By Kouko Shirakawa and Ayuko. Released in Japan as “Kōkyū no Karasu” by Shueisha Orange Bunko. Released in North America by Airship. Translated by Amelia Mason.
Usually when you see character development, it’s meant to be heartwarming, or affirming, and generally a good thing. And there is that here. Seeing Jusetsu gradually open up to being around others, helping people, and growing more comfortable in her own skin is absolutely a good thing, and the Emperor knows it. That said, the fact that she is the Raven Consort makes this a bit of a double-edged sword. The classic joke “I’m not like other girls” is eerily true here, and that’s why there’s a sense of this series moving faster and faster down a hill towards a crash that Jusetsu is not going to be able to stop. It does not help that certain factions in the court are trying to apply the accelerator rather than the brakes, and suddenly instead of being fond of Jusetsu, or looking up to Jusetsu, they are WORSHIPING Jusetsu. And that’s definitely a bad thing, give that’s she’s already a part of a god, and the other god who is the enemy may be getting back to full strength.
The main plot shows the Crane Consort’s father, Choyo, arrive at the palace, supposedly in order to apologize to the Emperor for what happened in the last book, and grace him with some of their most valuable silkworm cocoons. In reality, Choyo is there to blackmail/threaten the Emperor with the knowledge that he knows who Jusetsu is and that she should stay isolated in her own quarters. Meanwhile, the man responsible for the events of the third book, Hakurai, may have lost an eye but is not remotely down and out, and he’s here to try to kill Jusetsu *and* destroy her reputation – and nearly succeeds at the second. And, of course, these events are interspersed with the meat and potatoes of this series; a ghost is in the palace, let’s figure out why.
Generally speaking the main reason to read any of these “inner palace of the Emperor” series, be it Apothecary Diaries, Though I Am an Inept Villainess, or this one, is for the court politics, and that’s no exception here. Jusetsu is trying her best, helping people and making sure to right wrongs and save those who can be saved (and send to the afterlife those who can’t). But by the end of the book she’s basically been asked to stay shut up until further notice, and while I doubt that will last long, it feels like a loss for her. This is not to say that Choyo wins, however. Banka easily gets the most interesting plotline and the best moment in the book, as she’s seemingly ineffectual, useless, and getting sicker and sicker over the course of the book. I say seemingly because she confronts her father angrily near the end, reveals a secret she’s been holding back that upends a lot of what will be coming, and basically says “I’m not your toy anymore”. It’s great. I can’t wait to see how she nobly dies in a future volume.
Good intrigue, great characters, worrying that it will end with half the cast dead, but hey. Romance is sort of vaguely there but very much in the background. To sum up: read this, it’s good.