By SOW and Zaza. Released in Japan by HJ Bunko. Released in North America by Bookwalker. Translated by David Musto.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this series, the first to be licensed by Bookwalker directly from Japan. I had seen it on HJ’s site a while back, and thought it might make a good license at the time due to one specific reason: it didn’t appear to be an isekai, which light novel licenses were currently drowning in. (Still are, to be fair.) I wondered if it would end up being something of a foodie book, focusing on the making of the bread and daily life of the bakery. In fact, it’s nothing remotely like that. But that’s OK, because I genuinely enjoyed what we get, which is a darker story about a country recovering from a vicious war that spanned the continent, the scars it left behind, and one of its veterans trying to repent for his sins with delicious bread.
The baker is Lud, a former soldier who was responsible for much of the devastation and death, and also happened to be on the winning side. He was never happy with it, though, starting off as a child soldier, and his biggest regret is being unable to save the bakery he had stayed in for a spying mission at one point. After the war, he settles into one of the neighboring countries and decides to open his own bakery. There are a few problems with this. 1) He has a face like a hardened combat veteran, and has trouble making his smile not seem like a threat. 2) The town in question is avoiding him and no one will buy his bread. His only friends are Jacob, a young man who stops by on occasion to buy some bread and snark at him, and Marlene, who is the nun in charge of the orphaned kids. Things are looking pretty bad, that is until he hires a young, highly enthusiastic, and extremely odd waitress named Sven.
Sven’s true identity is not unknown to the reader, as it’s the first scene we see in the book, but it is unknown to Lud, who finds her a good employee and friend, but doesn’t connect the dots to his former life till the very end. Sven herself has a very easily triggered jealous and possessive side, but given who she is and her newfound state, this is actually a bit more acceptable than most clingy jealous girls. The large majority of the book is dedicated to the fact that the war may technically be over, but there are still aftershocks spreading through this continent that is clearly meant to be Europe, only not. Neighboring countries that sound suspiciously like Russia are sending in terrorists as moles, or using old men with a chip on their shoulders to repair tanks, or searching for evidence of the old, world-conquering civilization that used to exist a thousand years ago. The book does a very good job keeping the reader’s interest through this, and it reads more like a thriller than a wacky romantic light novel.
Translation was good, on the whole – there were a few times I saw Lud’s name as Luke, but apparently Bookwalker are already fixing that (the benefits of being a digital publisher). As for the heroine being named Sven, well, that’s the Japanese author’s fault – if you can accept Jacuzzi Splot, you can accept this. I will note that I think the book’s formatting works better on a larger tablet than it does on a phone, so Bookwalker readers may want to try reading it that way. On the whole, though, a very good debut, and I look forward to seeing more of the series, which is 6 volumes in Japan.