By SOW and Zaza. Released in Japan by HJ Bunko. Released in North America by Bookwalker. Translated by Ari and John Werry.
As readers of fantasy manga and light novels know, one of the go-to ways to create a new world but also invest it with countries that the audience might care about is to make it like Europe around the time of the first and second world wars. Be it refighting the conflict with mecha or girls in powered suits, extending the way forever thanks to the efforts of a twisted God and twisted little girl, or focusing on post-war issues and fallout, everyone loves to write not-Europe – particularly not-Germany. Combat Baker is no different, which has made this book, one where Germany essentially won the war, a bit discomfiting. But for the most part it’s been subtle, and as long as the author doesn’t try to work in the Jewish people in an incredibly unsubtle way with a stereotypical character, I think we’re — (telephone rings) Hello, yes? What? (hangs up) Oh dear.
Before I get into Shylock (yes, really), let’s take a look at the rest of the book. Jacob is the focus of this volume, as his mother wants to move to a bigger city but he wants to stay behind with Lud and company. Meanwhile, the military is dealing with the equivalent of the SS troops, a separate group attached to the powers in charge which is trying to become more powerful than the government’s own military. In order to achieve this they have sent an immature teenage brat with delusions of regaining her family’s honor, one token “just plain evil” soldier, and a corporal in a mask who looks like he wants to stop these people, but also has something to hide. And of course we still have the occasional harem antics, as Sven frustratedly realizes that she cannot control women from falling in love with Lud, mostly as she hasn’t actually confessed yet. Can this group survive a Bake-Off as well as a kidnapping?
I should note here that I’m not Jewish, so this is just my own personal feelings. I think I see what the author wanted to do with his insertion of Shylock, a businessman who grew up abused by people simply due to his ethnicity and has tried hard to run his business and support his country. We see a bit of the catch-22 involved when he thinks that giving money to the state would get him in trouble, only to be arrested for not giving money. I suspect some of my reservations would be allayed if he weren’t literally named Shylock, and his nickname is “Greedy Shylock” to boot, a businessman who controls most of the weapons manufacturing in not-Germany. When you’re writing a fantasy novel which is dealing with the horrors of war in many ways, you need some subtlety in your writing and background. Shylock was as subtle as a boot to the head.
Apart from that, this is a decent enough Combat Baker. Jacob gains some depth here as a child who’s had to grow up far too fast, and occasionally acts like the child he’s supposed to be for once. And once again it’s hinted that Lud knows exactly who Sven is and is just rewriting his own mind to forget it. There’s also new translators, and the book read a lot smoother this time around. If you’ve been reading Combat Baker, you’ll want this one as well. And yes, there is also delicious bread (though the book does not come with free bread with purchase – Bookwalker might want to look into0 that.)