~illustrated by Jyuu Ayakura
~translated by Paul Starr
Isuna Hasekura's light novel series Spice & Wolf has actually turned out to be a really nice series. I am very pleased that Yen Press continues to publish Paul Starr's translation of the novels, the fifth volume of which was released in late 2011. Originally, the fifth volume was published in Japan in 2007. Jyuu Ayakura works as the illustrator for the novels. The Spice & Wolf series has an anime adaptation which is also quite enjoyable, but I still think I prefer the original novels. I have been enjoying Spice & Wolf much more than I had initially anticipated. The series is an interesting and sometimes odd mix of economics, light romance, and fantasy, but Hasekura makes it work. The real highlight of the story is the two leads, Lawrence and Holo. If you don't like them, you won't like Spice & Wolf. I happen to adore the two, so it was an easy decision for me to pick up the fifth volume.
Although they have been traveling together for a relatively short period of time--Holo, being a wolf spirit, has lived for centuries, after all--Lawrence and Holo have come to enjoy each other's company. Lawrence's life as a traveling merchant may have become much more eventful after meeting Holo, his very life being put into danger on several occasions, but it has also become much less lonely. Both Holo and Lawrence are beginning to dread the end of their journey and neither one of them really wants to talk about it. But Lawrence is resigned to fulfilling his promise to Holo to find and accompany her to her homeland in the north, Yoitsu. Their path has led them to Lenos where they hope to discover clues to Yoitsu's whereabouts in the town's histories and chronicles. And although it isn't the point of this particular trip, as a merchant Lawrence always has his eyes and ears open for a profitable trade.
I've mentioned this in every review that I have written for Spice & Wolf, and will probably continue to mention it, but my favorite part of the series is Lawrence, Holo, and their relationship with each other. From the very beginning of Spice & Wolf, Hasekura has let their bond slowly, believably, and naturally develop. Well, as naturally as could be expected when dealing with a human and a near immortal. Lawrence is just beginning to realize the implications of that particular situation while Holo, with more years and more experience, has been quite aware of them since the time she first met Lawrence. Similar to the third volume in which Lawrence had to come to terms with how important Holo had become to him, in the fifth volume he must now come to terms with what that exactly means. Their relationship has deepened and matured nicely, but it is still not without its problems.
Compared to some of the previous volumes, there is very little action that happens in the fifth volume of Spice & Wolf, at least externally. Lawrence still has his personal inner turmoil to deal with. (He does still manage to come to bodily harm, though.) He is starting to get used to Holo's company more and more, which means he isn't flustered by her quite as easily. But when he is, it is incredibly endearing. I enjoy their mutual banter immensely. Overall, I think Hasekura's writing and Starr's translation work continues to improve as the Spice & Wolf series progresses. The narrative and speech in the fifth volume is not nearly as stilted as those in the earlier books and are generally much less confusing. I still find myself puzzling over the meaning of a line of dialogue on occassion, but for the most part conversations are much easier to follow. I continue to enjoy Spice & Wolf and look forward to the next volume in the series a great deal.