One of my 2021 goals is to read more light novels and honestly, one thing that always makes me laugh are the series with overly long titles. When it comes to The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life, the long title was half of the reason why I picked it up, but the other half was the cute art for sure.
For those unfamiliar with light novels, it’s a genre of Japanese novels that are a more serialised format that also tend to feature full-page illustrations with varied frequency throughout the novels. It’s basically a genre made from anime-in-book-form without being manga. The majority of the light novels I’ve read have fallen into the action-fantasy genre but there are also slice-of-life romance novels as well. But back to reviewing this one.
The Alchemist Who… follows Mariela, an alchemist who put herself into a magical state of suspended animation in order to survive a huge monster attack on her home city only to wake up 200 years later. Realising that she is now alone in the world with no home, no friends, and no knowledge of what has happened while she was “asleep”, Mariela is in a bit of a fix. Even when she makes friends out of a group of adventurers, she learns quickly that there are hardly any alchemists in the world, and none within her old home city.
The synopsis makes it sound like a typical action-packed fantasy novel, but this series is definitely more slice-of-life, at least for the time being. The story is about Mariela’s loneliness and her fears from being asleep for so long. It’s about her kindness and generosity towards others that may stem from her naivety, but deep down all Mariela wants is to care for others. The guards she befriends look out for her, knowing that she’s just a young woman, but more than that is the man, Sieg, who she saves from a death sentence of slavery.
I know the inclusion of slavery is very off-putting for many readers even in “English” fantasy novels. What I will say is that I think it is more of a translation thing here. In this world, those with massive debts have the option of being a debt-labourer, given the option to sell their labour to nobles or other wealthy folk in order to pay off those debts. However, if the person in question commits a major crime or violates the terms of their contract, they are condemned to being a penal labourer until the end of their days. Sieg falls under this category, but is saved from his fate as a penal labourer when Mariela sees how unwell he is and how abused he is at the hands of the other guards.
Her kindness towards this man who feels he is unworthy of such generosity is so heartwarming and as we learn more and both of them, I found myself adoring Sieg and Mariela with my entire being. The book on the whole is so sweet and stress-free with how soft it is and how tender the characters are. The only issue I really took with it was that at almost 400 pages long, it could have been shortened significantly had all of the repetition been cut out. The herbs and plants Mariela requires for her secret alchemy get a little complicated, but the constantly repetition of three of the plants’ effects does get tiresome.
What I have found interesting though about reading as many light novels lately as I have been, is how the fantasy genre specifically still tends to be very video game or TTRPG (table-top roleplaying game – think D&D). By that I mean in three separate light novel series that I have stuck my nose into, there is a levelling system and a magical power system that feels very much like it would in a game. It’s curious to see in novels that are not game based (such as Sword Art Online) and I’d love to do more readings into why this might be such a common trope with light novels. I also wonder if that kind of system is common in other Japanese fantasy novels that don’t necessarily fall under the light novel categorisation.
All in all I really loved this book and look forward to getting deeper into the series. As of right now, there are five volumes of 350+ pages each translated into English by YenPress, and I’m looking forward to reading them. I definitely had to fight the urge to immediately jump into the second book once I finished this first one. Mariela and Sieg are just so perfect I need to read more about their relationship as I hope it moves from a budding friendship into something more.