Reviewby Theron Martin,
Wolf & Parchment
New Theory Spice and Wolf Novel 1
Col has always aspired to be a priest, and after more than a decade of helping out at the Spice and Wolf hot springs in the far northern town of Nyohhira, the time has finally arrived for him to go on a journey south to fulfill his goal. Though he had intended to travel alone, he soon discovers that Myuri, the troublesome daughter of the innkeepers who has been like a sister to him, has run away from home to join him, with the tacit approval of her mother. Though twice Myuri's age, Col sometimes finds himself the one being looked out for as their journey takes them to Atiph, a town on the coast not too far from the island Kingdom of Winfiel. There Col meets Hyland, the heir of Winfiel, as part of a monumental effort to challenge the corruption of the Church by translating holy scriptures into the vernacular. An important element in the Kingdom's long-standing conflict with the pope, Col also sees this as a way to sidestep the impurities and corruptions of the Church and bring faith more directly to the people. Hyland may have even grander plans in mind though, never mind keeping a certain girl who can manifest a wolf's ears and tail out of trouble.
After finishing his Spice and Wolf novel series, Isuna Hasekura followed it up with some short stories set many years later. Two of those set the stage for this new series, which is technically a spin-off (since the time frame for this story overlaps with one of the short stories from volume 18) but it acts as more of a generational sequel. That being said, Wolf & Parchment is written to be accessible to newcomers while providing a further expansion of the setting for fans of the preceding novel series. The result is a satisfying new work for both established fans and newcomers seeking light novel content that skews more toward older audiences – despite the fact that one of the co-stars is around age 12.
The key to both the story's success and its accessibility is its careful blending of old and new. The basic premise is nearly identical to that of the original: a young man winds up journeying through a medieval setting with a female stowaway who has a supernaturally wolfish bent. Along the way, she gets exposed to a great many things she hasn't experienced before under the young man's guidance, acting temperamental and challenging at times but also using her insight and talents to help him out in times of crisis. Problems definitely arise as the young man gets involved in matters over his head, though he is able to resolve each mess through cleverness and the assistance of his wolf companion. Medieval economics also play a significant role in the story, although in this case the issues of tithing and a shortage of coin play background rather than central roles for most of the story.
Beyond that familiarity for established franchise fans, the story also mixes things up quite a bit. Whereas Lawrence's predicaments were deeply-rooted in economics and he was always focused on money to some degree, Col's goals and musings are religiously oriented instead. Where Lawrence gave lip service to faith and saw the role of religion in daily life only in a monetary sense, Col places importance on faith and how the Church should function. In other words, the balance of money and faith in this novel is flipped compared to the original series.
Myuri is also not her mother Holo, which is largely for the best. As fun a character as Holo could be, her personal history and defining pride also constrained her to some extent, whereas the youthful Myuri is much more of a free spirit. That allows her to be far more childishly rambunctious despite nearing adolescence; calling her a hellion wouldn't be out of line, something you definitely wouldn't say that about Holo. Her youth also makes her less world-wise and world-weary, which lends a different flavor to many scenes, while her age provides that unsettling mix of innocence and burgeoning sexuality that defines her relationship with Col lively; she clearly has a girlish crush on him, while he sees her strictly as a little sister. As much as this might raise concerns about a lolicon angle, the writing never goes anywhere near that territory; Col has committed himself to celibacy and has significant discomfort dealing with women in general, so Myuri's role is more to watch out for him in those cases.
The choice of subject matter for this story is also intriguing. Clearly Hasekura has carefully studied European history, as the events of this novel draw many strong comparisons to the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. While no figure equivalent to Martin Luther exists within the story, the threads about rising discontent over the Church's money-gathering practices, a push to translate the Bible into local languages for the first time, and how assorted nobles want to use this to their own advantage in conflicts against the church mirror actual events from early 1500s Germany to a degree. Some of what's transpiring with the Kingdom of Winfiel is also reminiscent of mid-16th century England. I am quite curious to see exactly how far Hasekura goes with these parallels.
The production side of the novel conforms to the standards that Yen Press set with the original series: a few glossy pages at the beginning that preview various scenes, a map of the setting, and various black-and-white illustrations by Juu Ayakura, who also did all of the illustrations for the original series. Its 260-page length wraps with a two-page Afterword and a couple of bonus illustrations. There are a couple of grammatical errors in the text, however.
The one downside of this new series is that Myuri sometimes seems too astute for her age, even given her heritage (being both a wolf and Holo's daughter). As careful as Hasekura has been with fine details of characterization in the past, he seems unsure where to draw the line on Myuri's intuition. There's also a twist in the epilogue that seems unnecessary but does explain a couple of things about Myuri's behavior. Still, those are minor flaws in an otherwise fresh, well-written take on a solid setting.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B-
+ Focus on new characters with new goals is a refreshing change of pace, engaging machinations driving the plot
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