Haruhiro wakes up with amnesia surrounded by others who also have amnesia and they discover they are in a world called Grimgar and in order to earn money to live they are about to become volunteer soldiers. Too bad Haruhiro and the others left over don’t really have any skills to speak of.
Review (with some spoilers):
Before I get into this I should probably explain the cappuccino reference. This book is pretty light and frothy, more froth than substance to be honest, but there’s some real bitterness once you get into it. Only, the good kind of bitterness that makes you want to go back for more. Okay, I don’t actually drink coffee but that seemed like the best analogy I could come up with for my experience reading this book. And given it was my first experience with a translated light novel, I’m honestly a little stuck as to how to fairly review this given no matter how I look at it the writing is pretty dreadful. Not even just dreadful by translated story standard (and I’ve read a lot of translated books over the years so that isn’t the issue). Yet, the story is oddly compelling. So rather than belabour this already tiresome intro, I’ll just get into reviewing and let things just kind of happen.
(By the way, though I am going to use images from the anime in this review, I am not going to compare the novel to the anime. There are definitely differences and you could do a comparison if you’d like, but I’m just going to review the book here. If you want the anime review, click here.)
I’m going to start with the negatives of having read this to get them out of the way. There are positives coming but the negatives are definitely an issue.
Firstly, while anime is littered with bathroom sequences, girls comparing breast sizes, and guys who seem to think that insulting a girl involves commenting on the size of her breasts, and while I’m mostly okay with it in anime (or at least used to ignoring it), reading such sequences is a different story. If I wasn’t adamantly against defacing books I’d probably have torn a page out of this one because it literally consisted of nothing but dialogue that made me wonder if the author had ever had a conversation with a girl ever. I’ve never actually had the experience of reading such a sequence before and to be honest, I’ll pass on going through that experience again. It adds nothing to the story or the characters. It is inane filler dialogue and it went for nearly all of two sides of one page. Which admittedly meant I read it in about half a minute and could have just moved on except that for some reason my brain committed the phrase “Boing, boing, look at them bounce’ to memory – probably because it knew that the review needed an example of this appalling exchange in order to really get the point across that this was painful.
Following on from that, at least 60% of the dialogue in the story could be considered filler. Characters have more or less the same squabbly arguments over and over again. Which would be fine if any of these exchanges were progressing anything, but literally the plot gets put on hold while the characters rehash whether or not Yume has tiny tits or Haruhiro is actually looking like a sleepy cat, etc, etc.
From what I knew of light novels before reading this, I kind of expected some of the above, but the level to which it intruded on my reading was pretty intense. Once I finally sat down and read the book, I finished it over two days in four sessions. I should have finished it in a single sitting, but every now and then I’d come to one of these exchanges and suddenly have a burning desire to be doing anything else other than reading any more of the story. Clearly though, it wasn’t much of a deterrent, because it wasn’t as though I put the book on a shelf and let it sit there for a month before trying again, but still, it definitely broke my reading flow.
The other major negative I would have for this book is just how much happens in it. I said I wouldn’t compare this to the anime, but this first book takes us nearly to the end of the anime and adds additional subplot and events. That’s a lot of content even if the final arc of the anime isn’t in this one. Ultimately it means events don’t get enough time to really be dealt with appropriately. The death of Manato works and is an excellent dramatic turning point for the group and yet is done within the space of a few pages and then we’ve moved on. Yes, we refer back to that death time and again, but the sequence itself was almost instantaneous. There are other events as well where it just feels like we are told what happens and then we’re pushed onward.
All of that would be fine, except that we spend nearly the first fifty or sixty pages of the book on world building. It is great that we’re getting a fleshed out view of the world and I’m sure a lot of those details will be important later, but an info dump while the characters get their bearings at the start of the story shouldn’t feel like it got more time and attention than a pivotal death scene or climactic fight sequence. And yet it does.
So if I were to just compare this to other novels I’m pretty sure this one would be in the nice try department and I’d be moving on. However, this is where things get tricky. I really, really loved the story and the world. I love the set up, I love all the things the book hints at coming later, I love the many characters that appear and interact with the main group even if I find most of the main group pretty painful. I also love that the story, while seemingly full of these meaningless and light frothy moments, they contrast beautifully with some of the darker and quite depressing events that occur.
While I don’t like how the world building was handled, the world of Grimgar is really quite fascinating as even by the end of the book you aren’t certain if they are in another world or in a game or simulation. There are possibilities both ways and the final pages of this book certainly push you into mulling these possibilities over without yet tipping its hand. Okay, it is sequel baiting and it is doing it well because I really want to know the secrets of the this world.
There are also some great character moments. When the group manage to work together or even when they are falling apart, some of the exchanges between the characters feel very real and revealing about their forgotten selves (though admittedly these moments are most definitely diluted through the more meaningless exchanges). Every now and then you’ll just get a line that will make you laugh out loud or nod in agreement.
Mostly what this book does well is while reading it I genuinely wanted Haruhiro to survive. I didn’t really care about the party or whatever goal they were working toward, but I wanted Haruhiro to survive because he has so much potential as a character and I would love to see him grow (and hopefully he does). This story made me fear for his safety, worry when he got hurt, feel bad when he was emotionally down, and want to cheer when he got things right. Basically I got swept up in his story and that is always a good thing.
Okay, this has gone on for a fair while so I’m going to wrap this up. As a book, this has issues. Big and glaring, cannot be overlooked issues. As a story and an introduction to a larger world, it works very effectively. Basically if you are a stickler for wanting good writing, give this one a miss, but if you just want to be transported to another world for an afternoon, this one is probably something you should check out.
If you’ve read the book I’d love to know your thoughts.
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