Am I just revealing myself as old if I try to make a Billy Mays joke here?
Lucia Arca is a royal laundress with what seems to both herself and everyone else around her a very humdrum bit of magical power – no matter what the stain is, she can remove it from clothes, using her power, Soap. It’s a pretty nifty ability that’s probably saving the kingdom loads of money, as its able to remove monster blood stains from the ( quite pricey) enchanted garments worn by knights. Yet it still isn’t the sort of thing to get a young woman noticed, so Lucia can be forgiven for her failure to realize she has attracted the romantic interest of the knight Sir Celes, even as she often shares lunch with him. But when Sir Celes is called away, along with many other knights, to accompany the Sacred Maiden on a quest to rejuvenate Lucia’s world, she finds herself the surprise star when an act of desperation reveals that Soap might just be a power that could also heal the world.
I’m going to be up-front about this – I’ve hemmed and hawed over this review for several days now. I enjoyed 90% of this first volume; Lucia could stand to be a touch less dense, but she’s charming and easy to root for, and her willingness to actually consider the Sacred Maiden as a human being and not as a savior tool is a huge boon to the text. That the Sacred Maiden turns out to be the isekai’d girl in the mix makes for an interesting twist on the isekai formula, as does that the narrative forces us to consider that a teen magicked off to another world wouldn’t, in most cases, actually find that an enjoyable proposition. I also like that Sacred Maiden Maria is allowed to act out and then have her seemingly poor behavior be contextualized within her utter lack of choice in her fate. And while the romance between Lucia and Sir Celes isn’t exactly novel, its decently cute… although, okay, I did find myself wishing after we met Maria that some of the scenes between Lucia and Sir Celes were swapped for scenes between Maria and Lucia. (Not even asking for a yuri here, folks, I just found their interactions more compelling, with the exception of that one bit where Maria jiggles Lucia’s breasts. Guess LNs gotta LN…) I also liked Gaius, a knight who is put in charge of guarding Lucia during a cross-country sprint, and the dynamic which develops between himself and Lucia, as Lucia, whose father died when she was a tiny kid, mulls if Gaius is what a father is like.
But, but, but… after largely light-hearted proceedings for, oh, 90% of the book, we then slide into a town in which people have been mysteriously disappearing and then suddenly we’re dealing with a serial rapist. And the book cliffhangers on Lucia on the verge of being raped. And while I have no doubt that she will be rescued, WOW, that was one hell of a whiplash, and its a mega-drag that we couldn’t’ve stuck with the breezier tone or opted for some other way of darkening the proceedings.* It’s also a huge drag that we have two female characters who have some of the strongest magic in their world both aren’t able to use that magic to protect themselves against predatory men because… reasons. So, Lucia can ward off hundreds of ogres in one go but isn’t allowed to walk by herself in a town because… reasons.
Regardless of how I felt about the way the content trended, this is another great release from J-Novel Club. I took a chance on buying it without reading much of the sample, so I was happy that the adaptation effort from translator C. Steussy and editor Meiru did not disappoint. I’ve certainly written a lot about how much the quality of prose has driven me off of translated LNs historically, and I remain a bit leery about that and so really, really, really appreciate a job well done in that regard.
I’m still planning to read the second volume (and, indeed, have pre-ordered it), since I did like so much of what was here in the first volume, but the final portion of the book sure made me feel sour about things. It’s really wearying how many fantasy books aimed at female audiences feel a need to include the threat of sexual assault in their narratives – can girls and women not even get to escape that in their power fantasies? Hopefully the next volume dispenses with the situation quickly and moves along to pleasanter stuff; its cast certainly deserves it.
* I’m actually, frankly, a bit disappointed J-Novel Club didn’t have a content warning on this, as there’s nothing at all to indicate that there’s sexual assault content in the book. Yes, there’s nothing graphic to it, and, yes, Lucia will surely be saved, but I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s been caught flat-footed by it appearing at all. Look at how brightly colored that cover is and read the publisher’s own synopsis! It looks completely like something bouncy, fun, and cute, not like something where I won’t find out if the heroine is raped or not until the next volume. It also absolutely made this go from a book I would’ve felt fine with recommending for a younger audience to one I wouldn’t, which seems itself a good reason for a content warning. Lest I be considered unfair, I have contacted J-Novel Club to ask them to please add a content warning to the series.