BtT Light Novel Club, Chapter 1: Spice and Wolf (Volume 1)

Welcome to the opening meeting of the Beneath the Tangles Light Novel Club! Today, we’ll be discussing our first selection, Spice and Wolf, a “classic” among light novels. Your host today is me—TWWK—and joining us are Frank, Annalyn, Teresa Christina, and YOU. Please chime in with your thoughts below, and feel free to use our questions as the bottom of the discussion as primer for discussing this piece.

TWWK: I’ll start with a simple question: what did you like best about Spice and Wolf?

Teresa Christina: What I enjoyed most about Spice and Wolf was the tone and aesthetic the author established. It was warm and inviting, harboring a sense of nostalgia. The imagery felt like a dream that everyone wishes could continue. The story explored the simple life, something Lawrence was hoping to escape in a sense, but at the same time is a rarity to the reader.

Annalyn: Like Teresa, I appreciated the way Hasekura Isuna set the aesthetic from the very first page. But I think I like the mind games best—the way Lawrence counters other merchants’ schemes with his own, primarily, but even the teasing between him and Holo, to some extent. The other part I really like is near the end, when we finally learn where the “spice” part of the title comes from. That reveal ties the volume together nicely.

TWWK:  Those mind games were my favorite part as well. Because light novels are the material from which so many anime are made, I feel as if they’re meant to be “visual,” even though they’re written word, so it surprised me that I became entranced by the deceptions and plans and talk of business that made up the novel, and primarily the latter half.

Teresa Christina: I saw a meme that said, “I learned more about economics from Spice and Wolf then in high school economics class”

Annalyn: Ha! Volume 1: “Economics 101: How to Outsmart Crafty Merchants.” Lecture topics include finding a walking lie detector, weapons training, and a crash course on currency.

Annalyn: Spice and Wolf is full of great examples to use for topics like investments. Think of how, instead of carrying around a ton of coins, traveling merchants carry their “money” in the way of daggers, other materials… spices…

Teresa Christina: The theme of currency really drove the plot, and it was interesting that it didn’t take it’s place until about halfway through. The story stretched my mind to think in dynamics that I don’t usually care too much about but probably should.

Annalyn: I like thinking about these dynamics in fictional worlds like that of Spice and Wolf. It’s less stressful than thinking about them in real life.

TWWK: And what was neat, too, was how this interesting plot device—the use of finance and currency and trading— drove the plot forward with excitement. Would the big plan work out? Would Lawrence be betrayed? Would he make his profit? But how all of it depended on how much we’d come to care about the protagonists. Which leads me to the next question…what were your thoughts on Holo and Lawrence?

Teresa Christina: I’ll be frank- I didn’t terribly like them at all. They felt… generic to me. Lawrence seamed to be rather daft at making connections when it came to Holo’s intentions. It wasn’t endearing ignorance—it felt annoying. Holo spoke loudly and had great talent, but her personality didn’t bring out uniquely admirable qualities in Lawrence. Interacting with Holo caused him to wrestle through romantic tension in a very cliche and overdone way. The pair’s relationship did not have proper redeemable qualities. Finally, I didn’t see the characters offering me any reasons to like or even root for them. If they would have included more of an in-depth back story, they might not have felt quite so hallow. They seemed to just exist.

Frank: I personally enjoyed seeing these early developments of Holo and Lawrence’s relationship, though how much of that is biased from my memories of the anime is hard to say.

It is pretty interesting to read about Lawrence’s thoughts during these events that make up the first several anime episodes (though it’s been ages since I’ve watched them). That’s actually one thing that always intrigues me when I go to read the original light novel after having seen the anime. Light novels will often detail out the thoughts and thought processes of the main character (and sometimes other characters), but since excessive internal monologuing doesn’t usually work as well in anime format, most of that gets cut in the adaptation. So going back and seeing what the main character is thinking during the events of the anime is quite fun.

Annalyn: I, too, found Lawrence’s thoughts interesting—to a certain extent. I was especially interested in anything related to his life as a traveling merchant, from his loneliness to his reaction to the younger merchant, Zheren. I enjoyed Holo whenever she showed off her various talents or, well, acted like the “harvest god” she was. I was much less interested in her weaker sides, which often—not always—felt forced. It was fine when she was pretending in order to mess with Lawrence. And I can understand her being lonely. But the way she didn’t want people to fear her? To the point that she almost left Lawrence over it? That was hard to swallow, especially since she also demands a certain level of respect. There were a couple other points where I felt she was made vulnerable without good reason. And her physical human form seems unnecessarily young and weak. I’d like to see her fully embrace her power and the respect it earns her in both of her forms. As for Holo and Lawrence together… I’m with Teresa. The romantic tension was cliche and overdone. I’m rooting against any romantic relationship, especially any relationship based primarily on Holo’s vulnerable moments. I want to see more of Holo being centuries old, and more of Lawrence as a merchant. I want to see them overcome loneliness, but not with much romance.

holo the wise wolf
art by 多元菌 | reprinted w/permission

TWWK: Okay, I’ll throw this out there: so you think Holo was written that way to appeal to young men? I found her compelling for some the aspects you disliked. Though I’ll agree about the romance: more FRIENDSHIP please!

Annalyn: Yes, absolutely. Again, some of the vulnerability is relatable and realistic—particularly anything related to lost friends. But some of it? Especially the physical vulnerability? Nah, that’s there for the reader, I think.

Frank: I think it’s important to note that Lawrence is a “normal” male with attractions to females, and someone starting to suffer from chronic loneliness, so for him to have some romantic tension with Holo is understandable. That said, even romantic relationships need a strong foundation of friendship to work, so I hope their friendship gets developed well over the course of the series. They have 16 more volumes to go through, so no rush.

Annalyn: Okay, it’s good to hear your perspective on Lawrence. I’m a very unromantic woman. I see a very old wolf that looks like a young teenaged girl next to a man in his mid-twenties, and I don’t think of romance.

Frank: On another note, I actually find Holo’s dislike of being feared rather interesting. It seems to me that she has various superhuman powers that she wanted to use to help people out and form a connection with them, but isn’t exactly happy with how they’ve labeled her a “god” as a result.

TWWK: Well despite her superhuman characteristics, she does seem more human than god, more like a very, very talented human. And as such, she has the same longing for friendship and love that we do: she doesn’t want to be used and she doesn’t want to be venerated. I liked that about Holo, as well. And that all feeds into an important theme of the piece, which is the need for community, seen by the loneliness that Lawrence and Holo both feel before they find each other and when they’re apart.

On another note, what of the setting? Did you like the world of Spice and Wolf?

Teresa Christina: I question how realistic the setting was. It appeared that they were trying to set a simple old fashioned way of life but then suddenly would make something super complex, like the odd social rules of the church hotel or how suddenly the money dealers are living sophisticatedly. Secret tunnels underground that have never been mentioned before? How convenient… The merchants acted like nomads, but there were established towns for those who were lucky enough to settle. The towns couldn’t seem to decide if they were loyal to the church or the harvest god. They embraced both halfheartedly, which seemed very contradictory.

Annalyn: The setting was serviceable. But now that I read what Teresa says and think about it more… nah, it was still serviceable. I liked it well enough. The political structure might fall apart on closer inspection, though. I don’t think “military strength” was mentioned as one of the ways the royal family rose above other nobility—which is very unusual.

The religious elements actually made sense to me. The local communities each had their own view on the supernatural, such as “harvest gods” like Holo, before the Church gained power. That feels similar to real life situations, where cultures had their own gods and superstitions before Christianity moved in. Some people took a syncretistic approach—they went to church and absorbed many of the new religious teachings, but continued with many of their old traditions. Some embraced the religion that was brought in through the Church wholeheartedly. And some simply continued in their old religions, only following Church rules as necessary to appease those in power.

Oh, and I want a map. I don’t like how they mention these various cities and I don’t have a map to help me keep track of them.

TWWK: A map would have been nice!

Frank: For the record, I’m reading this series from the “collector’s edition.” Here’s a world map:

Annalyn: Oooh, nice. I want.

TWWK: Speaking of world building and writing and such, if you were to write a piece of fan fiction about Spice and Wolf, what story would you tell?

Annalyn: I have never written fan fiction before, but I’d like to try to stretch my mind in that direction, so…. After reading the rest of the books and ensuring I understood the setting, I think I’d further explore the other characters involved with the [redacted for spoilers…those who have read know what plot point she speaks of].

Teresa Christina: I like that Alexis was saying about the setting for a fan fiction. On that note, I might write a story about Holo falling in love with a merchant! Forbidden love is always exciting.

TWWK: That it is…and that I imagine we’ll get with future volumes. I’ve read enough of Spice and Wolf to know that I like it a lot. The world building is so captivating, and Holo is an interesting heroine—I’m totally in. I’m fully expecting to read volume two. What about y’all?

Teresa Christina: I might check out the anime to see if it’s anything like how I pictured it in my head! It would be interesting to see how the tones would differ from book to screen.

Annalyn: I can’t justify a LN purchase outside of BtT activity right now, but I do think I want to read more. This was an interesting read, but it only scratched the surface of the Spice and Wolf world and characters. Plus, I know that Medieval Otaku wrote some good articles about later volumes. I’d like to be able to read those articles with a fuller understanding of the source material. Further, I find that I have more patience for the rather slow pace in light-novel form than in anime form. If I want to experience more of this story—and I do—the novel is the best way for me to do so.

Frank: As for whether I read more volumes… probably. Don’t know when, though. Time has been hard to come by lately, and since I only have it in physical form rather than on Kindle, it doesn’t have the portability advantage other LNs I’m reading have. Maybe I’ll do a volume a month or something. And as for a concluding thought: This book made me look up “drunk bears” on YouTube. I do not regret it.

That ends our writer’s thoughts on Spice and Wolf—now its time for YOU to continue the discussion! Let us know your thoughts on Spice and Wolf and on our comments above. Also feel free to use some of these questions below to launch your own comments about the light novel.

  1. What other books/anime does Spice and Wolf remind you of?
  2. Did you have a favorite quote from the light novel?
  3. What did you think of the title? What would you change it to?
  4. What did you think of the book’s cover? Have you seen the more realistic looking cover? Which do you like better?
  5. And we already talked about this one, but it’s a fun one: If you were to write a piece of fan fiction about Spice and Wolf, what story would you tell?

And stay tuned! We’ll be naming our next Light Novel Club selection in the next few days!



6 thoughts on “BtT Light Novel Club, Chapter 1: Spice and Wolf (Volume 1)

  1. I was a bit late on commenting cause I happened to go to Japan on the same day the commenting started, but I finished vol 1 weeks ago. I turned out to be a very fast reader for that series.
    As far as my general thoughts, I understand the bloggers’ criticisms but the problems seem to be mostly from it being the first shot from the author.
    He admits at the end of vol II that he had forgotten the personality of his characters, so he was still finding a groove.
    The simple weakness Holo shows being bothersome makes sense, and after continuing the series, it defiantly gets a bit more organic than forced.
    The setting and oddity of character combination is defiantly the draw of the series, and I like that some of the emphasis leans towards relationship, but the writer just shows Holo and Lawrence in a way as if they are already married. While cute for small things, at other times it just comes off as annoying and leaves the characters undeveloped.
    Seeing Holo’s pride makes me want it to be shattered. While her confidence is true at times, the way she approaches circumstances puts her at a grave fault. It’s good the character has this fault, but I wish it were different, or at least I wish she paid for it more often.
    This is still my first LN series to pick up after starting Wolf and Parchment, which I enjoyed quite a lot (the 2nd Volume is out in May!).
    So as much as there are flaws, I view it through a foggy lense, yet the story is clear. It personally makes me want to write, but I have to make time some other way then.
    Until we hopefully review the 2nd volume (Sorry, I liked it so much so far that I chewed Vol II up in 3 days before my trip to Japan) I might take some time to review the books again.
    As for a fan- fiction? I don’t know.
    Sometimes I like the idea of fictional characters meeting God. I know Isekura writes from a very secular perspective.
    At that rate, I’d rather just start with a new series and create a new set of my own characters that would actively acknowledge God and worship Him in their own fictional worlds. Which I actually have a set of characters like this already. I’d love to reveal more, but I still have a lot of work to do on them.
    Books like these give me a perspective though. So I’ve really enjoyed it.

    1. Thanks for the comments, Joshua! I’m so glad you read along! You make a good point (and so did the author, as you mention) that we have to understand that part of the flaws in the book have to do with the author’s greenness. It takes time to gain those skills in developing story and characterization—those of us who have tried our shot with writing know this better than most, perhaps.

      I’m glad you were able to read the story and that you’ve continued onward! Some of us will keep reading along, but our book club will be selecting a different book for the next session. We’ll announce it next week.

      I hope you had a wonderful trip to Japan!

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