By Reki Kawahara and abec. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Stephen Paul.
Well, having wrapped up the 10-volume Alicization arc, here we are back in the Underworld anyway. This book takes place in the subjective 200 years of time that Kirito and Asuna spent there before returning to the real world – in fact, it takes place in the first few months of those 200 years. There’s still a lot to be sorted out, mostly as the darklanders live in a barren wasteland (because it’s meant to be a game and they were meant to be evil) and the humans live in nice plentiful farmlands. Worse still, there’s a murder, something thought to be impossible. It quickly becomes clear that the murderer is trying to set things up so that there will be another war between the two groups. Can Kirito and Ronie find out who is behind all this? And can Ronie actually manage to confess to Kirito, something that seems to elude all the other heroines not named Asuna. Fortunately, she has a big advantage here: she’s the 3rd-person narrator, and the book is better for it.
Those who don’t like Kirito… well, first of all, why are you reading Vol. 19 of this series? But secondly, you won’t like this one, as he’s overpowered and also cheeky most of the time. It’s easy to see why Ronie loves him, and also easy to see why she feels inferior compared to Asuna, who is very much in the wise all-knowing mode here. She and Tiese have the same problem, but framed differently: Tiese is still in love with Eugeo, but he’s dead, and she can’t move on. Meanwhile, Ronie is in love with Kirito, who is in her face every day, but is also taken. In other words, Ronie falls into the same category as every other SAO heroine who isn’t Asuna (or, arguably, Alice). Ronie also has some doubts about her ability as a Knight, though those start to be resolved by the end of the book when she’s able to channel her inner Kirito and do seemingly impossible stunts.
We get not one but two babies in this book – Fanatio’s child at the start, who gets to be thrown hundreds of feet into the air and then caught, every baby’s dream, as well as the child of Iskahn and Sheyta, who shown off the two sides coming together and also sadly proves to be our baby in distress towards the end, though I suppose I should count myself lucky that there are no rape threats in this book. Indeed, with the lack of that and also the lack of a super evil sneering villain, this book shows off a maturity that the SAO series has lacked at times. This was, I believe, the last of the webnovel material to be adapted for light novels – which is important, because it means we’re moving past the sometimes amateurish writing from 15 years ago. And, as I said before, the book also reads better when not in first-person perspective. I wish he did that more often.
This is the first of a two-parter, and the next volume promises a bit more Asuna. Still likely filtered through Ronie, through, which is fine. I like her. SAO fans should find a lot to enjoy here, and SAO haters should find a lot of ammo.