In drafting and re-drafting my reviews and trying to differentiate them from my discussions, I've decided that I want this to be a far more expressive faucet than the one I have with reviews. Maybe the reviews are my places for eloquently-worded literary criticism and praise and the discussions are going to be places for incoherent babbling, abundant cuss words, and revealing my personality to the reader. For as far as you know, I am no one, behind this screen, with a pseudo-profile picture and my lack of personality display on this website, currently. So, without further ado, make sure you've already read the book or don't mind being spoiled. It's about to get crazy in here.
Right, so the summary was a little vague, especially after I stopped paying attention. Just to be clear, the mysterious new power that Nakaba has to deal with is that foresight/flashback sorcery, right? Right?
Speaking of Nakaba, I'm going to spend a little while talking about how much I enjoy her...as a protagonist. She's one of those characters that's always angsty, and it's pretty damn apparent why, but I wonder how long it's going to take to reverse that mindset when she has to inevitably be a badass in...let's see...I give it five more volumes, tops. (That's not a complaint about a trope, that's actually hope that something that almost usually happens is going to happen.) Yet, somehow, Nakaba's already reached the status of "stoic badass." Even without doing anything, page one: stoic badass. I also liked how Rei Toma gave Nakaba's heroic streak a few appearances. Her constant defending Loki, that part at the end where she's nice to Caesar and it causes him to malfunction for a few seconds. I'm like, "THAT. THAT IS WHAT I WANT IN A PROTAGONIST. (get outta here, dumb character in my autobiography.)"
And now that I'm starting to tag what I like in these characters, I'm also starting to notice that Nakaba and Caesar have way more in common than I am realistically comfortable with. He's not exactly a "stoic badass," though, he's still within the category of "stoic douche." Something's for sure: one of them learned the avoid/ignore/cope strategy and the other one has a terrible mental health plan. I also notice that he's kind of an anti-hero, right? Maybe we were all supposed to hate him and he has to redeem himself by slapping a dragon or something. But enough of his potential in future volumes; I want to talk about his significance in the narrative as of right now.
Caesar is a prime example of the way royalty in Belquat think. He's extremely fearful of anyone being stronger than him. We already know it's why he hates the Ajin, and by extension, Loki, and I'm willing to bet it's also why he's so controlling of Nakaba. I expect that even despite his softened feelings for her at the end, it's going to continue to be there and announce its presence through more dumb and impulsive actions.
I also want to get at a possible theme. Think about how tightly Caesar tries to maintain control on everything. And then how it doesn't work. How it doesn't get Nakaba to do anything, how it doesn't fulfill his objective of knocking Loki out of the way, and how it doesn't do him shit when it comes to the jousting scene. Now think about how much the royal families as a form of government tries to maintain excessive control over war. (This is the arranged marriage thing I'm thinking of in particular.) How it turns people into pawns, how it barely ever lasts, and all the thousands of ways it could immediately backfire. Now (and this is the final piece of pondering I'm going to make you do, I promise) think about how Nakaba shows Caesar kindness when he doesn't try to rule her life with an iron fist. How she supports him when she thinks he threw the match just to spare Loki's life, how she puts her trust in him when Loki needs to be hidden. Maybe the point of this is to show how useless desperate attempts to gain control really are. I'd assume that the parallel it'd draw in the real world would be governments clamping down on their citizens when in fear. (Fear of losing control, perhaps.) The main example I have would have been the "red fear" which was basically a period in the 1950's when the U.S government accused everyone of being a communist and put all the people they thought
were suspicious through hell just to live daily life. And that did nothing and caused endless irreversible damage to the country. So, uh, I guess the message here is "chill, governments. chill."
IT'S TIME TO TALK ABOUT MY AWESOME THEORY WHICH IS FOUR YEARS LATE BUT WHO CARES. *clears throat* The Ajin are oppressed because the nobility is afraid of their strength. What if everyone who has red/brown/blonde hair actually has powers, like Nakaba, and that's why coal-haired control freaks make them be commoners. Furthermore, I think the king of Belquat immediately hates Nakaba because he knows what she can do. Besides, imagine how absurd choosing royalty based on hair color would have been in any possible circumstance. Like, you would have needed a pretty powerful-ass religion to get people with the other hair colors to accept their place as commoners for that sole reason, and I see no evidence of any of that here. Boom! Theoried.
I will await the proof of my success at deduction within the pages of the second volume.
I had a bunch of other thoughts on the book, so I thought it best to organize them all by chapter:
Chapter One: Where the Obsession Begins
Alright, at the beginning, I just need to take a moment to talk about how fantastic the mood is portrayed here; I'm crying; I'm gonna need a minute. Caesar's just perfectly chilling. And he maintains this front for the entire chapter. All Rei Toma shows of this character is a power hungry and menacing fiend. The first scenes with this character even managed to make my skin crawl. Well done.
In rereading this a couple times, I've managed to pinpoint the exact moment when I started thinking Nakaba was everything I wanted in a protagonist. It's page 23, I believe, where she doesn't even hesitate to straight up punch Caesar in the face. Already, I was mentally chanting, "Beat his ass to the ground!" And then she tops it off with a magnificent, "Disciplining my husband is my duty." I feel like Rei Toma should have drawn in a mic there so Nakaba could drop it.
I also loved those flashback sequences. They were portrayed really well and had just the right amount of intensity. It's a really good way of telling the reader that shit just got real. Reading it brought the whole war & conflict to life and made it so much more real. That scene also doubled as some excellent foreshadowing. I'm a little disappointed that the author had to reveal it in plain writing just a few pages later. You've gotta give us some dots to put togther, or else we're going to start making crazy theories and putting them in our discussion-reviews.
I also didn't want to neglect taking a closer look at Loki's character, whom I must admit, was really interesting. I've noticed he seems to still have a lot of internal strife going on from what happened in that flashback, and that arises in how protective he is of Nakaba. Although, I was kind of hoping that I'd get to see his character more independent rather than acting completely because of Nakaba, but maybe, for this time period at least, his connection to Nakaba is his entire character.
One more thing: that Bellinus character is pretty interesting. I'm kind of excited to find out more about them. Maybe they'll be more integral in the plot. Maybe they keep Prince Caesar's secrets. Maybe they're just going to be comic relief NOBODY KNOOOOWWS.
Chapter 2: The Obsession Continues
The opening scene of chapter two was perfect. The suspense and the tension, especially, were timed beautifully. I think one of my favorite parts of the entire scene, though, is when Nakaba says she trusts Caesar enough to hide Loki and you can see he lets down his guard for a single frame, and it's really subtle, but truly significant. I think it's the moment the reader can start seeing him as a person, whereas the entire first chapter, he's simply an enemy.
And the scene where he walks out into the hallway and meets Louise, whom we know nothing about, smells like some enticing foreshadowing. But it also serves to show his point of view a bit clearer. I doubt the point of this is to get the reader to feel sympathy for him; I think the real purpose is to show how every person in this entire system, including him, including Nakaba, including the rest of the royal family, is trapped. By the war, by the royalty, and by the way things are.
Chapter 3: A Joust? Really?
Beware: this chapter is where all my problems with this book came from. I thought that having a joust be the climax of the novel was kind of ill-fitting and dull, to be honest. I don't know how serious jousting is, but just from having experience reading books, I don't think it works as a major plot point. Maybe it was necessary to have a symbolic fight between Loki and Caesar, but I think it could have been something more interesting.
Or, I don't know. Less "a human being is a prize"-ish.
But, whatever, I'm not going to focus on the joust. I want to talk about the festival itself. I found it rather interesting that Caesar brought up how the state-sponsored festival is helpful to the royal family. The principle echoes that of "panem et circus" (bread and circus), which basically boils down to the fact that feeding and entertaining your people will get them completely under your control. (COINCIDENCE?)
In conclusion: control, hatred, excitement for the next book. See you on the flip side.