By Inori and Hanagata. Released in Japan as “Watashi no Oshi wa Akuyaku Reijou” by GL Bunko. Released in North America by Seven Sas. Translated by Jenn Yamazaki. Adapted by Nibedita Sen.
(While I try not to spoil TOO much, this does talk about events in this book a bit more than some might be comfortable with, so this is your spoiler warning.)
When we last left Rae and Claire in the first volume of this series, things were still great fun, with lots of teasing and tsundere antics, but there was also excellent discussions of LGBT identity and a few hints of ominous rumblings on the horizons. This second volume proceeds – immediately – to walk up to our heroine’s happy, relaxed life and clever plotting and scheming and kick at it till it falls over, requiring a stronger structure. Things do not relax from that point forward. Even a trip back home to visit Rae’s parents, the slightest chapter in the book, is still filled with economic inequality and the difference between the haves and have nots. Rae’s past in Japan, which barely came up in the first book, gets an amazing flashback in the third chapter, which also gets into transgender rights. And all of this? Is before the Revolution that is the subject of the original otome game. Rae may be trying to save Claire… but is that what Claire wants?
There is a certain amount of ridiculousness to the plot that you are just going to have to accept. I won’t spoil everything, I will just note that there is a volcano eruption that is only fourth or so on the list of ridiculous things. It is also clear that the author has an agenda, and is here to push it, and honestly that’s great as well. I mentioned Rae’s past – as Rei – and it gets into the nitty gritty of coming out – internally and externally – and how that can be for good and ill and both. It also has a literal love square, the kind that you see arrow diagrams of, and also has Maria-sama Ga Miteru novels (or a very thinly disguised version of) as the gateway into this. So as you can see, it manages to combine the heartfelt and the over the top without sacrificing either.
Things definitely get more serious as the book goes on, though we know they’re going to right from the start, when Rae is forced to deal with her love for Claire, something that she states out loud multiple times a day, and how dedicated to it she really is. First as comedy, and second as tragedy, events conspire to force Rae to abandon her cool, logical, and calculating persona and admit that she does, in fact, not only love Claire but want to be with Claire for the rest of her life – fuck “I want my beloved to be happy” tropes. Once the actual revolution revs up, there’s no time for school – first Rae has to maneuver events so that Claire can avoid being executed for being the symbol of all that is bad as aristocrats, and then watch in horror as Claire’s growth, acceptance and love of Rae results in all those plans being shattered to bits.
Claire’s growth is, in my opinion, even more stunning than Rae’s because we get so much of it filtered through Rae, who gets it but also does not. She knows that Claire is far nicer than she pretends to be. She shows her what their country is really like, whose lives it is built on top of, and what the commoners really feel about all this. And Claire then resolves to make things better. She helps ferret out corrupt nobles with Rae. She helps pass out food to those who are starving with Rae. And, in the end, she makes a decision that Rae can’t do, which is to accept that she is a symbol of everything that was wrong with the class system, and go to her execution in order to take responsibility. As in the first chapter, Rae is devastated and almost gives up. Seeing how far Claire has come from the standard arrogant ringlet girl is my favorite thing about this book. It even pays off in the epilogue and side story, which shows Claire adapting to commoner life rather well – indeed, a bit better than Rae is.
There’s more I can talk about, like the whole plot with Yu and Misha, which revolves around (like, honestly, a lot of this book) a metaphor that turns out to be literal. There’s Manaria, who has gallant Takarazuka vibes up the wazoo, and without whom everyone would likely be dead. There’s the young cardinal who is in love with Rae and is also… well, I’ll leave that for now. There is the fact that the book has a large number of characters who are not only yuri, but also queer, a word used by Rae in the book. (As is lesbian.) There’s the fact that there is apparently a third volume in Japan, which surprises me given that this reads very much like an ending. Above all of this is the fact that the book is simply unputdownable – it has a very large page count, but I was forced to finish it in one day anyway. It may be the best light novel of 2021, and it’s only January 8th. Read it, please. You won’t regret it.