Book Review: Spice & Wolf Volume 1

Spice & Wolf Volume 1 cover

I hope that everyone is doing well, now that many are back to the daily grind of work and school.

Things have been going pretty well, especially since I have been getting through my recent purchases at a fairly decent rate.

Earlier in the month, I placed an ordered with Amazon for eight books that I was interested in reading, I have been able to get through each until one three remain.

Today, I will be reviewing one of those remaining titles, which is called Spice & Wolf Volume 1 by Isuna Hasekura.

Kraft Lawrence leads a lonely life as he travels land exchanging goods for money and the other necessities that a traveling merchants, hoping that he could one day open up a shop.

However, when Lawrence makes a stop at a village to get some wheat, he finds out that he had gotten more than wheat when he meets a girl who claims to have been the god of harvest for the village he left, and both the peace and loneliness in his life seem to abruptly end, as his new acquaintance gets him into all kinds of trouble.

Ever since I found out the novels were being published where I lived, I wanted to check out this series quite badly, to see how different it was from the anime that Funimation dubbed, but, for some reason, Yen Press only released the volumes in print, and the space I have for print books is dwindling, so I had to just give up on it, not to mention that reviewing print titles can be difficult because it is hard to find things I thought I noticed.

Thankfully, Yen Press finally decided to release the series digitally, and I got the first three volumes to test the waters of this 18-book series.

Fortunately, after reading, I can say that I enjoyed it, more so than the anime, whose second season I reviewed back in the year I started this blog, which is also the year before I got the domain name I now use today.

From the moment that I opened up this book and started reading, I did not want to put it down for any reason, though a few things other than the basic needs of every human being did crop up on multiple occasions.

Many of the books that I have read recently tend to get into the plot fairly quickly after the protagonists are introduced and help keep things interesting, but, when it comes to writing fiction, this is something that is expected out of everyone, regardless of whether they are up and coming, like Weston Kincade was when he originally released Invisible Dawn, now called To Kill a Priest, and A Life of Death, or an established writer, such as John Grisham.

However, many writers, regardless of experience level, fail to make things seem interesting when the things occurring are simple things that happen every day or is something on the duller side than that, and it cause situations that could be found either in The Whistler, where the reader feels like they can stop reading even though the book was unbearable, or the early books in the Magical Index series, where the book just feels like a chore, instead of something enjoyable, which makes avid readers want to avoid those writers like the plague they are, and even a few big names have become.

When I see things like this, I become sad to see what the book industry has become and makes me shake my head in utter amazement why people are not reading as much as humans have in the past, other than the fact that the human attention span keeps getting shorter, because there are some terrible books published by both traditional publishers and self-publishers that finding gems have become as difficult as, if not more than, "trying to find a needle in a haystack", as the clichéd idiom goes.

Readers want their attention to be held throughout the entire book, and if eye candy, like what John Grisham tried to incorporate in The Whistler with the romance element or the explosions and things Michael Bay is known for, is all that is being delivered, especially with characters that are not that interesting, the readers will begin to grow weary of it and put the book down, or even stop getting books from the author.

Here, however, Isuna Hasekura, who made his d├ębut in the writing world with this series, was able to do something that hardly any writer I have encountered was able to do by making both the rather dull parts and the parts where things happened seem enthralling with a fairly interesting cast of characters.

Fans of the series know full well that hardly anything happens, though things do happen from time to time, in this series, having the focus center around character interactions and the life of a traveling merchant, but if I can feel this interested in a work where nothing really happens, I can see why people really like this series.

This is what I wanted to see from A Certain Magical Index back when I read the first two books of that series, but Kazuma Kamachi did not deliver, whereas Isuna, a newbie, was able to grab my attention and keep it throughout the entire book.

I am not too sure who was on prize selection committee for the 12th Dengeki Shosetsu Prize, but I think that they did a better job giving Isuna Hasekura a silver medal because he did what writers like John Grisham continually fail to bring to the table, and this certainly feels like a gem, unlike many of the books that get praise from big name critics, yet get the ridicule they deserve from the people that matter, which are, as Weston Kincade stated in his interview with me in 2013, readers like you and I, though I am not too certain if I will remain relatively unknown or become as big as The New York Times.

For now, I am just glad to see that writers who truly deserve an award are getting them, as opposed to writers who are famous enough to have anything with their name on it fly off the shelves, not that everything from those writers is as bad as The Whistler was, otherwise their names would not have become the household names that they are.

Nice job, Isuna.

I also liked how the chapters did not seem like they were too long.

While I have read over 100 books over the course of my life, many of which I have not reviewed here, or even at all, I am still relatively new to the light novel medium and do not exactly know what to expect, other than a few of the same things generally found in anime and magna, but I have encountered books, such as those in Magical Index series, where I keep wondering when the chapter finally end because it felt like things were being dragged on.

When I see this, I truly wonder if the people editing and proofreading the work are actually doing their job, because there are places where a chapter must end for things to remain existing and some people just do not seem to understand that, just like A-1 Pictures should have ended Sword Art Online when the titular game beaten, instead of tacking on the Fairy Dance arc.

However, in this book, each chapter felt like it ended right where it was supposed end, and I could not wait to start reading the next chapter, even when I got headache, though I usually stop reading for the same reasons that I do not want to watch any subbed anime when I have a headache.

Kazuma Kamachi needs learn from Isuna, because there is no reason to have chapters that are 40 or more pages when you cannot even maintain the reader's interest for the entire chapter, and that is one of the reasons that I do not think that I will ever agree with the people that say A Certain Magical Index is better than A Certain Scientific Railgun. That is why chapters do not generally have a mandatory standard of a number pages or word count. Chapters should only be long enough that it tells the entirety of that segment and keeps the readers interest, which is something Kazumi could not seem to ever have accomplished in the first ten books of A Certain Magical Index.

If light novel writers understood, I would probably read more light novels, because I would not grow bored.

Unfortunately, I do not think that this will change any time soon, since the Japanese market seems to have no problem with works like Magical Index series and the people that are living there are the ones who seem to matter the Japanese publishers, so I guess I will be in for a long wait.

Still, that does not mean that Isuna Hasekura should not be praised for doing something right.

Another nice thing about this book was there were moments that made me laugh.

While the humor found in this book is just the same kind of stuff that could be found in manga and anime, and even in the anime adaptation of this series, things seemed to be a whole lot funnier here.

When I watched the anime, back around the time that I still had a Netflix subscription, I had a hard time enjoying myself because I did not really feel like laughing all that much, which seemed to add into the experience how dull the anime seemed to be, and I did not really get how people could like this series so much.

Here, however, those same moments, such as how Holo teases Lawrence, seemed to be absolutely hysterical.

If I had to say why, it is because the humor of this series was handled way better Imagin did with the anime adaptation, since I have no strong urge to even check out the anime again.

Many should know that I do not care too much whether the comedy found in a series is high class or not, but I have mentioned quite a few times that how it is done determines whether or not it is actually funny, and Isuna seems to accomplish this quite well with his work, which shows me that he had remarkable talent when he started writing.

If writers could remain this good as they gain more experience, I doubt that I or any readers will become displeased with any author.

Unfortunately, World End Economica, another work associated with Isuna Hasekura, could not even remotely match the quality found in this book, so I guess that this might be the one and only series of his that has actually impressed me, much like how Nobuhiro Watsuki could not capture my interest with any work after he completed Rurouni Kenshin.

Hopeful, Isuna can go back to writing something as interesting as this book was, because it would be sad if he had wasted so much of the potential he has demonstrated that he has in this book, but, I have to keep in mind that nothing created by mankind is ever perfect, nor will mankind continually produce gold.

The thing that I liked the most though was how the official translation of this book seemed to flow rather well.

In the anime and manga community, there are people that demand the Japanese honorifics, with one reviewer that I know actually deciding not to check out a book because the translation was not to his liking, but there are more important things to worry about with a translation, especially when the work is mostly text, like this one.

Translations need to feel natural in the vernacular of the area where the work is being publish, such as the profanity used, among other things, and I have encountered translations where things did not seem to feel natural to me, and not just because the words found were words I do not use in my daily life.

For example, the honorific used in the first volume of The Seven Deadly Sins, did not seem to feel natural at all because of where the story took place and Kodansha hardly used any honorifics prior to that point, which ruined my enjoyment of the work, aside from Meliodas's one-shot victory being more underwhelming than the one-shot victory that Goku had against a pterodactyl in Dragon Ball.

If Kodansha had avoided Japanese honorifics entirely, I would have been a bit more willing to continue following the volumes released by Kodansha, but they just decided to let things remain feeling unnatural.

Yen Press, however, has had a good track record of having translations that are easy to read and feel quite natural, even when the translator or the people editing and proofreading the work decides to include use of profanity, and this volume is no different.

This is what I see from a translation, and Paul Starr seemed to be just as competent as Isuna Hasekura appeared to be in this book.

If he had not done a great job with the translation, even though I am not too sure how accurate it is, I do not think that I could have felt impress by Isuna Hasekura, since a translator must bring out the voice of the writer.

Hopefully, Yen Press can improve in other areas in the future, because I do not want to have to suffer through yet another Judge Volume 6, which had cut out content that should have been there to begin with and made me consider not support any series they release after Pandora Hearts reached its conclusion, and the help I got from them with Erased Volume 1 makes me want to give them a bit of slack, though I am not going to let them get away with things that I should not have to put up with.

Outside of those things, I cannot think of anything else that I particularly liked, especially if I do not want to spoil things for those not familiar with the series.

Because my interest was held from beginning to end, and even the moments that could be consider dull were interesting, chapters were not absurdly long, and Yen Press continues to release decent translations, this book was one of the best I have read so far.

Although I liked the book, there are some issues.

However, aside from things too minor to talk about, such as typos, nothing really bothered me too much.

As a result, I will have to say that there is nothing worth mentioning.

Considering that there was quite a bit to like, especially how even the dullest of moments felt interesting, this was definitely worth reading.

I recommend this to fans of Isuna Hasekura, Spice & Wolf, and those that want something different from the usual.

As for everyone else, this might be worth giving a try, but the lack of anything really happening might turn a few people off.

If you have read this book, what are your thoughts on Spice & Wolf Volume 1? Please leave a comment and let everyone know why you liked or hated it, especially if your reasons differ from mine or you disagree with me.

Also, if you liked this review and would like to see more, please consider supporting me on Patreon, so that I can continue following this series and find other worthwhile reads.

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Copyright © 2015 Bryce Campbell. All Rights Reserved.