Only a few months have past since Lawrence and Holo first meet under a harvest moon, now with the approach of Spring on the horizon and their journey to Yoitsu nearing its end, their plans for a quiet life together in the town of Lesko seem assured. But as they celebrate together, an item that should be far to the Southeast is placed before them, upending their world and sending them on one final mad dash to save themselves, their friends and the future of the Northern Lands. For better or worse, the end has come.
As this is a review of the 16th volume in the series, do expect some spoilers in regard to early events, but I will do my best to avoid them.
When they first arrived in Lesko, Lawrence and Holo were wary of a place that seemed too good to be true. Without a full understanding of the Debau Company’s intentions, they were on edge despite the happy and smiling faces that surrounded them. After learning the truth, of a new currency and a free economically-independent North, Lawrence jumped at a chance to purchase his own shop in the burgeoning town. Sadly, it was all for naught, as behind this idyllic facade the middle management and a group of sponsoring nobles, filled with greed at the prospect of even greater wealth than they had already achieved, had lead a coup against the founders of the Debau Company and were ready to lead the North into war.
The Coin of the Sun II starts up immediately after the gut-wrenching conclusion of the previous volume, one that left readers with only their imaginations to guess at the identity of the hooded man and the fate of the bag’s owner, Col. I have read few books that manage to start with such high tension as this one. The fear, loathing and anger that both Holo and Lawrence are experiencing as the story begins again, do much to solidify the stakes that they will be facing during this, the final leg of their journey. After quickly confirming the truth before them, our two leads follow the hooded man into a back alley away from prying eyes. There they discover that the man is also a hare, yet another of the old ones, but more importantly that he is Hilde Schnau, the treasurer of the Debau Company and one of its founders.
This is where The Coin of the Sun II diverges so greatly from the preceding volume. While volume 15 was almost exclusively focused on the relationship between Lawrence and Holo after the events in Lenos, to its benefit, but to exclusion of its side characters, volume 16 uses both the returning and new characters to great effect. Luward Myuri and Max Moizi, the captain and strategist of the Myuri Mercenary Company, respectively, whose flight from Lesko with Lawrence make up a majority of the volume, do much to reinforce themselves as characters and make themselves memorable in their own right, something missing from when they first appeared. But the most important role, outside that of Lawrence and Holo, has to go to the hare I mentioned above. Hilde is a great character, from his introduction, where as a small, cute and furry creature he is able to calmly converse with the enraged Holo, to his time fleeing from Lesko with the Myuri Company, injured and apart from his former compatriots. Through all of this he keeps his head and shines as an example of this volume’s central theme, that of willing sacrifice. Just what is each character willing to give up for what they want most?
Having read the previous 15 volumes in this series, I thought I had a good idea of how the narrative of this one would go. I expected that Isuna Hasekura’s writing and characterizations would be top-notch as always, which they are, I just didn’t think that he would be able to surprise me after so much time spent reading this series, I was very, very wrong. And that is a good thing. One of the greatest surprises was Lawrence and Holo’s separation for a good third of the book, not only was this the greatest length of pages they were apart in the entire series, but it was also the most time, that could be measured in days, that they had not interacted with each other since the time they met. A bold move by the author, but a perfect one for the conclusion of this tale. Stuck for several days with only mercenaries and a wounded rabbit as company, Lawrence is left mostly with his thoughts during this time, allowing him to contemplate the changes both he and Holo have undergone. He also thinks back on the sacrifices made by the people he has met; allowing him to confirm, once again, just how much he is willing to give up to be with Holo. It works wonders in bringing the tale of Spice & Wolf full circle.
Don’t worry just because Holo is away for much of the volume, this doesn’t mean she goes without her signature moments. Though there relationship has progressed substantially, the banter and words shared between the central couple are just as powerful as they were at the beginning. When they do reunite, near the middle of the volume, the moment shared between the two is not just touching, but exceedingly pleasant; I couldn’t keep a stupid grin from my face, and this was in spite of the dangers surrounding them. Holo also gets one last scene where she can show off just how powerful she truly is, much to the detriment of some extremely unlucky mercenaries.
As the end of the volume approaches, we are met with a level of stress and anxiety from the characters that doesn’t really have a comparison within the rest of the series. More so than any other time they, include Lawrence and Holo, feel absolutely defeated. The plans they had placed faith in, no matter how slim the chances may have been to begin with, seem beyond reach. What is left to our titular pair appears to be nothing more than to flee and watch as the Northern Lands fall to the avarice of man. This is where the strengths of the author take center stage. The final sequence of events is so well written with a number of highs and lows that follow in such perfect order and timing that I really couldn’t think of a better way to end this journey.
As the final full volume, the last one being another collection of short stories, in a long running light novel series, my expectations going in were very high. I’m a fan, what can I say, it is hard to be objective at a time like this. In spite of this, Isuna Hasekura pulled off an amazing feat, as The Coin of the Sun II is not only a great conclusion to one of my favorite series, but also one of the best it has to offer, period. For anyone that may be thinking of starting up this tale for themselves and are worried about whether the quality dips at the end, I can assure you that it doesn’t. Spice & Wolf is satisfying from beginning to end. Now to wait a few months for the Epilogue, which somehow sees Norah, Eve and Diana meeting each other for the first time. That should be interesting.
Spice & Wolf Vol. 16: The Coin of the Sun II was published by Yen Press on December 15th, 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. 17 is scheduled for release in English on April 19th, 2016.
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