By Fuminori Teshima and COMTA. Released in Japan by Hobby Japan. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Hikoki.
This is a series that, when I first heard about the license, I was told was really sweet and adorable. And there’s no doubt: it is. The relationship between Zagan and Nephy is very reminiscent of young teenage love, and despite the obvious power imbalance going on throughout the story, by the end of this first book the two seem to have worked things out, although I suspect those looking for sex may be in for a long wait. That said, I tell a lie, because the FIRST thing I heard about this license was its original title with one extra word, and I was… not impressed. In fact, I may have actually avoided it. As such, I definitely approve of J-Novel Club removing ‘Slave’ from the title. But I can see why it was originally there: Nephy isn’t a bride in this at all, but she is definitely a slave, purchased by Zagan, with a collar that will blow up and all the works. What makes this different from, say, Lazy Dungeon Master is how the narrative and the characters handle this sort of thing.
Zagan is a teenage demon lord, who has his own castle (which he essentially inherited from its previous owner due to backstory that is carefully revealed throughout the book) and his excellent magical powers. He spends his day doing things like saving young knights from evil sorcerers while justifying in his head that he’s not doing it because he’s a nice guy or anything. He then hears that one of the archdemons (even higher than his position) has died and their legacy is being auctioned off. He arrives in time to see the last part of this, which is the elf Nephelia, who has giant stockpiles of mana and is also young and gorgeous. The young and gorgeous part attracts Zagan more than the mana part, and he falls in love instantly, spending his entire fortune to buy her. There’s just one problem: he’s an incredibly awkward speaker who can’t say what’s on his mind and doesn’t know how to deal with a girl. Which is fine, because as it turns out Nephy is very similar.
This is not a book I would recommend to someone looking only for sweet, cute romance. It still has all the trappings of the fantasy light novel, with slavery being a major plot point. There are no rapes, but there are several rape threats and mentions, and lots of demonic skulduggery. Indeed, Zagan gets in trouble throughout the book as the rule of thumb is that archdemons = evil, and given he won’t admit that he’s being a nice guy, he never gets the benefit of the doubt. But it’s what the book does with this that is interesting, as it shows the local village is far more accepting than you’d expect, and Zagan’s inner monologue aside, he uses power to defend himself and (later) those he loves, and has to emphasize time and time again that he did not buy Nephy to use her powers, but because he was smitten. Not that he can admit that either.
In the end, the reason I enjoyed this so much despite its settings and overall premise is that the characters were sympathetic and enjoyable, and the actual narrative pushes against the premise. If you don’t mind fantasy LN settings, and like sweet romance that’s probably a slow burner, you should absolutely pick this up.