Winter will soon be coming to an end and so to will the journey Lawrence and Holo set out upon some months earlier. Just what does the penultimate story in this long running series have in store for us?
As this is a review of the 14th volume in the series, do expect some light spoilers in regard to early events, but I will do my best to avoid them.
Upon reaching Lenos, and while waiting for Fran’s map of the Northern lands to reach them, Lawrence, Holo and Col spend their time preparing for the road and gathering as much information as possible about the state of the region. While visiting a merchant, Philon, who supplies many of the mercenaries in the North, they encounter a book seller by the name of Le Roi in the company of Elsa, a girl they met earlier during their travels to the town of Tereo. From Le Roi they learn of a book with information that could endanger Yoitsu, but to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands Lawrence would be forced to send Holo on alone while he journeys elsewhere. All the while, Elsa begins to take a strong interest in Col and his future as a member of the Clergy.
This book is not just for the completionist, involving some of the best character interactions and drama in the entire series anyone that is a fan of romance will love it.
Generally speaking, and in keeping with my past reviews, I usually count an overuse of coincidence against the author. And in spite of Elsa’s reunion with Lawrence and Holo being just such an occurrence, with the likelihood of them just happening to run into each other being incredibly low, I am willing to completely forgive Isuna Hasekura this time. Though Elsa just happening to be in the company of a book seller who just so happens to have the knowledge of a particular forbidden volume who just happens to walk into an out-of-the-way general store that Lawrence and Holo just happen to be in at the same time in a city Elsa has never before visited and many weeks after they saw each other last, is a bit on the ridiculously improbable side of things, this volume would not be the same without her and the narrative would have suffered greatly otherwise. As much as I make fun of this particular turn of events, I have had something similar happen to me, so I really shouldn’t complain too much.
When we first met Elsa back in volume four she was a strong, but rather forgettable character, one I did not expect that we would meet again. I am glad to be wrong, as her position of knowing our titular couple and Holo’s true nature ahead of time are immediately used to full advantage in telling this story and forcing Holo to face some rather uncomfortable truths. Because of Elsa’s connection with the Church, she quickly becomes a person of great interest to Col, much to Holo’s displeasure. With the duty to enter the priesthood so that he might protect his homeland weighing upon him, Col sees in Elsa an opportunity to get his own life goals back on track. As she draws more and more of Col’s attention, a competition between Elsa and Holo starts with Lawrence looking on with a bit of pity for the boy caught in the middle. It is in these conversations that we get to see some of the best writing and wit that this series has had to offer.
Even to Holo, it is obvious that she is fighting a losing battle against Elsa, but her pride will not allow her to give in so easily. It is during these struggles that Elsa’s place in this narrative truly shines. Better than either Eve Bolan the merchant or Huskins the shepherd before her, both excellent characters, Elsa is able to illuminate the hidden places of Holo’s heart which even she has tried to keep from herself and as the chapters progress the war between Holo’s pride and desires becomes the most compelling part of this volume. With the chance that she may lose the company of both Lawrence and Col before this stay in Lenos is out, Holo’s fear of abandonment takes the stage again, reminding the reader once again about where and how this story started for both of our leads.
Through all of this Lawrence is not idle, he has his own problems to worry about. Apart from Holo for much of this volume, he finds himself in the unenviable position of having to choose between staying with the woman he loves as she returns to her homeland or protecting that very homeland from an uncertain future. A land threatened not by an invading army, but the knowledge contained in a tome that has been forbidden by the Church. After confirming that Le Roi speaks the truth about the book, Lawrence use his connections within the city to acquire the funds needed to purchase it, but those loaning him the money add the expected caveat that he must accompany Le Roi as he makes the purchase, in a city some weeks away and in the opposite direction of Yoitsu. Realizing that he cannot do both, Lawrence struggles mightily over the decision, with his logic telling him to go with Le Roi and his heart arguing that he must stay with Holo.
It is at this point that we get to see a side of Lawrence that has only ever been hinted at in the past. For most of the previous 13 volumes we have experienced Lawrence as a merchant that is willing to do many things to make a profit and to see that Holo is made safe, but he has always had lines that he would not cross and scruples that needed to be met. But when a less than palatable solution to Lawrence’s quandary presents itself to him, a solution that will allow him to stay at Holo’s side while also protecting her homeland, he takes it. Not usually one to endanger the livelihood of others for his own gain, this turn of events may at first seem out of character for him, but I would not have had it any other way. Feeling earned by both the character and the author, Lawrence’s choices fit perfectly with the image of a man both desperate and in love.
With Lawrence and Holo’s adventures a step away from their conclusion, my expectations for this great series have only increased and volume 14 serves as a perfect example of Isuna Hasekura’s style and strengths. Add to this a conclusion that has been long awaited by fans and you have the combination for one of the best books in the series.
Spice & Wolf Vol. 14 was published by Yen Press on April 21st, 2015. Authored by Isuna Hasekura and illustrated by Jyuu Ayakura the series is 17 volumes in length and was published in Japan by ASCII Media Works under their Dengeki Bunko imprint. An anime adaptation of Spice & Wolf aired two seasons in 2008 and 2009, which correspond to volumes 1, 2, 3, 5 and 7. Spice & Wolf Vol. 16: The Coin of the Sun II is scheduled for release in English on December 15th, 2015.
Linked here is the 3 part series review for the first 13 volumes:
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