Now here’s the LN I’ve been waiting for.
Some of you are probably already familiar with the fact that my recent willingness to re-engage with LNs was in part brought about by J-Novel Club’s announcement at AnimeNYC 2019 of a shoujo line. It was that announcement which lead me to look into their membership service; happily, the first of the books they started serializing was Tearmoon Empire, whose sample I enjoyed enough to spring for a subscription. And read it weekly until I made myself stop* because the series received a release date for its first volume, which I promptly pre-ordered. So, I’ve been quite eager for this to come out.
Tearmoon Empire opens with its heroine, Mia Luna Tearmoon, princess of the titular empire, getting guillotined as the result of the revolution which has deposed her. But she gets an unexpected reprieve when she wakes up in bed screaming after the blade has dropped; relief is soon replaced with bafflement as she notices that her hands seem oddly small… and she realizes that time has reset, she is a child again, and she’s been given a second chance at both life and leadership. Thus begins Mia’s quest to avoid having her head cut off, an effort that’ll require some more thoughtfulness and action on her own part than she was accustomed to in her first go-round. Despite her own admitted laziness, the unpleasant memory of pain and her imprisonment prove excellent motivators as she begins to examine the problems facing the empire and builds up her own retinue (sometimes inadvertently).
I really, really enjoyed this first volume of Tearmoon Empire. Mia makes for a compelling lead as a girl who happily highlights her selfishness even as we can see that her experiences have lead to her to be a more mature and kinder person. But its also funny to watch as the people around her end up drawn to her due to their own mistaken conclusions about the sort of person she is. Mia certainly doesn’t grant herself enough credit, but even if she is much more decent than she thinks she is, there persists a chasm between the sorts of saintly motivations others attribute to her versus the reality. Its also fun to read a heroine who is more suspicious of her own character and who isn’t afraid to admit to her less savory aspects given how common it is for these kinds of stories to feature dim but pure-hearted heroines. (And, speaking of dimness – Mia isn’t a grand intellect by any means but this is another area where she doesn’t allow herself any credit.)
The first half of the book takes place in the imperial capital, while in the second half it pivots to Mia’s life at a swanky academy for nobles, which allows things to shift to an environment in which Mia is operating among those who are her own age and also possesses a bit less power. It’s a good way of mixing things up a bit, in part as it highlights how small incidents can have unintended consequences; for one, we learn that Mia’s failure to intervene in bullying in her previous life, which was itself part of a larger pattern of carelessness about others, played a role in her bloody fate. (Arguably, I suppose, this entire book could be read as being about how just by being decent to others one can have a very positive impact, while being a jerk can bring about grave results for the jerk.) Beyond Mia, I also appreciated the impact the change in setting had on the supporting cast – we get some fun additions, and we also get to watch Mia’s maid, Anne, grow as a person. Anne’s the sort of character – a slightly clumsy, seemingly not very smart servant – who often gets stuck as the butt of jokes in stories like this, which makes it all the more pleasing that she’s taken seriously as a character here.
Having said that, there is one aspect I was frustrated by, and that is the amount of unquestioned sexism within Mia’s world. At Mia’s fancy school, boys have a sword fighting tournament while girls are expected to provide them with their lunches. Boys ride horses but girls won’t because horses poo – and sometimes girls demand horses be killed for scaring them. It is noted that in one of the other kingdoms women have very low social status, but it doesn’t lead to anything broader than one character’s worry that Mia could end up in that kind of situation. This is, annoyingly, a pretty common issue in many female-centric LNs that have been published in English, especially so in fantasy books. Authors repeatedly construct fantastical worlds… and then drop our own world’s current and historical sexism into. Why is that? How come authors can bring themselves to imagine systems of magic and impressive beasts but stumble at imagining a land that isn’t misogynistic? Its tiresome to keep running into this in books that are being marketed as being for girls and women, particularly so because it is only rarely something which the book is at all about in the sense that, say, The Red Clocks or Swastika Night are about sexism.
J-Novel Club’s release is good, as translator David Teng and editor Hannah Carter have done a great job with the localization. They’ve deftly handled the tone of the book, not always an easy feat for stories which are often humorous and serious at the same time. (And, in fact, they’ve done so well that I’ve been trying to determine which other books, if any, they’ve worked together on – J-Novel, could you maybe make it possible to search your books by translator and editor?)
Even as the unexamined sexism is irksome, I still think Tearmoon Empire Vol. 1 is a strong start and a welcome addition to the anglophone LN market. It is also easily the best of the titles currently on offer from J-Novel’s shoujo line, which helps make for an easy recommendation from myself (although I’ll note that I’m awaiting the release from J-Novel of Bibliophile Princess Vol. 1 next month). If you dig fantasy stories focused around a female lead but are a bit bored of those which involve reincarnation in another world, Tearmoon Princess will probably suit you. Alternatively, if that doesn’t sound like your sort of thing, but you happen to know a girl who likes fantasy stories, this is entirely suitable for younger readers, too – yes, even with that guillotine, of which we don’t ever get a gruesome description of. So, buy yourself a copy, or buy your niece a copy, or buy your friend a copy, or buy your brother a copy, or… just buy everyone a copy. I want volume two!
* While more generally I’m happier reading compiled volumes of LNs rather than in installments and I also prefer e-readers to computer/phone/tablet screens for lengthier reads, quite frankly the J Novel Club app is terrible. It crashes constantly and the options for manipulating the ways in which text displays are limited; regarding the latter, that it won’t let one switch to a horizontal display alone is a deal-breaker.