The Extraordinary, the Ordinary, and SOAP! Volume 1 and Outer Ragna Volume 2 Reviews

I’ve stated my disdain toward slice-of-life isekai in my reviews of Ascendance of a Bookworm, Mushoku Tensei, Buck Naked in Another World and Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear. There are exceptions, like Konosuba, but that one’s more of a screwball comedy that’s only technically a slice-of-life because of its general lack of plot progression. I have yet to like any of those chill fantasies that have the word “wholesome” slapped onto them when they try to sell their one-dimensional, superficially cute lolis to savvy audiences, such as If It’s For my Daughter, I’d Even Defeat a Demon Lord (a.k.a. one of the worst light novels of all time (side note: I know it gets darker later, but I got to that point and I still hate it)). But maybe, just maybe, The Extraordinary, the Ordinary, and SOAP! (published in English by J-Novel Club), will be the exception.

In a kingdom whose name I already forgot, a girl named Lucia Arca is living her life as a royal maid who washes clothes for the soldiers. Thanks to her only magic, Soap, she gets the tough stains OUT (R.I.P. Oxi-Clean…). But when monsters attack, she ends up using Soap against them in panic, and… it works! Now her whole lifestyle changes for the better.

But before that, there are definitely a number of hurdles to jump. This volume takes about 25% of its content to get to what’s mentioned in the product description, which also includes two side chapters. It is a pain, but thankfully, it doesn’t take long to get through. 

Unfortunately, it is- surprise, surprise- a bit boring. The writing isn’t that interesting, and I found myself zoning out a few times (mainly because I was looking forward to resuming Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash for the first time in two years but that’s beside the point). The biggest issue is that- I’m gonna have a heart attack I’m so surprised!- the soap gimmick does not shake things up. Sure, it’s all neat and cool that Lucia has this unusual power, which could’ve made Extraordinary Soap a power fantasy combined with slice-of-life fantasy. But due to the fact that Lucia is a woman, she’s forced to stand aside and let the men handle things, in complete disregard of her overpowered ability. There’s also not much in the way of stakes, even though the volume tries to have them with its cliffhanger ending.

Also… the cast is boring. “Slice-of-life characters are more human,” you point out, “therefore they don’t need the unrealistic, over-the-top personalities of your battle shounen and power fantasy isekai trash!” Being human MEANS having quirky personalities, not being a blank slate (something I’ll get into more detail once a certain manga is complete). As I was saying, most of these characters are boring, “good” people. Lucia is the typical “poor girl who’s special for literally no reason” and this guy named Celes is the “perfect ideal boy-person that the aforementioned poor girl gets for literally no reason”. 

“Hang on,” you say, “you compared this LN to isekai in the first paragraph, but it’s NOT isekai. Just because an LN is a fantasy doesn’t mean it’s an isekai!” I know that. However, Extraordinary Soap throws you a curveball; it IS an isekai, but Lucia is not the person from our world. The person from our world is Maria, who is admittedly the most fleshed out character. She’s got an abrasive side, an emotionally insecure side, and a weird yuri side. Perfect waifu material if I do say so myself! Unfortunately, she and Lucia are part of a sitcom-like love triangle, and Celes happens to be the unlucky third vertice.

The artwork for Extraordinary Soap looks more manga-y than light novel-y. It has nice, vibrant cover art, but overall, the grayscale illustrations are bland. Also, it looks like a shoujo manga, so it loses additional points from me.

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Verdict: 7/10

The Extraordinary, the Ordinary, and SOAP! is more ordinary than extraordinary, and soap not even a factor. It’s a typical, “WHOLESOME” isekai, falling for the genre’s typical trappings thanks to Middle Age misogyny (in Layman’s Terms, it would be better if Lucia actually got to USE Soap). It’ll likely become a sleeper hit if it ever gets an anime (and people are gonna LOVE Maria, I can tell). If you like any of the books I mentioned in the first paragraph, then this one should scratch the same itch.


Last time on Outer Ragna, Twitch streamer PotatoStarch booted up his new deluxe edition of the Dark Souls-ian JRPG called Dragon Demon RPG, where humans are caught in an unending war between elves and vampires. But unbeknownst to him, it’s actually a real alternate world, and his character, Kuroi the slave girl, is a real person whom he’s controlling. With his skills, she manages to defend the human village from monsters, learns some magic from an item drop, and acquires the rare job of Apostle. She is inevitably joined by the knight, Agias, the fire sorcerer, Odysson, and a loli named Sira. Things heat up when an Elven army (complete with its own Apostle) moves in and occupies the human territory, in preparation for a battle against the vampires. When the vampires actually appear, the humans and elves team up and manage to drive them away. Kuroi was MVP, of course, and she is turned into an object of worship: the Hare of Flame. Now humans are- for once- sitting pretty, and even joining Kuroi in her stat farming regimen. But it doesn’t stay that way for long when the vampires commence another attack, this time with one of their own Apostles. As you’d expect, Kuroi steamrolls the vampires with her flame sword and wrecks their Apostle, the Golden. In the aftermath, Starch gets a strange message…

…that is completely ignored, apparently. But there are more pressing developments to discuss, such as the world-changing exposition dump given to us during various chapters set in the real world. Apparently, Dragon Demon RPG was a computer virus disguised as a videogame that’s being used in cyber warfare? What’s happening in the game world is the Parallel World War, and if I’m understanding it correctly (which I have been consistently failing to do based off of the previous volume), the different races are all being run by various world powers. If this is correct, then I’ll admit that my interest is piqued for Outer Ragna.

However, despite how cool all of this stuff is, it doesn’t change much of the content within Dragon Demon RPG itself. The POVs are still all over the place. The descriptions of locations, characters and where they are in 3D space, etc. are still pretty lacking. 

Furthermore, the characters are no better than last time. The existing characters still feel like cardboard cut-outs, and I completely forgot about a lot of them from the previous volume. The only new character who seems even remotely interesting is Shadow Tamika, a vampire person who seems to want to do away with all the gods in the world. However, she’s about as boring as everyone else.

And I still can’t seem to tell where anyone is at any given time. I’m really bad when it comes to large-scale military narratives, and I lose myself in all the different cardinal directions. “Oh this person’s this way, that person’s that way…” I can’t make any sense of it. That’s not a problem I can fault Outer Ragna for, but it’s definitely having an inverse effect on my enjoyment of it.

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Verdict: 6.5/10

Outer Ragna has a lot of great ideas, but it’s all falling flat on its face. I don’t know what it is, but I just can’t get into this one at all. I might give it one more volume, but it’s likely that I’m not going to read Outer Ragna anymore.

Her Majesty’s Swarm Volume 2 and Combatants Will Be Disptached! Volume 3 Reviews

Last time on Her Majesty’s Swarm, an unnamed protagonist got reincarnated as the queen of the evil Arachnea race in another world that’s similar to her favorite RTS game. While gathering intel, she saves an elven village from poachers, and enslaves one of them with a parasite swarm. She also travels to the town of Leen where she buys new clothes. However, criminals kill one of her spider friends, and she responds in kind by slaughtering their whole organization. The king blames the elves for the incident, and they send an army to attack the village. The Queen defends them and declares war on the kingdom. With the help of her growing swarm, and the spider knight, Serignan, she lays waste to the nation and destroys everyone in the capital city of Maluk (well, except for the princess whom she enslaves). The elves gladly put themselves under her custody, afterwhich she names herself Grevillea. Oh, and some elf girl turns herself into a spider as well. That’s pretty cool I guess.

So… Her Majesty’s Swarm is really starting to teeter on the brink of becoming Overlord. The previous volume set the tone for the series; that Grevillea is a cold-hearted killer set on world conquest. And in this volume… she wants to keep her humanity to some extent (Ainz, is that you?). She goes with Serignan, and her new minion Lysa (the elf girl) to join the adventurer’s guild (just like in Overlord volume 2). Fortunately, things do ramp up a lot faster than in Overlord.

Also, Grevillia immediately makes it clear exactly who she is: the Queen of the Arachnea. This means we don’t have the whole sitcom-like double life that Ainz had to live in Overlord. Even then, she does try to politics her way to success. Fortunately, this also goes by much faster than in Overlord, saving on the nonsensical bush-beating.

Minor spoiler here, but once more like in Overlord, politics will not let Grevillia have her way. She tries, but inevitably ends up having to kill and pillage again, making the politics seem like padding. As in the previous volume, the writing in Her Majesty’s Swarm is at its best when it comes to senseless violence, so I’m not complaining here.

But what I am complaining about are the characters. While Grevillia is beautiful and sadistic as usual, her cohorts are about as one-dimensional as Ainz’s. Serignan is basically Albedo except more powerful. Lysa, the new recruit, is also useful, but she’s kind of just there. These guys have a distinct disadvantage to Ainz’s team, because there’s no Demiurge or Shalltear equivalent among them. Grevillia also has the same contrived moral conundrum as Ainz, but developments in this volume seem to imply that there’s actually a bigger force at work here, a development that was never explored once in Overlord, even with how far I got before dropping it.

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Verdict: 8.6/10

Her Majesty’s Swarm looks like it’s gonna be the Overlord Comparisons Drinking Game. It’s so similar, with the only real difference being the pacing. I’m still willing to follow Grevillia’s campaign, so let’s hope it stays good.


Last time on Combatants Will Be Dispatched!, Agent Six’s group is sent to negotiate with the kingdom of Toris for some water crystals. They fail miserably. So now, Toris sides with the Demon Army and prepares to attack his kingdom, Grace. Six’s party is then sent to some mysterious ruins to obtain a weapon hidden in them. They follow two Demon generals; Heine from the last volume, and a new face named Russell, so that Six doesn’t have to do any of the dirty work. Russell finds the weapon, which is of course, a giant mech. Six holds it off long enough for Alice to summon Kisaragi’s strongest machine, the Destroyer. She wrecks it (as well as the Destroyer) and they capture Russell, whom- after some persuasion from the creepy Tiger Man- uses his water magic to create water for the kingdom.

There are two major plotlines in this volume. First, the loss of the Destroyer puts Six in super debt. And as a result, he must build a new base with Alice using minimal resources. Also, he has to jack up his Evil Points by doing even more perverse things. So much for him being more heroic this time around… Not that I’m complaining. Scummy Six is Best Six!

Snow is also in debt, and basically a slave to Alice. This relationship is hilarious and I love it. Snow completely loses her shame, and sometimes tries to sell her body just so she can have a roof over her head. Alice is a hoot as always, especially now that she has complete control over a person’s life.

In addition to that… Six and Rose have to help Grimm prepare for the Undead Festival. Grimm is Best Girl as always, even if she still kills herself about as often as Megumin uses Explosion. She gets some great new character development, and I love every minute of it.

Overall, it’s the same antics as usual, and that’s my only issue with Combatants thus far. I still love reading it, but as a writer, I need to talk about enough stuff to constitute as a post. Konosuba’s got this issue too; it’s so consistent, that it’s not getting better nor worse over time. Since I’m a spoiler-free reviewer for the most part, I can’t exactly comment on specific scenes that I enjoy. In fact, I wrote this whole paragraph just because I literally ran out of things to say about the volume in the previous one!

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Verdict: 8.6/10

Combatants Will be Dispatched! is still good, but like I said, it hasn’t really evolved much. I’m either going to have to rethink my blogging format or completely abstain from covering Combatants volume-by-volume, and instead make a megapost once the whole thing is finished. What would you suggest? I’d love some feedback!

Kill Six Billion Demons First Impressions (Books 1 and 2)

I found 5 Worlds okay, The Witch Boy less than okay, and before them, I tried Amulet and Cleopatra in Space, to little success as well. I have been at my wits end to find a good Western graphic novel. But now, through a publishing medium that I didn’t know about until just recently, I might have just found a GN that I can seriously enjoy. And that GN, or webcomic rather, is Abbadon’s Kill Six Billion Demons.

In Kill Six Billion Demons, a young woman named Allison is enjoying some… er… quality time with her boyfriend when they are rudely interrupted by an assortment of demons. They kidnap her boyfriend, and stuff a weird thing into her skull, which transports her to another world. Yeah, it’s pretty simple.

First, in case you decide to read the original web version, I should give some pointers about the site to save you some headache. For some reason, when you select a chapter from the drop-down on the left, it displays all the chapter pages in reverse order. So unfortunately, you’ll have to scroll down to the very bottom of the webpage, and likely click to a second web page in the archive to view the actual beginning. It’s faster than going back to chapter one and clicking the chapter skip button over and over again! 

If you couldn’t tell from the intro paragraph, KSBD is a rootin’ tootin’ good time. It’s a bit expositiony at first, but it’s legitimately good exposition about Throne, the world it’s set in. It’s a very interesting and creative place, full of weirdos of all shapes and sizes. The creation story of Throne is very wild and complex, and it seems to integrate literally every religion known to man in its lore. It’s borderline overwhelming, and it makes a pretty straightforward plot seem more convoluted than it is.

One issue I did have- and it’s one that’s entirely my fault- is that I had a very hard time following a lot of the dialogue. For the most part, Allison’s portion of the story was fine. But whenever White Chain or literally anyone else came up, they pretty much spoke like the Bible met Shakespeare and had a kid. It is definitely very eloquently written, but like I said, it’s a SERIOUS mouthful.

My other issue ended up being with the cast. While they are by far the best graphic novel cast I’ve seen so far, they are high in abundance… and weird names. Allison starts out kinda whiny, but after the end of book 1, she stops messing around and becomes very spunky. White Chain is much more complicated… to the point where I don’t quite know what to think of him (or her?) yet. So far, my favorite character is Cilo, a blue devil who ends up tagging along with Allison and offers a lot of sass. Most other characters appear for about five seconds… and have some seriously weird names that went in one end of my brain and immediately out the other.

Overall, the story is seriously good. Just because my pea-brain was too small to comprehend it doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. The author really gave it their all when making this narrative and the world it’s set in. There is so much lore that it begs for rereads just so you can soak it all in. It can easily take over an hour just to get through half a book because of how much content there is.

Also, I finally read a Western comic with really good art. KSBD has an abstract and twisted style that suits itself perfectly. The character design is incredible, and much better than the other GNs I’ve read at this point. KSBD also seems to have a better grasp of actual PANEL FLOW than those others that I read. I don’t know why it was so much better, but it just was. While motion lines are still sparse, the illustrator uses perspective and gesture drawing to give the action scenes legitimate sizzle.

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Current Verdict: 8.5/10

It’s not perfect, but Kill Six Billion Demons is definitely the best Western comic I’ve read thus far. But since it’s a webcomic, updates will likely be sporadic, making it difficult to commit to the long haul. I’m willing to finish it; it’s just a matter of when. For now, I recommend it for fans of edgy stuff.

Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen Volume 3 Review

Last time on Torture Princess, Elisabeth and Co. went to Vlad’s castle to find information on the remaining demons. Kaito pockets a strange orb, but otherwise they have as much luck as two Spaceballs combing the desert. Later, they get invited to the castle of a new demon, the governor. Upon arrival, they see a gruesome scene where innocent people are gorging endlessly on poison foodstuffs. Elisabeth puts them out of their misery, and they go to the Governor’s bedroom where they find him already dead. Suddenly, the guy’s heart ruptures and Elisabeth is afflicted with some spell. Then, another new demon, the Grand King Fiore (female), shows up. Apparently, she has the ability to control other demons, and set this all up for Elisabeth. They manage to escape, but Elisabeth’s magic is heavily drained. However, the church immediately makes her fight two more demons that are attacking the same area. But before that, Kaito discovers that Vlad’s orb contains his spirit, and he teaches Kaito how to use some magic. With this, they’re able to fight the demons, but one of them is used in the same spell again, and Elisabeth is in even deeper doo-doo. What’s worse is that the Grand King, in control of two MORE demons, is attacking Elisabeth’s HQ directly. Desperate to help, Kaito forms a contract with Vlad’s Kaiser. Hina finds out, and he involves her in a plan. Hina uses a weapon that makes Kaito feel the pain of all the minions that are killed in order to power up his Kaiser. By the time he shows up, she’s got her arms and legs burnt off.  Unfortunately, Kaito’s magic isn’t enough to fight off the Grand King in her final form. But he has a backup plan. He stabs himself and uses the blood- fused with the Kaiser’s- to cure Elisabeth, and she whoops the Grand King’s booty. YEAH! YEAH! BEST GIRL ELISABETH IN THE HIZ-OUSE! However, they barely manage to restore Hina’s limbs before they get an emergency summons to the capital city, which is seriously getting wrecked.

Unfortunately, Hina’s “gears have to realign” or whatever, so she’s not actually IN this volume. But hey, given that volume 2 was all about the S.S. KaitoHina, this volume is all about the S.S. KaitoElisabeth. It’s about freakin’ time, am I right? 

Anyway, the situation in the capital is about what you’d expect. The three remaining Demons have fused together into a giant flesh blob, and it sucks in people, turning them into mutants that throw other people into it and repeat the cycle. The description of it, as well how Elisabeth dispatches the mutants, is about as excessively violent as you’d expect.

This volume gives us a new girl named Izabella Vicker, a commanding officer of the paladins who are sided with the church. She’s your typical hyper-morally-correct Mary Sue who wouldn’t be caught dead doing something dishonorable. But she’s an extreme case; in order for them to not have to rely on Elisabeth, she chooses to bathe in sin by killing the innocent people who’ve been turned into mutants. She’s my least favorite character so far, but there’s a good chance she’ll have a bigger role to play later.

Despite this volume centering around an entire battle, this is actually the least action-packed volume so far. Normally, I would be like, “Ugh… more boring crap where nothing happens,” but Torture Princess once again shows its surprising strength in character interactions. There’s an entire chapter of Kaito and Elisabeth just hanging out together, and it’s a really good chapter. Their relationship is probably one of the best that I have ever seen; much better than the BS from the actual romance genre.

But of course, what we all want to know is what happens at the end of the volume. After all, as established in volume 1, Elisabeth’s only reward for defeating all these demons is public execution. I personally saw it coming, but that doesn’t mean it’s not something entirely predictable. You’ll have to read this volume and see.

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Verdict: 9/10

This brings us to the end of the first arc of Torture Princess. I have no clue of how things are going to play out moving forward. But as long as it’s edgy beyond all reason, I’ll see it through to the bitter end.

Dead Mount Death Play First Impressions (Volumes 1-3)

Edgelords are a really popular market no matter where you’re from. Regardless of how kids are raised, a primal urge that goes back to when people would pay to watch Romans slaughter each other makes us yearn for media with wonton violence, gratuitous sexualization, and morally incorrect protagonists, all against our better judgement. It’s such a big market that I feel like I’ve tagged at least twenty of my posts as “edgy”, and I’m running out of insightful ways to describe the genre. So let’s turn off our lights, put up our hoods, and dive into Dead Mount Death Play, the newest manga by the creator of Durarara!!, published in English by Yen Press.

In Dead Mount Death Play, a powerful necromancer called the Corpse God is engaged in battle with his enemy. Right when Mr. Corpse is about to be slain, he uses reincarnation magic to be reborn in the body of Polka Shinoyama, a boy in modern Japan who has just been murdered. The new Polka has a run in with his killer, Misaki Sakimiya, and after killing her and turning her into a zombie, he joins her in her exploits (i.e. killing people for money).

Well, what else can I say? We have literal villains as the main protagonists; it doesn’t get edgier than that. Sure, they have tragic backstories, but who doesn’t these days? 

Unlike Durarara!!, DMDP seems to have a more focused narrative so far. But at the same time, I don’t know what the author wants to do with it. The main conflict revolves around issues in Polka’s family, as well as the exploits of various criminals, such as the bandage-covered Lemmings. It’s a pretty simple plot, but I found it really difficult to tell who’s working for whom (maybe that’s the point?). The intrigue ramps up at the end of volume 3, so maybe it’s just hit its turning point.

But hey, this is our boy Narita, the creator of Durarara!!, here. That means the best part of DMDP is the cast, right? Eeeeeeh… sadly, not quite. Corpse God/Polka is basically your generic, emotionally insecure edgelord, who only stands out thanks to the slit in his throat. I forgot most of the other characters’ names, such as Occulus-wearing guy who is basically the brains of the people that Misaki works for, and these two police officers who are kind of just there. Misaki’s supervisor, Clarissa, is basically your fanservice character (who sometimes has uncensored sex with some of her other employees. Watch out for that). The best character is definitely Misaki herself. She is both ditzy and insane, with by far the best character design out of the lot. Also, she’s a zombie, which makes her extra appealing for those with a monster girl fetish.

The art varies a lot. Most of the time, it’s your standard manga art. But sometimes, it’s like, “Oh hey, here’s something with a lot of linework in it!” Overall, it looks good, but I’ve definitely seen better.

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Current Verdict: 7.6/10

No writer has to worry more about topping a popular series than that series’ own creator. I likely expected a bit much from Narita, especially given that he’s working on other stuff at the same time as this. Furthermore, Durarara!!‘s greatest strength is in it’s prose, which naturally, would end up being lacking in a manga. DMDP is your typical edgelord fare. You’ll know if you’d like it just by looking at the cover art.

Her Majesty’s Swarm Volume 1 Review

Many isekai lately have been trying- and failing- to have genuinely dark undertones. The most successful attempt thus far is probably Torture Princess. But as much of a masterpiece as it is in its own right, it is essentially a typical wish fulfillment fantasy with a slathering of blood on it. J-Novel Club has just published a new Overlord wannabe called Her Majesty’s Swarm. Will it be able to handle dark themes well? Let’s find out.

Her Majesty’s Swarm stars an unnamed girl who gets summoned to an alternate world. This world, similar to Overlord, behaves like her favorite MMO, which has players build armies and conquer their enemies. This girl is the queen of the evil Arachnea, a race of spiders that serve her.

So far, Her Majesty’s Swarm seems to be how I described it in the beginning: an Overlord wannabe. Instead of immediately launching a merciless world conquest, she decides to build her army “properly”. She negotiates with locals and only kills criminals. Fortunately, the spiders all share their thoughts with her, so she has no need to be Ainz, who must pretend to be evil in case his loyal minions stop being loyal even though their programmed to be that way.

But all that changes around the one-third mark. Certain individuals attack other certain individuals that she cares about, and as a result, she declares an all out war. Suddenly, she’s building an army with the express purpose of killing, murdering, and slaughtering. While the writing in the fight scenes aren’t as good as Overlord, it looks like it will at least be more consistent. 

But like Overlord, the characters have a lot of room for improvement in the everything department. The Queen is definitely meant to be the fan favorite. While she is a very smart and cunning leader when it comes to RTS, her shift from a sympathetic queen who buries and mourns one dead spider to a heartless queen who doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice thousands of them is VERY out of left field. She also has an existential crisis somewhat similar to Ainz, in that she doesn’t know if her ambitions are her own or that of the Swarm’s eroding her conscience, but it becomes a non-issue pretty quickly.

The only other character worth mentioning is Serignan, a special type of spider with a human torso (and a female one of course). She’s about as loyal and bland as any of Ainz’s minions, and comes off as a knockoff of Hina from Torture Princess.

The art in Her Majesty’s Swarm is lacking. And by that, I mean literally lacking; there are no illustrations in this thing! The only artwork we get is the cover and a bare-bones basic map. The cover art has a nice desaturated color palette, and the honeycomb pattern in the background looks cool (even though she’s with spiders and not bees).

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Verdict: 7.8/10

So far, Her Majesty’s Swarm is a decent enough slaughterfest. The story can go either way moving forward, so I’ll have to give it another volume before I really know what to think. You can read it if you like edgy fantasies, but something like Torture Princess beats this by a long shot.

The Thickety Full Series Review

Covers of all four books

Have you ever read a YA novel, like… Daughter of Smoke and Bone, for instance, that promised to be super dark and angsty with a badass, proactive protagonist, and then suddenly broke that promise like Link smashing an urn in somebody’s house? Well, I had that experience with the aforementioned novel and many others. Astonishingly enough, The Thickety, a children’s book series published by Harper Collins and written by J.A. White, is angstier than most YA authors could dream of writing. And here, I’ll detail why.

In the series’ opener, The Thickety: A Path Begins, Kara Westfall’s mother gets burnt alive for allegedly being a witch. Good ol’ Disney formula. However, village chief Fen’de Stone made a good call, for Kara’s mom actually WAS a witch. And one day, Kara finds her mom’s old grimoire, and it enables her to manipulate creatures from the forbidden forest known as the Thickety, which is the home of Sordyr, who is some tree demon man. The catch is that not only does she have to keep it a secret from everyone, but it also eats away at her soul for every spell she uses. Lovely.

While this sounds like a generic YA power fantasy, The Thickety is executed exceptionally well. The big thing is how the premise of the grimoire system is handled. Throughout the first book, you see firsthand what happens when you cast a grimoire’s Last Spell (which, spoilers, is something you don’t want to do). To compare The Thickety to Amulet, a similarly angsty book series which I didn’t like, that graphic novel- at least the portion that I read- never showed any visible consequences of Emily’s using the Amulet besides one other guy turning into a big monster thing. However, the scene was very unceremonious and the Amulet itself was never contextualized well enough to define any prerequisites for when it “takes you over” or whatever. Furthermore, Emily- like the Mary Sue that she was- seemed able to fend off the temptations ridiculously easily. Even if Emily might get taken over by the Amulet further down the road, Kara really struggles against the grimoire right out of the gate, and White’s writing talent shows that in full force. 

The start of A Path Begins is rather slow, as is with most book series. Fortunately, once things escalate with the grimoire, it gets really intense and really scary. I was impressed by how disturbing some of the imagery is given the target demographic. And it only gets crazier in book two, The Whispering Trees, which is spent inside the titular Thickety itself.

The cast of The Thickety is its weakest aspect, but it’s by no means bad. Kara is a pretty generic YA protagonist, but fortunately, she’s not quite a Mary Sue. She actually has to deal with the consequences of the grimoire and her decisions. She’s an intentionally flawed heroine, but done right. And unlike most YA protags, she is actually able to kill in cold blood (gore warning, kids).

Taff, her younger brother, is my least favorite character by far. He’s the generic, rash and reckless adolescent male who goes through an underdog phase throughout the story. However, the aspect of him that I love- and probably the most important writing decision in the entire series- is simply him being Kara’s brother. With the male and female leads as siblings, there’s no romance! Her sisterly love for him feels more real than what most YA protagonists feel for their significant others, and without the cringey dialogues of those protagonists. There is Lucas, the designated childhood friend,  but White seems to have gone out of his way so that he and Kara never get to spend much time together. Depending on your tastes, that’s either a godlike breath of fresh air or the worst news ever.

The biggest problem with The Thickety is that it kind of falls apart at the end. No… that’s too harsh. It really kind of fractures a bit. As much as I praised Kara’s struggle with the grimoire, that issue ends up being resolved rather conveniently at the halfway point. And after that point, Kara ends up devolving into a more YA-like, Mary Sue brat, while Taff- of all people- ends up becoming the voice of reason (wow, after saying how much better than Amulet this is, it suddenly BECOMES Amulet). Also, due to the pacing of the books, a lot of the setpieces in the latter half of the story kind of get glossed over. It also falls for the typical modern fantasy trap of “Yeah, I can put in this thing that hadn’t been contextualized before because magic!” in the fourth and final book (including a decently inventive but nonetheless existent use of time travel).

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Final Verdict: 9/10

The Thickety, overall, is freaking incredible. Horrifying scenarios, tight pacing, and powerful prose bring an otherwise cardboard cutout fantasy series to life in full throttle. Although the author arguably cops out at the end, it’s nowhere near long enough for that portion to feel like a drag. At the very least, all plot threads get resolved in some way, which is something. I highly recommend it for someone who’s looking for fun, suspenseful, gritty fantasies.

Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen Volume 2 Review

Cover of volume 2

Last time on Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen, Kaito Sena is strangled to death by his father and summoned to another world in the body of a golem. He is forced to serve Elisabeth Le Fanu, a young girl who has killed a LOT of people, and must hunt thirteen powerful demons as punishment. After a fun frolic through a creepy guy’s slaughterhouse for kids, Kaito finds Hina, an autonomous doll that ends up joining the crew. Later, they fight a demon disguised as a corrupt clergyman, and encounter Elisabeth’s father, Vlad. When they go to Elisabeth’s old hometown to find him, they fight Elisabeth’s estranged nanny, Marianne. During the fight, Vlad captures Kaito, and says that he’ll summon Kaito’s dad to this world and allow him to torture the man if he abandons Elisabeth. Edgelord that he is, Kaito agrees. But when his dad is summoned, he sees a drunken old fart, and calls the deal off. Thanks to a teleportation sigil drawn on his torso, she appears in Vlad’s room and destroys him. Well, so much for the main antagonist!

Waiting for this volume was really hard for me. After all, so many other “edgy” series, like Elfen Lied and Goblin Slayer, had traumatizing openers that made it look as if they were going to be incredibly dark, only to wind up being light-hearted and boring. Torture Princess started out so elegantly angsty, but-

OH WHO AM I KIDDING?! THIS VOLUME WAS FREAKIN’ LIT!

The first question that would be raised is, “Well, we basically killed the final boss, Vlad and the Kaiser. So, what now?” Just because that guy was the strongest doesn’t mean he’s the final boss! In fact, a new Demon, the Grand King, lures Elisabeth and Co. into a trap that causes a mana-sapping affliction to be, well, afflicted on Elisabeth. However, the church waits for no one as she is still dispatched to, well, dispatch other Demons. KAITO, it’s your turn to protecc her!

And that’s exactly what happens. When investigating Vlad’s HQ for information on other Demons, Kaito pockets a strange orb that contains Vlad’s spirit. He colludes with Vlad and starts to learn magic, so that he can fight people on his own for a change. I can see him developing into an overpowered main protagonist…

When it comes to character development, Hina and Kaito are the ones in the spotlight this time. Their one-sided relationship gets tested thanks to Kaito’s new secret, plus we get some of 2nd Best Girl Hina’s presumably week-long backstory.

Other than that, the utter angst is still in full swing. As soon as I started this volume, with that flesh-coffin that had mangled up human arms for wings, I knew that this volume of Torture Princess would live up to its predecessor. However, it concerns me that the author could inevitably run out of ideas for terrifying situations… but we’ll cross that bridge (probably made out of the corpses of women and children) when we come to it!

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Verdict: 9/10

If you’re looking for an intellectual, subversive isekai that questions moral values and explores the inner recesses of people’s emotional insecurities, then Torture Princess isn’t for you. However, as long as it follows through with its exquisitely well-written angst and disturbing imagery to the bitter end, then it will remain one of my favorite light novel series of all time, just for the sheer entertainment value. With Kaito as a to-be-overpowered protagonist, his yandere girlfriend in Hina, and a waifu he must protecc in Elisabeth, this series may seem to be generic, but it’s incredibly enjoyable. As someone who’s been disappointed time and time again by “edgy” YA novels and stuff that just end up copping out for whatever reason, Torture Princess is a repugnant breath of fresh air! I still recommend this series to anyone who loves wanton violence and gore!