Economics, romance, the supernatural and a medieval setting, woven together as they are, have given Spice & Wolf its unique flavor and have for the first five volume created a perfect formula for fun, adventure and suspense. Lawrence and Holo have reached the northern lands and are nearing Yoitsu, but circumstances will pull them from their original path and on a detour for the next part of this tale. Is it a welcome change or should they have stayed the course?
This is part 3 of a 3 part series review for Spice & Wolf. Part 3 covers the volumes 6, 8 to 10 and 12 of light novel series. There will be some spoilers in regard to the events of volumes 5 and 6.
After Eve’s betrayal of Lawrence in the city of Lenos, he and Holo put their journey to Yoitsu on hold to pursue her westward to the port city of Kerube. Along the way they pick up a couple of things, a new traveling companion and word that the bones of one of Holo’s pack mates may have found its way into the hands of the Church. As they search for clues regarding the bones they find themselves embroiled in the political uncertainty and strife that has descended upon Kerube.
How Was It?
Starting from volume six Spice & Wolf departs from the pattern that has been set by the series to this point, that of Lawrence and Holo traveling alone from city to city with no supporting characters lasting more than a single volume. Though the basic narrative structure of the first five volumes, that of our pair entering a new village/town/city, becoming involved with a business proposition that does not turn out as planned, using Lawrence’s experience and Holo’s wit to overcome their trial and finally ending with a bit of profit as they journey forward, is a solid one that has served the series well and has not yet become tired, the choice to change it up in both welcome and refreshing. As the cast of recurring characters grows and the focus of these volume often varies from profit, our couple’s adventure feels more connected to the world-at-large. Instead of just a passing memory for those they meet along the way, they have left a lasting and indelible impression of the communities they visit. Those they meet will not soon forget their names and neither will you forget the supporting cast.
In regard to the supporting cast, the most critical change occurs at the end of the sixth volume when Lawrence and Holo’s duo becomes a trio with the addition of the young and destitute scholar-in-training Tote Col as a traveling companion. Col’s presence helps to add new layers and dimensions to the relationship between our two leads. As Holo’s more nurturing side, and, yes, she has one, begins to show in her interactions Col; we also get to see another side of Lawrence as he does his best to mentor the boy in the ways of the business world. The witty banter the series is known for works just as well with three as it does with two and we are all the better for it. But as much as Lawrence would love Col as an apprentice, the boy being quick of mind and gifted, Col has his own goals and purpose outside of the world of business. As a resident of the northern lands, he himself is a pagan, which helps him quickly overcome his shock when shown Holo’s true form, and he has chosen to become a member of the clergy for the express purpose of protecting his homeland from within the Church itself. The interplay between truth, expectation and duty as Holo and Lawrence offer their moral, though not fiscal, support to Col add even more nuance and subtlety to an already fascinating world and reinforce the repercussions this story will have on the world around them long after they reach its conclusion.
Next to Col the most influential supporting characters in these five volumes would be Eve Bolan, the merchant that betrayed Lawrence at the end of volume five, and Huskins, the shepherd that plays a central role in volume ten. Though Eve was willing to kill Lawrence for his share of the fur trade, when they meet again at the gates of the city of Kerube, it is not out of revenge on Lawrence’s part, but for the purpose of using the circumstances of Eve’s betrayal to gather information and have her provide connections for our party as they seek the bones of Holo’s pack mate. Though Lawrence’s merchant sense and acceptance of the often cutthroat world of trade allow him to look beyond his past with Eve, Holo is less forgiving and through the entirety of their two volume stay in Kerube does her best to keep her distance from Eve. The best thing about having an extended cast that sticks around for more than a volume is seeing how Lawrence and Holo’s relationship is affected by the continuous influence of others. This is especially true of Eve, as she is both intelligent and beautiful, quite tempting for Lawrence, something that Holo does not miss. She also provides a window into what Lawrence might have become had he never met Holo, that of a person wholly obsessed with profit; without her presence Lawrence would have been less able to see just how much Holo means to him.
Lawrence and Holo’s romantic relationship continues at its stately pace, while hints abound that it could leap forward at anytime, but this is not a negative, as we are provided with just enough progression from volume to volume to sate ourselves upon. But after Lawrence’s confession to Holo at the conclusion of the fifth volume, we hear no reciprocation from Holo other than her using this new knowledge to advantage in the game of words that she plays with Lawrence. It is a lot of fun to witness Col stuck between the two of them and trying to figure out what is going on and whose side to take on which argument; his support usually ends up with Holo. This is where Huskins the Shepherd plays such an important role in moving the relationship between our couple to the next stage. Throughout Spice & Wolf there are few people that can keep up with Holo’s quick wit as her mind works in such a way that running circles around others with her words is as easy as breathing. But this skill has one weakness that Huskins is able to exploit to the fullest, the weight of experience. Huskins may not have a quick mind, but his overwhelming age is something that even Holo can’t fight against, I could not contain my laughter as he stop ups Holo’s clever tongue again and again with plain words and simple observations. He can see to the heart of the matter and as much as Holo tries to hide it from him, Huskins won’t let her off the hook and forces her to start confronting her feelings that she has kept secret to this point. He may only be around for a single volume, but Huskins’ impact on the story is felt beyond his pages.
There are few flaws within these pages, but a couple of things bothered me a bit as I read through this part of the series. The first of those was a heavy reliance on coincidence in the resolution of volume nine, as the culmination of the two volume before it and standing as a pivotal moment at the middle of the series, I wanted to see Lawrence and Holo shine in their trademark way. Instead they are only able to overcome this obstacle through a series of coincidences that stretch back to before volume six and had they lacked these their journey would have ended in Kerube, never to see Yoitsu. Though I am generally willing to excuse some narrative hand-waving for the benefit of the story, the reliance on it here just feels lazy. The second is volume twelve. Though good in and of itself, volume twelve still comes across as the weakest link in the series. The new characters are interesting, especially the mapmaker Fran, but the conclusion comes too easily to our party and lacks much of the tension that has made the series so fantastic.
Though not quite to the level of the first five volume, the middle section of Lawrence and Holo’s journey is still worth the trip and will pay you back in full for the time you dedicate to it. As the twelfth volume comes to a close you can sense the impending conclusion of this lengthy story, but this only adds to the reader’s impatience and the need, it is not just a desire after this many volumes, to see this tale through to the end. Is it possible for our titular pair to overcome their pride and mortality to create a world where their companionship does not come to an end? Only three volumes left to go to find out.
Spice & Wolf Vol. 6, 8 to 10 and 12 were published by Yen Press between June 26th, 2012 and August 26th, 2014. Authored by Isuna Hasekura and illustrated by Jyuu Ayakura the series is 17 volumes in length and was published in Japan by ASCII Media Works under their Dengeki Bunko imprint. An anime adaptation of Spice & Wolf aired two seasons in 2008 and 2009, which correspond to volumes 1, 2, 3, 5 and 7. Spice & Wolf Vol. 15: The Coin of the Sun I is scheduled for release in English on August 25, 2015.
Date of Publication: 2012-2014
Translator: Paul Starr
Author: Isuna Hasekura
Publisher: Yen Press