I know, I know, every story I run across is the greatest Light Novel ever. I refuse to say that about this story, because not enough of it has been written yet! More! MORE!
Why? Well, to start with, it’s not really a “Light Novel.” It’s an English Language original, and it’s written in the Western style. There’s no guessing who said something because the quote is before the mood text. Setting descriptions are complete, without being verbose. And the character descriptions aren’t simple tropes or tags, like “yandere” or the like. Hyperion is now in its third volume, and at a cliffhanger, not of danger, heroics, and derring-do, but of characterization and personal relationships. Something is going to happen. Just what is anyone’s guess.
So what is it about? Three people who may be altering the fate of a continent. In a parallel world, not exactly the same, but similar to ours (even geographically), is a magical land which might be considered similar to the Prussian state. Allied to it is a quasi-Byzantine confederation under attack from a sort-of-Arabic force that’s literally the forces of demonic evil. Add a corrupt semi-Christian Papacy and an aggressive, still-existent (Roman) imperium, plus Vikings with skywhales from the north, and all the ingredients are present for a messy series of wars. Into this mess, thrust Pascal, an arrogant, genius, noble third year military cadet, who is about to summon his magical familiar. He’s basically a prick to all the other students, and his teachers too, but he’s almost as good as he thinks he is. He’s not high nobility, though his father is the Marshal of the Royal Army, and he’s betrothed (for complicated reasons) to Sylviane, the heiress of the allied (quasi-Byzantine) country.
Completely lacking friends, he decides to use his magical familiar ceremony to summon an especially gifted, intelligent, and of course, cute human companion. Someone who will be his equal — with differing viewpoints, and ability to mentally challenge him. Pascal only respects his father and fiancée. He’s smart enough to not think he knows all the answers, but unwise enough to act as if he does. The result is that he summons a human history student from our world, a Russo-Japanese teenaged girl named Kaede. Who was a boy in our world. To say that s/he’s not happy about being effectively kidnapped, gender-flipped, and dumped into a pre-technology world in which she’s subject to menstrual cramps and is some guy’s property for life is putting it mildly. She’s not even entirely human any more, given that she’s become a “Samaran”, a race known for blood with magical healing properties. Worse, she’s tied to Pascal by bonds of telepathy, empathy, and sensory sharing — so even her own mind isn’t entirely private.
To his credit, Pascal soon realizes just how hugely he has screwed up. Especially given that his fiancée cuts off communication with him in a fit of pique, and he can feel Kaede’s distress. Although there was little doubt in his mind that she was upset, given that she uses the enhancements he gifted her with to break three of his ribs and knock two teeth out. This isn’t a start to violent tsundere-like hijinks; it’s the lashing out of a very frightened girl. Thus begins Pascal’s education in humility – and being a human. If she has to suffer the loss of some personal boundaries, it’s somewhat balanced by the loss he suffers as well. Having a direct line to his emotions and a telepathic link, she’s able — and willing — to call him down when he’s being his usual asshole self.
But there’s one thing she can’t fix, only make worse — starting in the second volume, Sylviane becomes a major character, and unsurprisingly, she’s jealous of this cute girl that has a bond with her husband-to-be that’s even closer than holy matrimony. After all, not even the Pope can divorce a familiar. This is where my respect for the writer jumped up several notches. Most of the story is written in “close third-person” and at a key point in the third volume, the viewpoint jumps to Sylviane during a critical time when she’s been completely stressed out, suffered tremendous personal loss, spent weeks fighting in the war, and is physically exhausted to boot. Then, on top of all that, she’s horribly betrayed, undercut, and humiliated by Pascal. (He gave her a public bitch-slapping. Pascal had little choice, as Sylviane was completely out of control.)
I’d been putting pieces together for a while and had a suspicion, but it was that segment that cinched it. “Holy shit, she’s fucking bipolar!” Not, “she’s axe crazy,” but “she’s being deliberately written as clinically bipolar!” The hypomania, inferiority, depressive episodes — that’s exactly what she was, and at times she wasn’t just being unfair, she was being outright evil thanks to her instability. And in fact, reading the comments revealed that was exactly the intent of the author. He drew parallels with Ivan the Terrible and other famous bipolar absolute rulers in history, and stated that there’s more revelations to come on this score in the very near future.
So Pascal’s a prick (but improves rapidly thanks to Kaede), Sylviane is a “functional” bipolar, and Kaede herself is barely holding onto her own sanity, being kidnapped, gender-flipped, and tossed into the middle of a bloody war — where her knowledge of Earth history may prove pivotal. All of them are brave, even heroic characters, but they’re all flawed in their own ways. And that’s what the author is aiming for — an examination of heroes with feet of clay; that history is not made by perfect people.
He’s doing a damn good job of it, given that he’s making these characters understandable, if not always sympathetic. Sylviane could easily turn out to be the villain of the piece, and the story is at the turning point where that could happen — and the consequences could rock a continent.
Definitely one to keep an eye on. Text is available at Baka-Tsuki.org or here.
*No danger of death. Magical reasons.