Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Walking My Second Path in Life
The unloved spare princess of a kingdom, Fie has lived her life in the shadow of her younger twin sister Fielle – she even gets shipped off to be the second wife of powerful King Roy when he proposes to her sister! But after a lifetime of playing second fiddle, Fie has had enough, and while she may not have had the proper education of a lady, she's more than got the courage and common sense needed to find herself a better life. Sneaking out of the pavilion where she's been imprisoned by Roy, Fie disguises herself as a boy and gets accepted into the squire tests – and what's more, she passes them and finds herself the squire of the elite 18th Troop of knights. This princess is done waiting in her tower.
Otaku de Neet's Walking My Second Path in Life is very reminiscent of Tamora Pierce's beloved young adult fantasy series Song of the Lioness - like Pierce's heroine Alanna, this series stars a young woman who wants to break into the male-dominated field of knighthood. But Fie doesn't undertake the training because that's what she's always longed to do; it's her only truly good option to make something out of a life that's been pretty terrible from the start. As one of the princesses of a lesser kingdom, Fie has been shunted aside since the second her younger twin was born – in fact, because her father was distracted by her prettier counterpart's birth, he never even gave her her own name: she was going to be Fielle, but he'd only said “fie” when the other baby was born and he decided that he liked her better. Even for a pop culture parent, that's reaching a new low, especially since Fie grew up being treated worse than Cinderella, because at least Cinderella's parents paid attention to her, even if it wasn't always positive.
Fie is a stronger character than we typically see Cinderella types as, however; she's much more in line with the eponymous heroine of the Norwegian fairy tale Tatterhood, a girl who is also eclipsed by her twin sister. Like Fielle, Tatterhood's twin is beautiful and perfect but ultimately uninteresting as a person; her beauty and princesshood are really all she has going for her. Fie and Tatterhood, on the other hand, are smart and resourceful, able to manipulate their situations in order to benefit themselves. Given how poorly Fie's life is going in the novel's opening chapter, that's not nearly as self-serving as it sounds: first ignored and then reviled through gossip in her home kingdom, she's then packed off like an unwanted pickle on a burger with her sister to be wed to the powerful King Roy, who only wants Fielle. Believing the rumors, Roy imprisons Fie in the back pavilion, a small house on the grounds of the palace. He then gives her what he assumes is enough rope to hang herself: limited food, no servants except an indifferent cook, and guards who really don't care if she's there or not. Fortunately for Fie, this is more than enough to plan an escape that has nothing to do with down to her reputation – she uses Roy's “rope” to enter the trials to become a squire, and thus set herself on the path to knighthood. She cuts her hair, renames herself Heath, and sets her feet on her second path.
There's more than just a girl power story here, although that's definitely part of the appeal, especially for fans of Tamora Pierce. Fie is far from perfect at her new, much more physically demanding life, and she gets herself into trouble trying to keep up with the guys more than once. She's also blissfully unaware of how badly she can get herself into trouble by not following orders, and any sign of approbation from anyone is likely to send her into paroxysms of bliss simply because she's never experienced approval before. All of these issues do start to be resolved as the novel goes on, so that by the time the character of Queen (a boy) comes in in the final chapter, she's able to use her head a little bit more to outthink him. Fie's journey is about finding out that she's a worthwhile human being with something to offer others, and each small instance of her making a friend or discovering that her help is wanted means the world to her and helps her to take that next step moving forward.
That's not to say that this is an inherently dark or depressing story. Even in the flashbacks, particularly the one between the two final chapters, which is much longer, Fie's life isn't presented with any sort of grim pathos. Instead the author takes a tone of “it is what it is,” allowing us to see Fie's emotional resilience rather than wallowing in the horrors. There's also room for some humor at times, mostly in the form of Sir Crow's diary entries after each chapter as he tries to figure “Heath” out. There certainly is a reverse harem building aspect to the story, with Yore, Queen, and Crow figuring into it most prominently (and just spell Yore's name backwards to figure out who he really is), but Fie herself is largely unaware of it, possibly because she's trying so hard to be Heath. As the series goes on, the reverse harem factor may become more of a feature, and thus far that doesn't feel like it will detract from the rest of Fie's story.
Walking My Second Path in Life is setting up to be a fun story about a neglected princess finding her own worth and proving it to others. Hopefully we will see a bit more of Fielle going forward, because I am curious to know her feelings on the matter (assuming she has any), and it's too bad that, while by no means a bad translation, future volumes will smooth things out a bit more with regards to the odd missing word or misconjugated verb. On the whole, though, this is a great start to a series that has a lot of appeal – the second volume can't come out soon enough.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Fie is a good heroine, story moves at a good clip
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