Okay, I previously reviewed the first Grimgar light novel and I kind of compared the reading experience to drinking a cappuccino so I kind of wondered what drink this book would be. Which made me think that the story is no less bitter and there is some surprising depth to the flavour, but this is a much smoother read. The froth and silliness of the first book is mostly gone save for a few wispy bubbles so more like a hot chocolate than coffee.
So now that I’m done with the beverage comparison, and why I decided to start comparing books to drinks I won’t ever try to figure out, what did I think of this second book in the series?
I loved it!
My main complaints with book one was the endless and unnecessary fan service moments as well as the fairly poor quality of the writing (particularly the dialogue). This second book is incomparably better in how it reads (though there are still some issues with the writing itself and the dialogue, while improved, still has its eye-roll worthy moments). And the fanservice moments are all but completely gone. There’s one moment where one character suggests going to look in on the girls’ bathing and he is ignored so gives up, and that’s pretty much it.
For those who have watched the anime, this book takes us to the end as it deals with the fight against Death Spots in the mine, though that isn’t the only thing going on in this book. There’s once again a surprising amount of depth in the world building and the story and the characters continue to be fleshed out as they become more at home in this strange world.
I really love how simple things like their lodgings and whether they should stay where they are or find somewhere new in the town to live get discussed or turned over in Haruhiro’s mind as just one more pressing concern. It really drives home the point that these kids, and they are kids, are literally being forced to fend for themselves in a fantasy world. Forget dying in a mine somewhere, just having a roof over their heads is something of an accomplishment.
Another part I really enjoyed was that new arrivals were mentioned in this book. Haruhiro’s group we already knew weren’t the first and they haven’t been the last. Yet this is background to a larger story and even though some of the newest recruits join them in their lodgings, we don’t directly meet them. Haruhiro and his team have bigger things to worry about and really can’t spare a thought for someone even greener.
A lot of this book focuses in on Haruhiro’s struggle as he realises his personaity just isn’t suited for leadership and he agonised over every single decision and every comment or word from those in his team. His inability to work with, or communicate properly, with Ranta really weighs on his mind and this struggle comes through clearly and for the most part you can kind of empathise with him. Like everything else with this team, they are making do. Haruhiro didn’t become the leader by some sort of vote or because the others thoughts he’d be top-notch at it. The group kind of worked by committee for awhile but more and more often Haruhiro became the one who would have to make the call because the other team members just can’t (except Ranta, but no one is following him). The others acknowledge that and while they know Haruhiro isn’t exactly leadership material, they accept him in the role first out of necessity and throughout the course of this book we see Haruhiro growing into that role and the team’s growing respect for his leadership.
What I find really great about this is Haruhiro doesn’t suddenly become some juggernaut of destruction and able to snap out comands left and right. He’s the same scared teenager with no idea how he ended up where he is that we met in book one. But he’s a scared teenager who wants to live and doesn’t want his friends to die so he’ll do what he has to do. How he figures out what that is takes a bit of trial and error and advice, but it is lovely to see him progressing.
However, this focus on Haruhiro and Ranta comes at the expense of the other characters. Merry should have had a more significant moment in this story but it seems like that kind of got buried under the boy’s personal growth. Yume and Shihoru have one or two moments but for the most part are background in this story. Same with Moguzo. While hopefully these characters will see some more development in later stories, here, other than a few skills they have learned and a general connection as a team (which has grown enormously over the course of the story) they really don’t get any independent development.
There is an early action sequence with an orc attack on the town (kind of destroying the illusion that the town is actually safe which was also kind of nice from a general feeling of hopelessness about this world) and we get to see Renji in action. Renji was the actual talented one who arrived in the world the same time as the others and formed his own group and the difference between the two teams is immeasurable at this point. Not sure where this plot line is going, but Renji is a nice bit character who makes his few moments on the pages count.
I’m kind of excited to move to the next book because this one had great pacing, some good action scenes, and I really enjoyed the character moments. Not to mention, I now have nothing more to compare the story to (not that I was trying to compare to the anime, but you really can’t help it sometimes). So everything from now on will be new to me and I’ll see how the story progresses.
If you’re interested in reading Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Volume 2 it is available on the Book Depository.