Reviewby Theron Martin,
Wolf & Parchment: New Theory Spice & Wolf
While traveling back from the northern islands to report to Heir Hyland, stormy seas force Col and Myuri's ship into port at Desarev, the northernmost port of Winfiel, for repairs. There Col learns that he has become famous (much to his chagrin) and feels obligated to assist with fulfilling the spiritual needs of the people, as the Church-Winfiel conflict has resulted in a shortage of clergy. He and Myuri also encounter a wool merchant who happens to be an incarnation of a sheep and wind up getting involved in her tax collection effort concerning the local cathedral. They also learn about the sheep's stunningly ambitious plans and the curious way they may connect both to a relic and to some old legends. However, the events in Desarev are far more dangerous than they initially seem, and the threads that bind people across the world can result in unexpected associations.
The first novel of this “next generation” sequel to Spice and Wolf dealt with events that could have world-shaking consequences, while the second volume dealt with events that could reshape an entire region. By comparison, the third novel is much more narrowly-focused, with the things at stake more on the level with the pre-“Coin of the Sun” installments of its predecessor. That doesn't in the slightest mean a lesser sense of danger, as Col and Myuri once again ultimately end up at least as imperiled as Lawrence and Holo ever were, but this is a case where the ramifications of their actions is going to be decidedly more localized.
The scenario comes in two parts. One is the matter of Col becoming a figure of veneration for his past actions. Even if he feels he doesn't deserve it, he's become an important player in the overall conflict developing between Winfiel and the Church, on a level about equal to Lawrence and Holo's status in the establishment of the Coin of the Sun. However, unlike them, Col's involvement is publicly-known, and that is now showing consequences.
While that part of the story dominates early on, it eventually falls to the side as the tax collection scenario involving the Church takes off. These days mortgages are commonly sold between banks, so tax collection rights being sold off is hardly a stretch. While the tax collection scenario and what's going on with the priest at the cathedral is interesting on its own, the extra curve this time is the appearance of another non-human, this time a sheep whose philosophy on the future of non-humans is decidedly different from that of the one Col encountered in Winfiel back during his youthful adventures with Lawrence and Holo. In fact, it's a radical variation on what that sheep and the wolves near Nyohhira are doing: establish a homeland for nonhumans where they won't have to hide what they are, and do so in a land far away from the rest. It's by far the most impressively-ambitious plan of any nonhuman that the main characters have encountered so far, though I have to wonder how many of those characters would actually go if Gisele did succeed. Some of them seemed comfortable where they were, after all.
But that problem is outside of the scope of this novel. The other interesting twist on Gisele's stated plans – and the main reason that I recommend this novel for franchise fans – is that it brings the Moon-Hunting Bear back into the picture. This legendary creature was mentioned in a couple of places in the main series as the reason why Holo's kin might not be around anymore, but it was never elaborated upon much and never had much of an impact on the story, hence leaving it as a tantalizing but unfulfilled detail. Its unexpected reemergence here significantly expands what is known about the creature (including a better concept of how large it must have been) and the largely-unknown-to-humans role that it played in the history of the setting. The way that it's used here makes it fading into the background again after this volume entirely possible, but at least its presence here expands on the lore of the setting. That's not the only connection to past events in the original series, either, and the other one is also a welcome and logical connection.
The technical merits of Isuna Hasekusa's writing are about on par with his norm, though I found the quickness with which the scenario became deadly to be a bit jarring and the resolution to be painfully short on development of the villain's reasoning; sure, killing to cover tracks is a classic motive for murder, but implications that the villain had regrets are not adequately developed and the consequences that taking someone with as much of a public presence as Col out of the picture seem to have not been considered at all, which seems grossly out of character for the villain. Still, the twist about the true nature of the cloth of Saint Nix is actually a clever one.
Per the norm for the franchise, Yen Press is releasing the 264 page novel with several glossy art pages the preview the content, a black-and-white world map, and a handful of black-and-white illustrations scattered throughout. It ends with a two page Afterword which has nothing of consequence to say.
Overall, this is a middle-of-the-road story as franchise content goes, one that would feel more like an interlude between major stories if it wasn't for the dramatic new scheme being proposed by Gisele. It's a worthy read for franchise fans but maybe not a priority read.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Expands on franchise lore
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