Lawrence and Holo’s journey may have come to an end, but their story is not quite over yet.
As this is a review of the 17th, and final, volume in the series, do expect some spoilers.
Nearly five years have passed since the hectic events chronicled in Volume 16, when the northern lands were nearly thrown into the flames of war. Having received letters of invitation from a certain wisewolf, five women begin to gather as they journey to the far off hot-springs town of Nyohhira. While reminiscing about each’s connection to a particular traveling merchant and his companion, we witness the impact those two have had upon the lives they met along their way. Lawrence, are your ears burning yet?
How Was It?
Broken up into five short stories, the first two combining to create the titular Epilogue, Volume 17 is something both hoped for and yet somehow completely unexpected. Starting from the perspective of Enek, the faithful black knight of the once shepherdess Norah, we get an excellent third person view, with commentary, of the conversations held between the priestess Norah, the merchant Eve and the alchemist Diana as they share a carriage in their travels to the north. Any who are in the know about these three should instantly understand just how potentially volatile this combination of characters can be and this Intermission does not disappoint in the slightest in that regard. I didn’t even try to stop the silly grin that adorned my face as I read this specific section of the volume. The conversations were so delightfully playful and well phrased that characters not seen in many volumes felt immediately familiar. It was obvious that this volume was meant to be a love letter, not just to the fans of the series, but also to the characters themselves.
As the carriage stops to collect its final two passengers, we transition to the town of Nyohhira and finally get to learn what Lawrence and Holo have been up to for the last five years. Unlike their long journey where their relationship was constantly in flux, our leads have settled into their own peculiar daily routine, one that I would have to call pleasantly strange, this is helped by the fact that they have acquired a housekeeper just as mysterious as Holo. I honestly wish there was a bit more of the housekeeper in this volume, as I am really curious what her story is, but regardless, the life Lawrence and Holo are living now is one that is quite enviable. With preparations nearing completion on a hot-springs hotel they now call home, Holo has let Lawrence know that she has had five letters sent out in preparations for its opening and that he should get onto the task of inviting the men they met along the way. While Lawrence is a bit confused why Holo, who never got along with Eve, would possibly invite her to anything, he goes along with her direction as winter moves toward spring. When Holo’s reason for the invitation is finally revealed to Lawrence, it is so quintessentially her that I couldn’t help but laugh to myself and shake my head at the wonderful simplicity that wisdom can produce.
What I have always enjoyed about Spice & Wolf is that it is truly a romance, one in which the two leads steadily become closer to each other through mutual understanding and they do this by simply spending time focusing their attention on the other party and doing their best to learn about them and what makes them tick. It is such a simple concept, but the series has succeeded in portraying it time and again, and it is beautifully demonstrated in this volume. As we learn more about the Lawrence and Holo’s lives now that they have settled, we are met with a scene in which Lawrence joins Holo in the hot-spring attached to their hotel and this leads Lawrence to ruminating about Holo habits while bathing and how he can use that as a barometer on what kind of mood she is in. It is an amazingly charming sequence, one that shows just how much Holo means to Lawrence and just how much he is paying attention. During the narrative Lawrence does fail to pick up on a couple of other pretty obvious clues about some of Holo’s activities during the winter months, but I will forgive him this one, as Holo has done a great job conditioning him to overlook these specific details.
The conclusion of their story, at least what is written for us to see, ends beautifully and I can say as a fan, that it is a fitting farewell to two of my favorite characters and their friends. It was at this moment while reading through the volume that I actually took a couple day break before finishing off the three shorts stories that make up its latter half. This was partly because of how busy I was with work, but I was also because I honestly thought I had gotten through the best parts already, I was wrong. In the three previous collections of short stories, the stories themselves never really felt like a cohesive whole, a single narrative thread meant to tell a certain aspect of the journey, that is not the case this time. Acting almost like a review of the series as a whole, the three short stories let us once again see just how much Lawrence has been changed by Holo. Helping to further the theme of day-to-day romance so clearly shown in the former half.
It is hard for authors to end any series well and it is far too easy to make a mess of that which you don’t want to let go of. Isuna Hasekura manages to create quite the special book at the end of Spice & Wolf. For all the weakness I have ascribed to the short story collections in this series, though they are still pretty good, Volume 17 is something more, something greater than the sum of its parts. There was only one thing that I felt was missing from the narrative of this volume and that is the trademark tension I had become so used to in the preceding ones. But outside of that, it was nearly perfect in its role as a send-off to a tale of romance, strife and economics.
Random Fact for your appraisal: Excluding the titles themselves the phrase Spice & Wolf appears only twice within the text of the series, once in the first volume and once in the final.
Spice & Wolf Vol. 17: Epilogue was published by Yen Press on April 19th, 2016. 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
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