Holmes of Kyoto Vol. 2 Novel Review

If there’s a Holmes of Kyoto, is there a Moriarty, too?

Aoi and the titular Holmes are back with more antiques and mysteries in present-day Kyoto. The focus here shifts firmly to the matter of forgeries, an area of particular sensitivity, as it turns out, for Holmes, who is borderline religious in his approach to genuine articles versus fakes. Aoi may not burn as passionately on the subject, but she is pleased to realize that her own time spent working and learning in the antique shop has borne fruit, as she, too, is beginning to develop a discerning eye for appraisal. Even so, it is Holmes, not the heroine, who manages to pick up a rival, as a would-be Moriarty steps up to the plate, enticed by Holmes’s reputation.

And, just like that, things get ridiculous. Holmes was a chancy character to begin with, given how much time was spent on emphasizing how attractive and impressive he is in volume one, but that managed to avoid tipping over into silliness. Unfortunately, it seems the sedate nature of that outing wasn’t enough for someone involved with this book’s production, as that approach is booted in favor of… a ninja forger. And Holmes is also actually extremely physically capable because he’s… had to act as his grandfather’s bodyguard. Really. And how dare anyone accuse him of being a wealthy and sheltered pretty boy when he’s had to go to some really bad countries and protect his grandfather’s life while grandad was, um, buying antiques. (This earned an eyebrow raise from me, as it invites the reader to get perilously close to the fact that a whole lot of the antiques trade is ethically sketchy as heck.)

Ironically, the forgery ninja is the best portion of the book, as while the denouement is ridiculous, the lead-up is decent. The other “mysteries” which appear are for the most part rather lackluster, with low lights including one concerning a shattered jar and another featuring possibly-haunted dolls. As much as the bits with “Moriarty” seemed over-the-top, at least they had the grace to be entertaining, whereas a lot of the goings-on otherwise simply were not. I also felt significantly less patience for the amount of ink spilled on people, teehee!, mistaking high schooler Aoi and grad student Holmes for a couple. That one of the folks encouraging “go get ‘im, teen!” is a person in their forties who is dating someone in their seventies struck me as especially off-putting, as the implication seemed to be that this woman knows an age-gap shouldn’t stand in the way… but there’s a pretty big difference between an adult woman with her own wealth of experiences dating someone older than herself and a high school student dating an adult.

On a funnier note, the ninja forger section involves a shift in perspective from Aoi to Akihito, who featured in the last volume as part of one of the cases. Akihito’s an actor, and he gets cast for the presenter role in a tourism show about Kyoto. Seeking insight on places he’s supposed to visit while filming, he asks Holmes for some help, leading to him spending the day with the man. But while its clear that Aoi is sharper than Akihito, Aoi’s particular perspective on Holmes is still largely present, as Akihito keeps eyeballing the other man and internally musing about how attractive and gentlemanly he is. The effect doesn’t seem to have been entirely intentional, which is what made it amusing to me. Far less amusing is the sneering equivalent of “no homo!” Holmes treats us all to when seemingly both he and the author realized what subtext was starting to develop.

I strongly suspect that going without reading any light novels for a while is why I found the prose initially difficult to settle into, but… it did take me about twenty pages to adjust before I felt more engaged by the story than distracted by the prose. I’ve certainly made much hay in the past about not being a big fan of the style of prose one often encounters in English translations of LNs, so I won’t belabor the point here, although I’ll note that I was able to acclimate relatively quickly, not the case with many other works.

The next volume is out in January, and despite enjoying this volume far less than the previous, I have pre-ordered it. I am perhaps a little more willing to give this a greater chance than some other titles I’ve been less than entranced with since there’s such a dearth of non-fantasy titles in English LN publishing. And even if I found the plot beats a bit stupid this time around, it remains absolutely true that the bits about Kyoto landmarks and traditional crafts are themselves highly enjoyable. In fact, it may be this aspect which is keeping me reading, as I reflected a few times that I wish I’d read this before my own trip to Kyoto, as a lot of the sights mentioned sound worth checking out. Whatever it is, you can count on me being back here in a couple months to discuss volume three.

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