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.
I mentioned last time that this was a mystery series, and that’s still true here. The book is set up so that we have the chapter itself, which is a self-contained “a ghost is causing problems” thing for Jusetsu to deal with, but each chapter also adds to the overall narrative of Jusetsu and the Emperor getting closer to each other despite the entire world seeming to throw “do not do this” signs at them. But this second volume also amps up another part of this series, which is the horror. There is some deeply creepy shit going on here, and honestly the chapter that began with a court maid being found dead with her throat ripped out was on the milder end of the spectrum. These ghosts have issues, and just because Jusetsu is here to try to get them to the afterlife doesn’t mean she’s always going to succeed. Especially since it seems she has a distaff counterpart, the owl to her raven. And he’s trying to kill her.
The first story here has Jusetsu meet a young eunuch who is tormented by a ghost that only he can see, one that keeps apologizing in the direction of the concubine of that quarters. Who is the ghost and what does it have to do with gorgeous blue feathers? In the second story (and the most horrific of the lot), an old woman begs Jusetsu to try to put to rest the spirit of a young concubine who drowned herself, but the main issue is that some people, even when grieving, have to make it all about them. The third story has a mask with holes in the eyes which, when put on, shows a ghost who seems to be very interested in a specific kind of lute playing. And the final story has Jusetsu get involved with a concubine who has been somewhat off the rails since her brother died, and who will accept any help in order to get her brother back.
It’s very odd seeing the inner narrative push back against what we, as a reader, want. Jusetsu is a kind and lonely young girl who is starting to really come out of her shell now that she’s surrounded by people. She’s got a cute servant girl, a nice bodyguard, an older woman to give (wordless, her tongue was cut out) advice, and of course the Emperor dropping by all the time, seemingly infatuated with her. This is definitely good in an emotional way. But man, the backstory and the actions of others within the narrative have it being painted as this massive disaster, and honestly you can’t help but since every time she shows empathy to someone new and yet another person reminds her “the raven consort but always be alone”. And then there’s the end of the boo, which gives her her very own nemesis, who is going to murder her for her own good. Well, for the raven’s own good. Jusetsu is just unfortunate baggage.
As you can imagine, these are very good books. If you like your fantasy dark and don’t mind some creepy ghosts, definitely get this.