~written by Isuna Hasekura
~illustrated by Jyuu Ayakura
~translated by Paul Starr
Isuna Hasekura's light novel Spice & Wolf, Volume 6 was first published in Japan in 2007. Yen Press' English edition of the novel, translated by Paul Starr, was released in 2012. It retains the color pages and illustrations by Jyuu Ayakura found in the original. The first volume of Spice & Wolf won the Dengeki Novel Prize, allowing it to be subsequently published. The novel proved to be popular enough in Japan to spawn a seventeen volume light novel series, both a manga and an anime adaptation, an Internet radio show, visual novel, and plenty of merchandising opportunities. In English, the light novels have been successful enough for Yen Press to license at least the first nine novels. (Initially, the license only covered the first six volumes of Spice & Wolf, but Yen Press was able to extend it.) I have been pleasantly surprised by the series--a light fantasy with both economic and supernatural elements to it--so I am glad to have the opportunity to follow Lawrence and Holo on their journey for at least a little while longer.
Lawrence's dealings with Eve in Lenos have gone sour. Although he has made it out of the situation alive he is considerably poorer, not to mention physically battered. Eve has taken all of his money and Lawrence has let the opportunity to realize his dream slip through his fingers. Instead of ending his life as a traveling merchant and settling down permanently in Lenos, opening his own business, Lawrence has chosen Holo and her safety over his own goals. Although he has admitted his feelings to her, she is not entirely pleased with his decision. A mortal falling in love with someone who many consider to be a goddess is a complicated matter. Lawrence has promised to accompany Holo on her way back to her homeland of Yoitsu; it seems as though that journey will soon be coming to a close. But first there is the matter of Eve. She has already left Lenos on her way to the port town of Kerube. If Lawrence wants to see any of his profit, he has no choice but to follow. And to have any chance of catching up with her, that means traveling by boat on the Roam River which presents its own set of unique challenges.
One of my favorite parts about the Spice & Wolf series has always been Holo and Lawrence's relationship and their frequent bantering and teasing of each other. Unfortunately, much of the sixth volume of Spice & Wolf is spent with Holo angry at Lawrence and not even speaking to him. So, instead of Lawrence and Holo spending their time together, it's Lawrence and Col, a young student--a boy, really--who the two meet on their river journey. Although I did miss Holo and Lawrence's interactions with each other, the reason for the shift in the story's focus is abundantly clear by the end of Spice & Wolf, Volume 6. Luckily, I also happened to like Col. He may be young and still fairly naive, but he's not an idiot. In fact, he proves to be a quick and earnest learner. Col's past is interesting, and his future should be quite interesting as well. His introduction also allows Hasekura to explore another aspect of the world that he has created--the lives of and trials faced by students and scholars.
The sixth volume of Spice & Wolf relies very heavily on the books that precede it in the series, particularly the fifth volume. There's not much of a recap in the sixth volume and the references to past events aren't thoroughly explained. It's probably best to read the sixth novel soon after finishing the fifth since their plots are closely connected. Unlike many of the previous volumes, the economic elements of Spice & Wolf, Volume 6 play a less prominent role in the story. However, Hasekura acknowledges this in the book's afterword and promises to make up for it in later volumes of the series. While economics isn't as critical in Spice & Wolf, Volume 6, it is still included. In particular, readers end up learning a bit about boat and river trade and shipping. The writing style in Spice & Wolf is rather sparse, with short sentences and short paragraphs. Due to this lack of detail, what is obvious to the characters is not always obvious to the readers. Even so, I'm still enjoying Spice & Wolf. The sixth volume may not be my favorite in the series, but there is still plenty of the journey left to go.