Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Novel 1: The Witch of the Azure Moon and the Cursed Prince
Fifteen years ago, Oscar, the only child of the king of Farsas, was cursed by the Witch of Silence to never be able to sire a living heir. Nothing has managed to dispel or lessen the curse, and now at age twenty, Oscar has taken matters into his own hands. He seeks out the tower of the Witch of the Azure Moon, who is rumored to grant any wish to the one who makes it to the top. When Oscar succeeds and sees Tinasha, the beautiful witch, he makes his wish: for Tinasha to become his bride.
Unnamed Memory's first novel, subtitled The Witch of the Azure Moon and the Cursed Prince, should by all rights be an engrossing fantasy read setting up a prince's curse, a witch's past, and plenty of political machinations trying to derail a happy ending. And all of those elements are there – Oscar and Tinasha are interesting characters, the worldbuilding has a lot going for it, and there's definitely more going on with both Oscar's curse and Tinasha's past as relates to the politics of present-day Farsas than meets the eye. Yet something doesn't quite come together the way it needs to in this volume, making the novel feel much longer than its 286-page length – to the point where it ends up reading more like a chore than a pleasure.
Part of the issue may be an early uncertainty as pertains to the tone of the book. The novel opens with Prince Oscar of Farsas (the largest country in an area nebulously called “the mainland”) heading to the tower of one of five witches known to inhabit the area, the Witch of the Azure Moon. Legend has it that if anyone can make it to the top of her tower, she will grant that person any wish they want, and Oscar's own great-grandfather proved that this was true. Upon achieving his goal, Oscar reveals to Tinasha, the witch, that he was cursed at age five by a different witch, the Witch of Silence: he would never have an heir because no woman would be able to carry his child to term. When Tinasha muses that perhaps a woman with strong enough magical power could, Oscar changes his wish from “break the curse” (which she's not sure she can do) to “become my bride.” It perhaps bears mentioning that although Tinasha is in fact the same witch who met his great-grandfather, she stopped aging when she became a witch around age sixteen and so still looks like a beautiful teenage girl. (Later events in the story force her to age up to about twenty, which Oscar finds even more attractive.)
At this point the novel has a lighter feel, with Tinasha vaguely horrified by Oscar's request as well as the curse her colleague has slapped him with. She does agree to come protect him for a year (similar to the arrangement she had with his great-grandfather), and Oscar makes it very clear that he'll be spending that year trying to change her mind. From there things almost immediately get more serious, with the revelation that Oscar's uncle has recently died and that a rash of suspicious kidnappings made it so that there are no cousins remaining, so Oscar and his father are the only living members of the royal bloodline. Throw in a murder at a festival, a group of mysterious mages skulking around doing nefarious things, and, towards the end of the book, some unsettling hints about Tinasha's distant past, and things definitely take an abrupt turn for the darker. There are also some odd romance novel bits and pieces strewn around, with someone slipping Oscar an aphrodisiac to make him ravish Tinasha (and possibly render her unable to use magic) and Oscar constantly touching Tinasha and pulling her onto his lap even though she's made it clear she's not interested in a romantic relationship.
It's those last parts that tend to make things feel awkward as the novel goes on, because they don't feel like they quite fit with the rest of the plot points. That's not for lack of trying on author Kuji Furumiya's part – there's a concerted effort to tie the fact that Tinasha is a witch to the type of magic she specializes in: a rare form that can be lost if the wielder becomes “impure,” with the implication that each of the five witches uses a different type of magic. Further, Tinasha and Oscar have a discussion about the fact that “impure” does not necessarily equate to “virgin,” and that given Tinasha's strength and power, the mere fact of having sex isn't likely to render her unable to use her magic. But that has the unintended side effect of making Oscar look like a guy who doesn't understand that no means no, and while he can't be expected to understand Tinasha's past since she won't explain them to him (or even mention what they are), he should respect her statements about not wanting to marry him or bear his child regardless. The world may be a pseudo-medieval fantasy one, but gender roles are clearly not in line with the medieval era.
Much of this may simply be the result of this being Furumiya's first book, one that, the afterword tells us, was started a long time ago and then edited brutally into shape. And these do feel like the mistakes of an inexperienced author to a degree – too many genres mashed together, uncertainty at how to move some of the plot threads along smoothly, and a reliance on some tropes (such as the good old jealous rival) that don't need to be there gumming up the works. In fact, by the end of this volume, I'd be surprised if the second book makes the same mistakes, because things are starting to iron themselves out in the final fifty-odd pages. It just takes Furumiya a little too much fumbling to get there.
Unnamed Memory has a lot of potential. As the storytelling evens out and Furumiya grows more confident in the story they want to tell, things become increasingly interesting. It's a shame it takes so long to reach that point, but if you can get through this volume there's a very good chance that it will prove to have been worth it – things definitely end on a promising note for an exciting volume two.
Overall : B-
Story : C+
Art : B
+ Picks up steam and grows stronger as the book goes on, art suits the story very well.
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