There are some spoilers below though I’ve tried to be fairly vague about specific plot points.
No beverage comparisons this time; the story is just worth reading.
When reviewing level 1, I admitted the writing wasn’t very good but I really enjoyed the story and the world the characters inhabited and how many possibilities that provided. Level 2 gave us improved writing and a really sharp character focus on two of the male leads. Level 3 brings us a story that wasn’t part of the anime so for the first time I went in without any idea of what was about to happen, but even if I had known, this still would have been fantastic.
It should be noted though that the writing, while improved from book 1, still has some moments where you just want to grab a pen and do some harsh editing. There’s one section narrated by Haruhiro where he gets this really repetitive thought pattern starting with ‘like’ that is used over and over again. I get what they were trying to do in this section of the book and it does make it distinct to other parts Haruhiro narrates, but it is really awkward writing.
I’m also going to point out that I felt the cover art of this one was a bit ho-hum and some of the black and white images throughout the book are so dark I can’t really see what they are supposed to be.
That is much lighter and clearer than the print version I got of this. And while it is a really minor issue, I’m not exactly buying these for the art anyway given I’m wanting to read the novel, if you are going to include images they should at least be nice.
The other criticism I’m going to put out there, before I get on to what I really loved about this book, is the chapter narrated by another random soldier. Now level 2 explored the idea of switching up the narrator but then we moved from Haruhiro to Ranta in order to get a different perspective on a known character. It gave us more insight on someone who had been dominating a lot of scenes but had so far been painted only in the way that Haruhiro saw him and the switched perspective actually helped flesh him out enormously (though didn’t make him any more tolerable in this book).
But level 3 has a chapter entirely narrated by some random soldier (not a volunteer mind you, just a soldier) as he directs an attack. Mostly he is swearing and cursing other members of the army and the basic command structure and while that is understandable, given the circumstances, it doesn’t really do anything for the reader. We don’t know who this soldier is (we’re given his name at the start of the chapter but that isn’t really the same thing). We don’t have any reason to care about what is going on. While the events of this chapter do have flow on effects to the main characters, we would have understood more or less what had happened without this chapter. Maybe some of the characters in this chapter become significant later but for this chapter to have worked these characters needed far more introduction earlier in the story.
So what works for Level 3?
The storyline here is pretty epic (and not in the I just thought it was cool way). The main army has put out an order asking volunteer soldiers to join a campaign against not one, but two orc strongholds (yep, orc and not goblin). Previously we saw how strong some random orcs were when they attacked the town (a minor part of level 2) so this is a fairly big deal. But so is the reward for the volunteer soldiers who take up the call. Naturally after a lot of umming and ahhing, Haruhiro and crew do sign up but right from the start things don’t go exactly as expected (and which reader thought they would).
Basically the entire second half of the novel is either taken up with the battle at the Keep Haruhiro and his friends are attacking, or with the first definite sign of the world these characters came from through a flashback/dream type sequence that Haruhiro has. Even with Haruhiro’s fairly mundane and narrowly focused narration the audience glimpses just how intense this battle ends up being and the toll it takes on the volunteer soldiers. In case you read level 2 and felt that Grimgar had forgotten its promise in level 1 of gritty and dangerous fantasy world where death could be a reality, let level 3 remind you. Of course, the ending will have you screaming particularly when you realise that the only way to get level 4 is to pre-order and wait (Book Depository), which of course I did.
The other part I really enjoyed about this was Choco’s character. She was a volunteer soldier who arrived after Haruhiro’s group and she’s kind of the catalyst for a lot of the reveals we get from Haruhiro. We’re really getting our first sure signs that something is really wrong with these characters being dumped in this world. She didn’t do much in the story but her impact is fairly significant and to be honest, she brought out a side of Haruhiro that was kind of entertaining.
Renji remains an incredibly impressive character every time he finds his path crossing Haruhiro. That’s probably because Haruhiro has a bit of hero-worship going and he’s narrating, but Renji manages to make everything look cool (even losing). He is a nice contrasting character given he arrived in the world at the same time as Haruhiro did but as even Haruhiro admits the difference between them is insane at this point. And yet, this book shows us that Haruhiro and his group have definitely come a long way and it is their confidence that is lacking more than their abilities at this stage (that isn’t to say they aren’t still a little rough around the edges).
Lastly I’ll give a shout out Moguzo who quite literally steals a number of scenes right out from under our narrator’s nose.
Every book draws me deeper into the world of Grimgar and to be honest I can’t wait to get the next one. Certainly there are still issues with the writing and other points, but the story, the world, and the characters more than make up for it. I’d personally like to see the girls in the part get more development, though this book actually had Shihoru starting to develop a bit of personality so maybe we’ll get there yet.
If you’re interested in reading Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Volume 3 it is available on the Book Depository.