By Takemachi and Tomari. Released in Japan as “Spy Kyoushitsu” by Fujimi Fantasia Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Nathaniel Thrasher.
The author mentions in the afterword to this volume that they were worried about Avian’s impact on the reader, and in particular whether Avian would be likeable enough. It’s a good point. From the moment we met them, they felt like the unpleasant, annoying mirror to our heroines, and it was not helped by the fact that they were better than all of them at everything. Of course, the ending to the previous volume also seemingly cut off any further development there… or so you’ think. But the author’s main strength has always been manipulating the written word and literary tricks (this is one reason the anime failed so hard for me), and so we get judicious use of flashbacks here to show off that really, Avian weren’t as bad as all that. In the end, they’re another bunch of wacky, eccentric spies. Of course, another way of helping to make your new characters sympathetic is to introduce even more new characters and make them worse. The spies we meet in this volume are worse.
The book starts off with Sybilla getting captured by these new characters. Belias are an English team of spies (OK, it’s the “Spy Classroom” version of England, but come on, this is sort of like Tanya the Evil’s version of England) who are trying to find the one surviving member of Avian, who are accused of trying to assassinate the Prince. Sybilla has also been trying to find Lan in order to discover how Avian were all killed so easily. The two have wildly different ends, but the same goal, so they agree to team up – or rather, Belias forces Lamplight to team up with them. This will involve going to an exclusive ball where they will have to dance to attract attention – meaning that Sybilla and Klaus will have to be on the same page, something they’ve been failing at since the series began. Then things get worse, as the Prince really is assassinated.
As I mentioned in the last review, this series can get pretty damn dark. The girls all being flakes is probably the best way to distract from that. I had been wondering if Avian being dead was another fakeout, but no, all but Lan are indeed dead. What’s more, Belias aren’t the real bad guys either, being a classic example of “we were only following orders” spies who don’t bother to question things lest it lead them to realizing that they’re being manipulated. Which naturally makes it easy for them to get manipulated by Lamplight. Avian may be dead, but before they died they managed to train the girls in ways that Klaus has entirely failed to, and they’re now really coming into their own. They clean Belias’ clocks and get the intel Avian left for them before dying. Good end! I mean, provided they aren’t betrayed by one of their own, of course. That would be terrible.
So yeah, another vicious cliffhanger. And a longer than usual wait for the next volume, because we’ve got a second book of short stories coming first. Till then, enjoy a world that is so tragic that Sybilla has to create a happy backstory to keep her going.