~written by Isuna Hasekura
~illustrated by Jyuu Ayakura
~translated by Paul Starr
The second volume of Isuna Hasekura's Spice & Wolf light novel series was published in Japan in 2006, four months after the first volume. English readers had to wait a little longer--the second book was released in June 2010, six months after the series' English premiere. Once again, the English translation was executed by Paul Starr and the original illustrations by Jyuu Ayakura are retained, including a few color pages. I read the first award-winning volume of Spice & Wolf a few months after its initial release in December 2009 and while I wouldn't say I was blown away by the book, I did enjoy it as a lighter read and very much liked the characters of Kraft Lawrence and Holo the Wisewolf. In fact, I liked it well enough to want to read the second volume of the somewhat unusual series; I was interested in seeing what other hapless adventures Hasekura had in store for the traveling merchant and his cunning companion.
The second volume of Spice & Wolf picks up a few weeks after Lawrence first met Holo, almost immediately after where the first light novel ends. Lawrence is traveling with Holo to Poloson after a fiasco involving the purity of silver, having somehow come out ahead financially if a bit battered physically. His cargo is a single sack of pepper, a valuable commodity on which he expects to turn quite a profit and come closer to realizing his dream of owning his own trade shop in a town and permanently settling down. It seems that traveling with a harvest goddess has its benefits, even if she does spend a lot of his money on food. But when a business deal goes horribly wrong, Lawrence faces his worst nightmare--bankruptcy. Desperate and with nothing to lose, he devises a dangerous plan with Holo's aid to save himself. Even if he succeeds and comes out of this situation alive, it's still not going to be easy.
One of my favorite things about the Spice & Wolf series remains its characters. Lawrence isn't some exaggerated hero, he's just a regular guy. In fact, he's often the one who needs rescuing by Holo. And while he is softhearted, much to the delight and dismay of Holo, he is also a merchant and money and profit are usually at the forefront of his mind. Lawrence is not perfect--he can get greedy, and he makes mistakes and poor decisions. Except for her wolf tail and ears, Holo looks and acts much like a mature fifteen-year-old girl. Frequently however, her knowledge and experience earned over centuries shines through. Her loneliness, too, is readily apparent, just as is Lawrence's. Their growing attachment to one another is understandable and I love their constant teasing and banter. Poor Lawrence is usually the one on the losing end though; even a successful merchant is no match for a Wisewolf in most cases. He really does put up with a lot.
I think the second volume of Spice & Wolf is even stronger than the first novel. Dialogue is still heavily used to move the story along, which can actually be quite effective although occasionally there's a jump or a turn in a conversation that I don't quite follow. However, I also didn't find myself glazing over at some of the heavier economically involved details like I did during the previous book. I will admit that I wasn't entirely convinced by certain elements of the smuggling scheme, but I was completely convinced of Lawrence's desperation and willingness to try anything that might work no matter how unlikely. He and others were thrust into a life or death situation and I felt that. I really am enjoying this series and look forward to reading the third volume when it is released. Who would have thought a story about economics could be so absorbing and entertaining?