Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Werewolf Count and the Trickster Tailor
Roxy Floria came to the city three years ago after her mother's death searching for her father. Instead she found her father's lover, Phoebe, who nevertheless took her in. Because life can be hard for a young woman in the city, Phoebe suggests that Roxy disguise herself as “Rock,” a young man, before she sets up a tailor shop. Things go smoothly enough until one night Rock gets an unusual visitor – a werewolf, looking for a new suit of clothes! The werewolf turns out to be Ebel, a young count, who promptly declares himself madly in love with Rock, no matter what her gender!
For whatever reason, the gender bender novel hasn't really taken off in terms of English-language young adult literature. Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness quartet and L.A. Meyer's Bloody Jack series have made names for themselves, but apart from the odd stand-alone book here and there, the genre remains mostly on the fringes. On the other hand, books about defying gender stereotypes have become much more prevalent, and books about transgender children are also coming into the mainstream (Alex Gino's George, Meredith Russo's If I Was Your Girl). All of this is worth mentioning because Yuruka Morisaki's light novel series The Werewolf Count and the Trickster Tailor manages to combine all of these genres, something that is very much a goal, and the result is a first volume that is both fun and thoughtful.
The story follows three main characters: Rock, Phoebe, and Ebel. Rock is really Roxy, a twenty-year-old woman who dresses like a man in order to live more safely in the pseudo-18th century world of the story. She was advised to do this by Phoebe, who at first appears to be a transgender woman – when Rock meets her, she says that she was Rock's father's lover. Later, however, Phoebe says that she's never really felt male or female, making her genderfluid. (More on the pronouns in a moment.) Finally Ebel is a young count, a few years older than Rock, living as a werewolf due to a curse. When Ebel meets Rock, she's presenting herself as male, but he declares that he's fallen in love at first sight with her or him – whatever Rock's gender, it doesn't matter to Ebel, he just loves the person who inhabits the body. All of these different LGBTQ+ issues are treated with a level of respect that we more commonly see in series where those issues are the point rather than a facet of a larger fantasy romance. Rock consistently corrects people who refer to Phoebe as a man, Ebel is clear that he has no gender preference when it comes to love and anyone who thinks he should (or that he should exclusively find women attractive) is close-minded, and Rock is emphatically not trans, but rather cross-dressing for her own purposes while identifying privately as female.
Unfortunately the differences between English and Japanese don't always make this an easy translate, as we lose the gendered “I” pronouns that are significant to Phoebe's speech. Likewise the English “they/them” pronoun is not used in Japanese, and a conscious decision was made on the part of Cross Infinite World to instead shift between “he/his” and “she/hers” for Phoebe, depending upon the point in the story rather than localize to the degree that the use of “they/them” would require. It doesn't change the meaning of the plot elements, but for readers who notice and are curious, rest assured that it was a deliberate and considered decision and that the author of the book is actively trying to bring awareness and understanding of genderfluidity to her readers.
LGBTQ+ issues are not, however, the sum total of the novel, but rather simply facets of who the characters are as people. The actual plot is about Ebel and Rock's relationship and Ebel's werewolf curse, putting it much more in the vein of light historical fantasy. The curse is one of the few true fantasy elements in the book, but it is a significant one, as it's the reason Rock and Ebel meet in the first place. Ebel is out patrolling the slums, where Rock and Phoebe live, when he is forced to transform in order to ward off some thugs. He then can't shift back to human because he'd be bare naked, but if he tries to go back to the affluent area he lives in, his werewolf self will cause a panic. Instead he seeks out an open clothing shop, which just so happens to belong to Rock. His sensitive nose instantly suggests to him that she's a woman, but that feels more like the author covering her backside than a major plot point – what's more important is that Rock immediately gets over her fear and accepts Ebel as a customer and a friend. (The latter's a bit more grudging.) She also sees through Ebel's cheer to understand that he's probably not quite as chill with his curse as he makes it out to be, an integral part of them growing their relationship. Although Ebel's love is instant, the romance plot is a surprisingly slow burn for most of the book, and even the appearance of Ebel's former fiancée (and her jerk brother) feel more like pieces of a Cinderella tale type than major influences; Rock's feelings are solely influenced by Ebel himself, which is nice to see.
It's very clear that this is the first entry in a longer series, because while part of the story resolves in this e-book, others do not, and the werewolf curse is plainly a much larger issue than Ebel initially realized. But the real draw here is the characters, all of whom are interesting and grow organically through the actions of the story. Tsukito's illustrations are a charming addition, with a slightly more mature look than similar art styles, and the translation makes use of some more old-fashioned vocabulary than normal, which does help to establish the time and place. Even if werewolves aren't your preferred supernatural creature, this is worth reading – its romance, overarching plot, and comfortable use of LGBTQ+ issues as simple facets of the characters rather than Major Themes make this one of the more interesting light novels to come out recently as well as just a good read.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-
+ Cohesive narrative and clever use of themes
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