By Mari Morikawa and Bodax. Released in Japan as “Konyaku Haki no Sono Saki ni: Suterare Reijō, Ōji-sama ni Dekiai (Engi) Sareru” by DRE Novels. Released in North America by J-Novel Heart. Translated by Adam.
Just as we’ve had so many isekai and “game stat world” light novels that it’s super refreshing to get a normal fantasy book, we’ve had some many novels where the protagonist is a “villainess” trying to change her fate, redeem herself, or otherwise fight against her narrative that it’s nice to see a book that straight up *is* that narrative. Yes, technically the book begins with a broken engagement. But Estelle, our heroine, really is a heroine for once. She’s well known for being a nice, if somewhat plain, young noble lady. She helps to care for her people after they’re wounded fighting dragons, and she also helps fight the dragons herself if need be. Oh yes, and she has a secret: she’s got magic powers, a rarity in this country, and can see the mana within people, and tell what their emotional state is. Sadly, this has left her mostly a bundle of introversion, so the broken engagement is not a good thing.
So yes, we open with Estelle having her engagement broken. Not because Lyle, her fiance, hates her now. It’s just that his family is on hard times, and they can get financial assistance if he marries Diana Pautrier – who does hate Estelle, but that’s neither here nor there. Now Estelle needs to find another engagement – which is hard, given her parents are dead, she’s only an Earl’s daughter, and the valuable magic powers she has she’s kept a secret from most everyone. Worse still, it means they have to give up their neutrality and pick a side in the upcoming throne war between the first and second prince. She and her brother attend a ball held by the first prince, and since she’s actually choosing to ally with him, he gives her the second dance of the night after his fiancee. Then she’s shot trying o prevent him being killed by an assassin, and everything goes off the rails.
So yeah, the title is the spoiler now she’s engaged to the first prince. He knows about her powers, and regards her as a “walking alarm”, so is content to dump his current fiancee (who does not take it well) and get engaged to Estelle, saying that it’s true love. Which it isn’t, but the main reason to read this book is to see these two people, both dealing with their engagement out of need and not true love, slowly falling for each other. Estelle is cognizant of it almost immediately, but feels guilty as she can see Arcrayne is being manipulative and teasing and also she feels bad for giving up on Lyle so soon. As for Arcrayne, he’s not intending this to be anything but “she is useful”, but rapidly realizes she really is a terrific fiancee for him. There’s even a realistic depiction of both “we are pretending I just had my first time” and, later on, “we have to pretend I didn’t just have my first time”, which is sweet.
The antagonist of the book is dealt with here, but there’s clearly more antagonists waiting for future volumes, including Arcrayne’s ex-fiancee, as well as the Queen, who I have a sneaking suspicion has a past with Estelle’s family. In any case, if you want a straightforward romance plot with heroines and villainesses who stay in their lane, this is very good.