By Ichibu Saki, Nemusuke, and Ushio Shirotori. Released in Japan as “Moto, Ochikobore Koushaku Reijou desu” by Mag Garden Novels. Released in North America by J-Novel Heart. Translated by Andrew Schubauer.
The idea of the “twist ending” has gotten a bit of a bad rap in recent years. This can mostly be blamed on the films of M. Night Shyamalan, whose films got to the point where the real twist ending would be that there wasn’t a twist. There’s always the danger of alienating your audience as well – to quote Futurama, “it’s not ironic, it’s just mean!”. When done properly, though, a good twist ending can cause a person to immediately go back and look at the entire plot all over again. And, in a case like Formerly, the Fallen Daughter of the Duke, it can cause you to want to get the next book in the series. I won’t lie, this felt very much like a “villainess by numbers” storyline. Claire is more a rival than a villainess, but every single plot point in this book is predictable and right on the beat. At least, until everything turns out bad.
This book hits the ground running, picking up right as our protagonist, Claire, is rejected by her fiance, sister, and family. She quickly realizes that staying in her kingdom will do her no good at all, so resolves to escape to a nearby abbey. That said, it’s hard to escape when you’re the daughter of a duke and you have retainers that go with you everywhere. Then she runs into a young man and his group of friends, who help her ditch the retainers and offer to take her to their nearby country – which is much better off than the one she just came from. Oh, and said young man is really the prince of said country. Plus, the pitiful amount of magic she thought she had turns out to have been a massive trap. She’s really ludicrously powerful. So far so boring. But… why does she keep waking up in Japan? Is this a game? Is this a secret hidden route of the game?
Let’s start with that last part, because after a number of books where the “villainess” dies in every route, it’s refreshing to see this is the one bad route for Claire in the game. The player character, Charlotte, has a normal amount of routes and friends, and is helped by her older sister and NPC Claire, who is set to marry the prince. But if you play the secret hidden route, where you do something truly nasty to destroy Claire’s life in many ways, you get the chance to win the heart of the prince for yourself. That fits with the portrayal of Charlotte in this volume – she’s astonishingly stupid and petty, as befits a side route that was only added later for extra content, and where not as much thought was required. And then there’s the ending, which made me wonder what in God’s name the series was really going to be about. Nicely done.
That said, you’ll have to plow through a lot of “pleasant but predictable and a bit boring” to get to the good bits. it’s worth it, though.