dialogue and flowery asides. The Sorcerer King and the Golem does not have that sort of heavy prose, but it is nevertheless meaty enough that I always had a clear picture of what was happening without feeling rushed while reading it. I also think that the more exciting scenes had enough going on to be very evocative, particularly the final climactic battle that ended the volume. The setup and stakes are clear enough that I had a strong sense of the scene visually and emotionally.
The translation work should also be commended. I naturally cannot comment on its accuracy, but in terms of readability and flow I felt the text was excellent. Individual character voices are strong and I felt like the Sorcerer King came across as natural and relatable, with the run-on words and comedic asides coming off without a snag.
The Sorcerer King of Destruction and the Golem of the Barbarian Queen is an easy recommendation from me. I was initially rather reluctant to read “yet another isekai story”, but by the end found myself won over by its small but wonderful cast. It has a comfort food kind of appeal and while there is nothing necessarily revolutionary here, it is a welcoming page-turner all the same.
Overall : B+
Story : C+
Art : B-
+ Solid characterization, relatable cast, tender moments
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