By Yukako Kabei and Shunsuke Taue. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Alethea and Athena Nibley.
This is a digital re-release of a novel series that Yen originally published back in 2009, before the light novel boom. Which is good, as this really doesn’t feel like a light novel. Honestly, if it weren’t for the interstitial illustrations, which make Kieli look sort of cute and manga-ish, I wouldn’t even guess the author was Japanese. Instead, it feels like an odd fusion of children’s fantasy and Western, as if C.S. Lewis and Louis L’Amour had decided to collaborate. The main thrust of the story (clearly written as a one-shot, though there are eight other volumes after this) is to show the growth of its title character, a young girl living in a typical repressive pseudo-English boarding school that just happens to be in a post-apocalyptic world run by the Church. Fortunately, she’s got a perky roommate for company. Unfortunately, she also ahs a secret: she can see and interact with ghosts.
And yes, it has a new cover for the Western edition, which is meant to attract casual non-anime fan readers. If I recall correctly, Yen also did this with Spice & Wolf and Haruhi Suzumiya. At first I thought the cover image was a camera – it’s not till we get further into the book that you realize that it’s a radio, possessed by a ghost of an old soldier. The book gets started when Kieli and her roommate Becca meet a seemingly dead young man in the train station right before holidays. This is Herbie… pardon me, Harvey, who is an Undying, a former supersoldier used to end the war that was the cause of the apocalypse mentioned earlier. Like most inhuman yet sentient weapons created to fight a war, the Church has a very different view on him now. The thrust of the book involves Kieli accompanying him on a train journey, supposedly so she can get some history to write an essay for school, but in reality because these two are simply drawn to each other, and also because Kieli draws trouble to her wherever she walks.
The book is well-written and the characters are enjoyable, particularly Kieli, as she’s just the right combination of “intelligent and precocious girl” while still occasionally being a child. The first two-thirds of the book function as interlocking short stories, as we see Kieli and Harvey go to a new place and Kieli run into what she first thinks is a person but turns out to be a ghost – indeed, by the end of the book I was starting to wonder if anyone Kieli was going to run into was actually alive. Even the villain is an Undying like Harvey. It’s not clear how special her power to see ghosts is – Harvey doesn’t seem impressed, but that’s more a function of his personality, and the villain seems to want to torture her more than use her abi8lities. It’s a nice way to be able to show that the series can go on if enough people read it – and indeed, it did continue, with Vols. 2 and 3 due out later this month on Kindle, Nook, etc.
After a December filled with a more modern strand of light novel plots, I enjoyed reading the more subdued and thoughtful Kieli. Recommended for those who like teen fantasy but avoid the traditional Japanese light novel cliches.