I suppose it should’ve occurred to me that the blood splashed on the title on the cover may’ve indicated something about the book I was about to read.
Flum Apricot (yes) is a hero hand-picked by her world’s god to be part of the troupe who will defeat the Demon Lord. Unfortunately, it seems she isn’t terribly useful toward that end, as she possesses a weird special ability, Reversal, which has rendered all of her stats zero. After having her confidence slowly ground down by the apparent disdain of her fellow party-members, she’s easily able to accept that they all wanted to sell her into slavery when the hot-headed Jean does just that. But even at this lowest ebb, when Flum is thrown into a cage with a monster, she decides she’d rather die fighting with a cursed sword than just let herself be passively consumed. And as luck would have it, it turns out that “Reversal” means that the status effects of cursed items are reversed. Defeating the monster and her “owner”, Flum is able to escape – and brings along with her Milkit, the other surviving slave from the cage.
Well! That sure was a lot gorier than I was expecting, which, in retrospect, was probably a bit silly of me. I was also expecting something a little bit lighter – I mean, ok, sure, it’s about a girl fighting to have a decent life after having been sold into slavery by her comrade but… oh, I don’t know, LNs do so often wave these things off on a fairly superficial level. You were a slave? Well! Now you are not AND you have a big sword, you are now badass and cool and not traumatized! Someone may wish to chime in at this point and say, “But, Day, what about all these grimdark books over here where things just stay that way always?” To which I would say, sure thing, but even in a lot of those its a grimdark of a pretty surface variety – the gloom and grit of the broody world is only part of framing the cool and collected lead as… cool and collected. I think I was anticipating something more akin to Sexiled – sure, this world is outrageously sexist, but the heroines get to whack it aside in fairly triumphant fashion. Flum struggles a lot more here than was the case with that, and the sexism at hand is much more explicitly tied to the pervasive threat of sexual violence. This isn’t to say that the book was bad, and it isn’t even to say that the level of the violence was always a bad thing, but it did take me by surprise.
So, was the book any good? And the answer is… yes, but a heavily qualified one, as while I liked Flum a lot (as well as the conceit of her ability), and the basic story was fine, there were things which I very, very much did not enjoy. The biggest issue is that of Milkit, who views the prospect of freedom and tells Flum that she’s her master now. Milkit, it turns out, has always been a slave, and lacks an understanding of human relations beyond slaves and masters. While its entirely believable that she would initially struggle to conceive of herself as something other than a slave, that she punctuates nearly every sentence with “Master” grows old pretty quickly. That she picks a maid outfit for herself when Flum buys her new clothes also makes me suspicious that the story will move toward a place where Milkit isn’t a slave; that the side-story which follows the main narrative is all about Flum getting excited by the fact that Milkit will only show her face to her deepens that suspicion. Flum certainly tries to get the other girl to not identify as a slave, but it doesn’t feel like the story itself is entirely committed to that eventuality.
By the way, it sure was bizarre to encounter what I am pretty certain was a reference to US politics in the first two pages. Specifically, an incident involving Senator Elizabeth Warren, which you can read all about here. The short version is that she irked some male senators by refusing to stop speaking, with the Senate Majority Leader uttering the phrase, “Nevertheless, she persisted.”, which he did not mean as a compliment. It was picked up by American feminists (as well as some foreign – I’ve encountered it in both the UK and in Germany in the years since), as it bore much resemblance to a familiar feeling for women, i.e. that of men trying to shut them up. I don’t know if the reference was there in the original Japanese text, and I may be imagining it here, but it bears enough resemblance that I think I’ve got at least a decent chance of being correct about it.
Speaking of the translation, its pretty good but the editing/proofreading job is subpar versus what I’ve come to expect from Seven Seas. There were at least five spots wherein sentences didn’t make sense; I was able to work out how most of them were meant to be phrased, but in one case I had to skip over entirely as I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. The concern I expressed in writing about The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent’s first volume, that Seven Seas might be biting off more than they can chew with their LNs at the moment, seems unfortunately further borne out here. Some of the color pages at the start of the volume also displayed weirdly on the Kobo release of this volume; I’ll admit to not caring enough about these for this to bother me, but fair warning to folks who value the color illustrations in light novels.
Is it worth picking up, then? I think it was a decent read, but I also see a lot of reasons for a person not picking it up. If you dislike gore, it absolutely is not for you, and anyone uneasy with one of the leads being a slave for the primary heroine should choose something else. It’ll also probably prove frustrating for a reader who doesn’t want a slow-burn romance, as the most yuri it gets up to here are things like Flum and Milkit having fluttery feelings they don’t have a name for yet. This all reads as a bit more negative than I really mean to be about it, as I do intend to at least give the second volume a whirl (it’s scheduled for release next March, although I think we’ll see an earlier digital date announced at some point). I like the cast, and I like the basic plot of “two girls find their way in a hostile world”, I just really need the slavery thing to hit the road.