Naogumi continues his adventure as the Shield Hero (although the term Hero here might be highly misplaced for a lot of reasons) in this second book.
I really enjoyed reading book one though had some issues with Naofumi as a protagonist and those aren’t entirely diminished with book 2, but at the same time some of my issues are actually what make him pretty memorable from all the bland characters out there who just try to be the good guy all the time, or the overly scummy ones that are a parody of the overly nice ones. Naofumi has a distinct personality, I’m just not entirely sure I like it. That isn’t the same as it not working for the story.
However, it will definitely make more sense if I logically order my thoughts so lets take each part of this book one step at a time.
Firstly, this book needs a new edit and a reprint. Sorry, but basic errors where quotation marks are left off the start of dialogue so you can’t tell when the character starts speaking and issues where in a fight sequence the wrong character name was used leaving me entirely confused until I realised what had happened actually make some parts of this story a little more painful to read then they should be. In the fight example, Raphtalia points to draw Naofumi’s attention to Filo but the line about Filo uses Raphtalia’s name again making me wonder what on earth was going on until I re-read and subbed in the other name. Then it all made sense. Equally problematic are the scene and chapter transitions that regularly either reiterate information for seemingly no reason or are just really awkward. My personal favourite was the end of chapter 14 into 15 where they are discussing that they have been told there’s an area in desperate need of weed killer and there was money to make so they hurried to the Southwest. That seems fine as a chapter end as it gives us direction for where the story is going. Chapter 15 starts:
So there was a village that needed a large quantity of weed killer. We hurried there.
Um, wasn’t that exactly what I was just told only in a more interesting way at the end of the previous chapter? Even if originally these chapters were released separately or if this was originally a story told in a different medium, that’s a really simple thing to fix. Book chapters should not link like this. So yeah, new editor and fix it. Because this is a great story and has a real unique feel to it. Don’t make it needlessly difficult or annoying to read because when the story is flowing well, there’s some really good stuff here.
What is this good stuff?
As I said before, Naofumi is problematic as a protagonist and as a hero, but that’s what makes him so fascinating. He literally hates everyone in the world he is being forced to save (except Raphtalia who has become his life-line and beacon of hope and is probably the only reason he has actually continued on in this ridiculous adventure and not just laid down and waited for a wave to wipe him out). However, regardless of what a lot of book 1 set up, this is a world. It might have a lot of gaming gimmicks and the like, but it is full of people. Not everyone sucks. What book 2 does is lets the audience see the struggle inside Naofumi as he holds firmly onto that hate for everyone, but then realises he can’t act so incredibly coldly to others. What he ends up doing for the most part is fairly mercantile but his actions are good and save many of the poorer citizens who are equally treated like dirt by those in power, even if he demands payment for those acts and steadfastly denies any righteous actions.
That doesn’t mean he really gets close to anyone else though. Raphtalia, and later Filo, both work their way through his defenses but everyone else either falls into the category of potential money source or source of hatred. Still, Naofumi’s ongoing wavering and responses to events continue to be interesting.
Again, we are faced with the complex issue of slavery in this world as Naofumi already bought Raphtalia (though she chose to regain her slave curse after being forcibly removed from Naofumi last book) and now he has purchased a monster egg that grew into a Bird-God that of course can transform into a blonde girl with wings. Why not? These two are Naofumi’s slaves and he has considerable power over them, not just because he owns them, but because of the curse on them that will hurt they if they deny his orders. The fact that Naofumi is painted as someone with reasonable moral standing in a fairly corrupt world makes his slave ownership a really grey area. He doesn’t mistreat them but at times does treat them like objects and he certainly gets annoyed when they deny his commands (though usually they are commands meant to keep the pair safe).
I’m really hoping this line continues to be pursued in future books. I would love to see him release both Raphtalia and Filo from their curse and have them simply continue to work with him by choice (they pretty much would anyway but as Raphtalia has correctly pointed out at this point in the story Naofumi would never trust them if they weren’t owned by him). So yes, it is very grey and it is interesting because of it.
I also like that while there are some fight sequences depicted in this book, the majority of the time we’ll spend watching Naofumi develop his medicinal and crafting skills in the back of a carriage and trading with others. We see a lot more of the world in this book as the wave isn’t coming for over a month, and Naofumi is working to raise money for better equipment before the next wave. They do spend some time fighting to level up, but really the focus is on the other skills Naofumi can learn and develop while in this world. That does mean we are essentially reading about a character grinding in an RPG style fashion but to be honest, I enjoyed it well enough as there was a nice range and variety. A bit of jewel making, mixing medicines, gathering ingredients, collecting ore, learning magic, trying out new shields; it all just kind of flows on naturally from one thing to the next broken up by the occasional side character that they either give a lift too or the occasional monster fight.
The other heroes all get kind of a mention at times throughout the story. They are obviously still around at the start as we literally pick up where the last book left off, but then we mostly only run into Motoyasu who is one of the main causes behind Naofumi’s general hatred of humanity. Still, it is interesting that this book chooses to focus on the chaos that remains after the acts of the other heroes as a lot of Naofumi’s time is spent cleaning up something that one of the other heroes set in motion or failed to deal with adequately. While a lot of this world is based on a game design, when you kill a dragon it doesn’t just go poof and disappear. There’s a rotting corpse to deal with in this world and all the concerns that go with that. I like that touch it adds to the realness of the fantasy world.
Overall, the characters and story remained interesting and a bit different while also being much the same, but the writing didn’t feel as well edited this time round and that was a little disappointing. Still, I will definitely be on the look out for the next book.
If you’re interested in reading The Rising of the Shield Hero Volume 2 it is available on the Book Depository.