BtT Light Novel Club Chapter 22: Of Dragons and Fae

Yo ho ho! Tis time fer another voyage on the good ship Light Novel Club. I staged a mutiny an’ took over from old Cap’n Star this time. No, I’m not sure why I decided to open this post in such a piratical way, but…moving on, today we’re discussing Of Dragons and Fae: Is a Fairy Tale Ending Possible for the Princess’s Hairstylist? from Cross Infinite World. Yarr, matey, a question appears on the horizon!

1. What did you think of this book overall?

stardf29: Overall I enjoyed it. As a one-shot story it pretty much just did what it needed to do and then wrapped things up, and that’s cool. The main romance was solid and there were some interesting ideas throughout revolving around cultural differences and whatnot. At the same time there isn’t really anything that would put it among my “top tier” of light novels or anything; it was just a nice, enjoyable, quick story.

If I had one complaint about it… I guess I wish there was more actually done with the Flowerfolk powers, as if you put aside the occasional flower-making, for the most part the protagonist basically was “human with high temperature sensitivity” (which, honestly, describes me all too well) so it didn’t quite feel as much a story about “fae” as I might have liked. Ah well. I guess there’s only so much you can do with that when your story is a one-shot focused more on relational development than fantastic hijinks.

jeskaiangel: Yeah, what you said. It’s a fun fantasy romance with a bit of intrigue and some interesting commentary on biracial relationships (since it’s a topic with a rather sad history in America, it makes me curious how biracial marriage is regarded in Japan / how this book might be commenting on those attitudes). There was a strong primary relationship and some interesting secondary characters, and the story reached a nice, tidy resolution in only one volume, which helps excuse the slightly underdeveloped worldbuilding.

Far too often, in my view, romantic comedies come off as painfully forced. The leads like or misunderstand each other not organically, but rather because the story requires them to do so. I appreciated that both Mayna and Ray felt relatively believable, rather than getting mired in artificially induced irrationality or stupidity. It may not reach the level of all-time great light novels, but I do think it’s one of Cross Infinite World’s stronger releases.

2. What did you think of the characters?

jeskaiangel: I thought Mayna was cool because she’s such an “otaku” about hair. It’s not a subject I often see LN/anime protagonists nerd out over, but Mayna’s artistic passion for styling provides an effective solution for the problem sometimes seen in romances where the leads seem to have no life or personality outside their romance. Mayna’s work helped ground her as a person apart from her romantic relationship. The author was also careful to give us just enough about hair that we could share the fun of Mayna’s passion, without bogging down the narrative with haircare monologues.

stardf29: Yeah, Mayna is the star character here. It’s nice that she feels like a hairstylist first and a romance story protagonist second, and the story is really more about her efforts as a hairstylist in a new land than it is about her developing relationship with Ray. (Though I will admit to sometimes skipping over the more detailed hair information…)

jeskaiangel: Ray is a fine character, but not a great one. I find his early behavior, where he unceremoniously dumps Mayna and then acts rudely toward her in their first couple encounters in Vaxwald, to be the weakest part of the story. Even with the later revelations about why he acted as he did, I find it difficult to accept that he would just push Mayna away in deliberately misleading fashion like that, without even trying to talk things out. The rest of the story tries its best to show why he thought it made sense at the time, and succeeds somewhat, but it’s still a weakness in the overall narrative. Once again I suspect this could have been smoothed out a little more were this a multi-volume tale.

stardf29: Speaking of Ray… yeah, he’s got his issues. Definitely should have actually voiced his worries to Mayna rather than just brush her off and hope she forgets about him. Not sure if additional volumes would have given some chance to smooth that out but I think it could help in giving him a chance to work on what seems to be insecurity and overprotectiveness. But at least he’s got a good heart, and cares about Mayna without wanting to stop her from doing what she wants in life.

That is in direct contrast to Kirion, who I pretty much hated from the start. Which, given that he is the “main villain” of the story, was probably intended. I almost never like these “constantly flirting guys” characters, and he’s an especially nasty sort who doesn’t actually care about the girl he’s flirting with at all. So yeah, it’s kind of a good thing he is straight up the main villain and not some kind of “misunderstood” good guy. I do agree that it might be nice to learn more about his motivations, and about what’s going on in Kazarth or about the Shadowkin in general, which might have made for good material for a future volume. Ah well.

jeskaiangel: Kirion could have used more development. He’s apparently just a spy-for-hire, and he’s malicious and enjoys manipulating or antagonizing people. But why did he become an agent provocateur? Why accept this particular job? Is he greedy for an exorbitant reward? Does he need the money for something? As a source of conflict who is obviously sketchy but not obviously evil, he plays his narrative role well enough, and again I suspect the one-volume nature of this story limited his opportunities for development.

stardf29: As for our royal couple Dario and Patricia, I wish I could have read a full side story on how their relationship developed. I do like what we did see of them, though.

jeskaiangel: I have no objections to stories about princes and princesses, but it’s also fun having a tale where they are the background characters. That said, Dario and Patricia both impress with moments of surprising maturity. I appreciated seeing their efforts to build a meaningful relationship out of their politically arranged marriage.

3. Is the one-volume format of this story something you’d like to see more of, versus the more common tendency for LNs to span dozens of volumes?

stardf29: One-shot volumes like this are nice in a world where every single web novel author wants to write long-running stories in the hopes of a long light novel serialization. Especially since a lot of stories in the world of anime/manga/light novels seem to like to meander and take a long time to get anywhere as it is, so reading a story where things largely cut to the chase is refreshing.

That said, you did make some comments earlier about how you would have liked some things to have gotten more development, which is hard to do in a single volume. So maybe what we really want are series which tell a complete story in 2 or 3 volumes?

Whatever the case, I believe an author should know when to end a story (or at least the main plot; if they want to continue with side stories after that, good on them), and each story will have a different ideal end point. Some will only need one volume, and some will need quite a lot of volumes. One-shot volumes are nice because they require little commitment, though.

(The real unfortunate thing is when a web novel only gets 1 to 3 light novel volumes published and then the publisher doesn’t publish any more because it’s not selling well or whatnot, forcing the author to either scramble up a rushed ending or just leave things hanging…)

jeskaiangel: Yeah, I think what this book shows me is that it would be nice if some LNs found a way to wrap up in, say, <10 vols. And, as you say, the needs of the story should determine exactly how many volumes are needed. Sometimes, it would be nice to sit down and read a volume or three and have the complete story, instead of feeling like I’m in danger of needing to read 20+ volumes every time I try a new series.

4. What do you think of the story’s concept of “bondmates”?

stardf29: So the whole “Bondmates” thing interested me quite a bit. Obviously, it plays into the whole idea of “soulmates” and the supposedly romantic notion that there is one person out there that we were specifically meant to be with (whether by God’s design or some general belief in “fate”). It also interested me because another shoujo light novel, The White Cat’s Revenge as Plotted from the Dragon King’s Lap, had something similar with two people having “compatible” wavelengths that make it feel nice to be around each other. (And that one also has dragon people. And fairies. Go figure.)

That said, I’m not the biggest fan of the whole idea of “soulmates”, in and of itself. I could go into a whole discussion about this, but let’s just say that while I do believe God works in our life as far as if and who we marry, it’s not like there’s one person out there we absolutely have to marry, and if we “choose wrong”, our marriage is doomed. Or perhaps the worse interpretation, that if we do find our “soulmate”, somehow our lives will magically be perfect and the marriage doesn’t need any work.

What makes the whole “Bondmates” concept more interesting is that it’s not strictly a “we must get married” connection; as mentioned by Mona, it’s a desire for your Bondmate to be happy, even moreso than your own happiness. It means that if you realize that marrying your Bondmate might not make them happy, whether because of bringing about political strife or threatening their life somehow, you would refrain from doing so even if it hurts you greatly. And we see how painful that connection can be, with how Ray tried to reject Mayna in order to keep her safe from Vaxwald’s extreme climates. Sure, he went about things the wrong way, but it does goes to show that the Bondmate connection can involve a lot of self-sacrifice.

And that is something that is quite interesting. Imagine if God told us, “See that person there? Your purpose in life is to make him/her as happy as possible, even over your own happiness.” While it might not be completely aligned with Christianity, I think it’s definitely a lot closer to what Godly love is like, especially compared with Kirion’s more self-centered twist on the concept. And it’s definitely closer to what love between married people is actually like.

jeskaiangel: Agree. On one level whole soulmate thing dredges up the always messy of question of providence vs. human agency. To what extent is it actually possible for us to “mess up” God’s plans for our lives? Beats me. Also agree about how interesting it is that it stresses selfless love. It’s a positive message that reminds me of a favorite quote from Diseny’s Frozen: “Love…is…putting someone else’s needs before yours.” Too often in fiction, “love” is a tiresomely superficial blend of emotional highs and physical attraction, so I think it’s cool to see a deeper depiction of it.

5. What are your thoughts on how the story deals with culture and cultural differences?

jeskaiangel: The book is a good reminder that we have both commonalities and differences with people of other times and places (e.g., adjacent regions can share the same language, but differ with regard to courtship behavior or fashion). It seems to me like we humans are prone to taking extreme approaches: either those other people are exactly like us, or they are nothing like us. Reality is far more messy.

stardf29: As I mentioned before, the elements of cross-cultural interaction definitely helped make this an interesting story. There’s obviously plenty of straight-up prejudice with the rioters, but I think it’s interesting to see how those who are at least slightly open-minded are able to accept cultural differences with just a small push, especially for people like the princess who are just more scared of the unfamiliar than anything. It also shows how much it helps for those in high positions like the prince to lead the way in accepting others, because they set the example for others to follow.

With all that said, there is one big part of all of this that really got to me, which leads me to my next question…

6. What do you think of the fictional book Tales of Tribal Romance and its role in Vaxwald’s culture?

jeskaiangel: There’s a good message here about stereotypes, critical thinking, and media consumption. Media, whether billed as fiction or non-fiction, can distort our understanding. We read or hear something, and then assume we have a thorough understanding of the topic. And yet we can’t just uncritically accept what we read or hear, because it may not be true. And even if what we learned is true, we still might not be seeing the full picture.

stardf29: I’m not going to lie: I absolutely hate Tales of Tribal Romance. Or rather, I hate how it’s become the de facto source of information on other races for Vaxwald, to the point where people there don’t even consider that Flowerfolk might not be as frail as the book portrays them as. And I can’t even imagine how it’s impacted their views of the other races (especially the other race for which the romance ended tragically).

What’s worse is that there seems to be no other major work, fiction or non-fiction, to say anything to the contrary. If this were a real place, I would definitely hope the new prince and princess start a project to learn more about what the other races and their cultures are actually like and publish that information, and hopefully more fictional works appear that give a much broader view of those other races as well.

As you’ve said, it really goes to show how much media, even fiction, can actually affect our perceptions of the world. That said, the question comes up whether the responsibility is on the writer to not portray things inaccurately, or on the audience for thinking more critically about what they consume. I’d say both are partially responsible, but given that even the most “accurate” author can only write so much on a given subject in a single work, I think the audience has a greater responsibility to manage the role of media in their own personal lives, and to make sure that their views aren’t too narrowly focused on works that were never meant to be gospel. (Note that things are different regarding the Bible, which actually is Gospel. Still, even there you have to be careful with various interpretations that twist things around… but that’s a whole ‘nother beast of a discussion.)

jeskaiangel: This sounds like another issue that could have been at least partially smoothed over if this were a longer story that included more worldbuilding and followed up on more of the details already present.

And that’s it for our discussion of Of Dragons and Fae! If you read along with us, let us know of your thoughts in the comments! And visit the Cross Infinite World website for purchase options.


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