By Kana Akatsuki and Suoh. Released in Japan as “Shunka Shūtō Daikōsha” by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Sergio Avila.
This one took me completely by surprise. For one thing, I’ve never seen Violet Evergarden, the other series this author is noted for, which I know has a large cult fanbase. But even then, the cover art and plot description were sort of obfuscating things. I was expecting a soft little romance, with star-crossed lovers reuniting after ten long years and lots of crying and apologies. Actually, technically, I got all that except for the “soft” part, but that also does not describe the book at all. This is a dark and brutal story about recovering from severe trauma after years of torture, the devastation of those left behind, and living in an active terrorist state where at any moment you might get brutally murdered – or just kidnapped again. Fluffy this ain’t. That said, every page of this does its job to reward the reader, and if you can tolerate a lot of dark depressing angst, it’s one of the best light novels to come out this year.
This takes place in a world where the seasons are controlled by “Agents”, four people chosen to bring about the change to winter, spring, summer and fall. They are humans with powers, and when one dies, another one develops a birthmark which marks them as the next in line. In Yamato (i.e. alternate universe Japan), things have been terrible and rather wintery for the last ten years because of a disaster that took place – during an attempted assassination of the winter agent, the spring agent was kidnapped. She’s been missing all this time, and yet, because a new agent has not appeared, she isn’t dead. The book starts with her return, ready to perform the actions to bring about spring despite PTSD, what appears to be disassociative identity disorder, and a retainer who may be even worse off than she is.
We don’t get explicitly told what happened to Hinagiku when she was kidnapped, except for dialogue-only flashbacks that imply that heavy torture was done to her. But it left its mark, and it’s amazing that she’s here to bring on the spring and try to get things back to the way they were. Meanwhile, her retainer Sakura is still trying to cope with being unable to save her at the time, and being abused by nearly everyone around her in the interim. Rosei, the agent of Winter, has tremendous survivor guilt, given that Hinagiku sacrificed herself so that he could live. And Itecho, his retainer, also blames himself for not being strong enough to go up against dozens of terrorists with guns. There is, thankfully, a BIT of healing in this volume, but when the agent of Autumn is kidnapped in what looks like a repeat of the events of last decade, the Four Seasons decide enough is enough, and they’re not going to take it anymore.
I didn’t even have time to get into the Summer agent/retainer, who have twin issues, or the Autumn retainer, who is the only retainer with no real issues and therefore gets to be the one to suffer. I do know that I really, really, really want to read the next book in this series, and I am thankful that the series seems to do 2-book arcs, so things should reasonably wrap up in it. Highly recommended.