Light Novel Club Chapter 32: The Faraway Paladin, Vol. 1

Welcome to our Light Novel Club discussion of The Faraway Paladin, Vol. 1! We’ve got a fairly unique light novel to discuss this time around, and this is a great time to discuss it, with an anime adaptation coming up soon and also the recent announcement of hardcover print editions for the series. So let’s jump into the discussion!

Joining Jeskai Angel and I is marthaurion, one of the members of the Beneath the Tangles Discord! This is a reminder that all Light Novel Club discussions are held on the public Beneath the Tangles Discord and anyone can join these discussions, so if you want to join future discussions, check us out over there.

1. What are your overall thoughts on the novel?

Jeskai Angel: The pacing was a little slow at times, but overall I enjoyed this light novel. Also, it bugs me that I can’t narrow down a specific reason, but this story felt strangely old, like I might have picked it up at the public library back in 1998. I’ve written before about how I think Unnamed Memory doesn’t “feel” like a typical light novel, and I experienced a similar sensation with Faraway Paladin, though I don’t think it was for the same reasons (e.g., how magic works is actually explained quite a bit in Faraway Paladin).

stardf29: Maybe it’s because the author took inspiration from traditional tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons, as opposed to video game RPGs like “typical” fantasy light novels?

Jeskai Angel: Ooh, that’s possible! It’s not exactly “You all meet in a tavern,” levels of DnD tropey-ness, but I can definitely see the DnD resemblance now that you point it out.

stardf29: This was definitely an interesting read that is quite different from the usual isekai light novel. It does feel a bit slow-paced because a lot of the beginning is so focused on Will simply growing up with his “parents” and learning about the world. That said, that kind of start is nice every once in a while; it is kind of like Mushoku Tensei in that regard. The worldbuilding is great because of it, and the conflict against the god of undeath is nice, too.

Beyond that, I do like how this story delves into various themes that are worth thinking about. It’s a nice, thoughtful light novel, and as much as I like my brainless fun light novels, having something like this is good for a balanced light novel diet.

2. What are your thoughts on the characters?

Jeskai Angel: By far, my favorite aspect of this story was the active role the gods played. It actually sort of resembles my favorite aspect of Spice and Wolf in that regard. In most light novels, either there’s no evidence gods are real, or they are deistic watchmakers who jump-start the story by isekai-ing the MC but thereafter take a hands-off approach to the setting, or they are benign comic relief. The biggest exceptions I can think of are Invaders of the Rokujouma!? and Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, plus Tearmoon Empire (which, thus far, has strongly-implied-but-not-explicitly-confirmed divine intervention).

I think one way to summarize this volume is that it’s the story of someone (Will) coming to know and put his faith in a loving deity (Gracefeel). Since learning about the Lord and then choosing to devote oneself to him is fundamental to being a Christian, it’s actually kind of a relatable process. Gracefeel, as a character, walks a fine line, managing to be knowable while remaining mysterious. She’s not just a human with superpowers, but neither is she a total enigma. She’s also a rare truly benevolent god; her power is finite, but she consistently seeks to use it for good.

Stagnate was…peculiar. Like, if the author had added a line about Stagnate twirling his mustache while cackling evilly, it would have fit right in; he acts almost ostentatiously villainous. At the same time he, doesn’t feel quite as “evil” as he acts. He DID help with sealing away the demon king, and even if he had an ulterior motive, that doesn’t entirely invalidate the goodness of aiding the struggle against the demon king. Then there’s issue of death. Stagnate isn’t wrong to see death a Bad Thing (TM). I got the the sense that he really had at least somewhat good intentions behind his flawed approach to the problem of death. Even his nefarious scheme to ensnare Blood and Mary consisted of…arranging for them to raise the child they’d always longed for. Like, as far as villainous plans go, “Give a childless couple a baby so they can shower him with love” isn’t actually all that fiendish. I can’t be too hard on Stagnate if that’s the best he can do for an “evil” plan.

marthaurion: For what it’s worth, I don’t really think I got the same impression of stagnate as being overtly evil, but maybe I wasn’t focusing on that at the time. From what I read, it seemed like his motivations were rooted in a concept that made sense, but his implementation ultimately brings him at odds with others.

stardf29: I have to agree that Stagnate is not so much “intentionally evil” as much as a sort of “well-intentioned extremist”. I think it’s interesting that Stagnate was originally a “good” god, but would later “stray from that path”; it shows that, putting the initially “evil” gods aside, the gods are not actual moral paragons and are indeed falliable. I’ll have more to say on this in a later question.

Jeskai Angel: Will was surprisingly relatable. The way he described himself, I got the impression that he suffered some real trauma which caused depression or anxiety or some other form of mental ill health, and as one commonly sees in anime / light novels, he never got adequate psychological / psychiatric treatment for it. I also appreciate that his past-life memories were important yet not intrusive. By that, I mean that the story spend a bunch time dwelling on Will’s efforts to replicate modern technology, business practices, or Japanese food culture the way so many isekai protagonists do. That sort of thing is sometimes done well, but other times just feels like a cookie cutter isekai trope. Memories from his past are both inspiring and useful for Will, but they can only carry him so far, something he explicitly notes when talking about how Gus’s lessons eventually surpassed his past-life education level.

Will eventually does end up as an OP Isekai Protagonist (TM), but it feels “earned” in a narrative sense. He puts forth a ton of effort to reach the point of being OP, and even then, it’s not just efforts that make it possible. He never could have reached the point he did without all the care and teaching Blood, Mary, and Gus give him. Mater and Gracefeel also contribute to what he becomes. He isn’t just handed phenomenal cosmic power from the start.

marthaurion: For my impression of will, it was hard for me not to draw parallels to Mushoku Tensei, since both protagonists come from that similar thought of feeling like they want to make something more of themselves in their new lives. It’s hard not to feel like Will’s reincarnation is more of an afterthought whenever it comes up, whereas Rudy’s reincarnation seems to more actively inform many of his decisions. Ultimately, it seems like will’s reincarnation is mostly meant to tie him to Gracefeel. To be fair, i think this is fine, but the other attempts to tie back to his old life don’t really hit home for me.

Also, I would agree that will’s abilities definitely feel earned, in spite of what I said earlier about how I compare him to Rudy.

It’s more of a commentary on how the reincarnation aspect ties into things.

Jeskai Angel: I haven’t read the Jobless Reincarnation light novels, and only watched the first few episodes before dropping the recent anime adaptation. That said…the big contrast I saw between Will and Rudy is that the former is a relatively good person and the latter is a relatively awful one. I got the distinct sense that Rudy, was a Jabba-the-Hutt-like sleazeball in his previous life, AND that he carried over his perverted habits into his reincarnated life. In that regard, at least, Rudy didn’t even seem to be trying to do better than in his previous life. Perhaps I’m off base in this, and Rudy wasn’t as bad as in his first life as the anime made him seem, or perhaps he eventually turns better in his second life. I just know that in terms of comparisons, I found Will vastly more sympathetic and likeable.

marthaurion: Is that so wrong? Even if I don’t have the same traits, I can respect that Rudy carries over parts of his identity while working past some of the traumas that held him back.

stardf29: Regarding Will, honestly, I don’t really have anything to add here that Jeskai hasn’t already said. I like how his past life memories have enough of an effect on his current self that you’re curious what his past life was life, but not so much that I want the story to actually explain it, leaving that in the realm of fascinating mystery.

Jeskai Angel: I appreciated how each of Blood, Mary, and Gus contributed something irreplaceable to Will’s upbringing. They were well balanced, and had a fun rapport with each other. I also thought it was a fun touch how the story emphasized that some of their knowledge was dated and they don’t really know anything about the current state of the world. I can’t help but suspect all three are some kind of allusion to Christianity, due to in their names. First, having a woman named Mary who ends up with a baby through unnatural means is…not remotely subtle. And once you’ve introduced that, the names of the other two start to seem suspiciously coincidental. “Blood” is in fact a very important thing in Christianity (e.g., the Lord’s Supper / Eucharist). And Gus isn’t in the Bible by his nickname, but “Augustus” (of the Caesar variety) does get a shout-out in Luke 2:1.

stardf29: Man, Blood, Mary, and Gus are great. They are such a great parental trio, with each of them having aspects that are different from each other that allow them to balance each other out, which overall makes them quite good at raising Will. It definitely made me sad that their time with Will ultimately had to come to an end. And I definitely found the use of “Mary” for the mother’s name strangely familiar…

Someone took some creative liberties with their nativity display.

3. What do you think about the setting/worldbuilding in this volume?

Jeskai Angel: Now that you’ve said it, the worldbuilding and setting seem clearly inspired by tabletop RPGs (or video games closely based on tabletop RPGs, like Baldur’s Gate or something), which in turn drew from older western fantasy works (from Greek mythology to Tolkien). It contains a lot of traditional elements, and the end result is something that in one sense feels creative and unusual compared to typical fantasy light novels, but in another sense more derivative than many other fantasy light novels. That is, light novels that don’t draw so heavily on traditional fantasy have room to sometimes do some really interesting things, whereas Faraway Paladin never completely loses that familiar “I think I might have read this in the ’90s” vibe I mentioned before.

marthaurion: I really liked how magic was presented in this world. It feels more grounded to think of it as something that isn’t guaranteed to succeed in a general sense. With that presentation, Gus’s philosophy of choosing words that have the safest failures rather than the most effective successes makes a lot of sense. It truly makes magic feel like a feat of intelligence, rather than just a question of how well you can time or aim the spell, as is the general impression in other fantasy settings.

As for the pantheon, I’m less familiar with kind of the “official” pantheons for D&D, so I didn’t immediately draw that parallel. I felt the similarities to Greek/Roman mythology a lot more strongly when I was reading, where the gods are just presented as very powerful beings that preside over processes.

stardf29: As mentioned before, the current highlight of the worldbuilding is in the gods and how they relate to the people of the world. I do like how the worldbuilding is presented over time, as if we are learning about it alongside Will. This is especially notable since this first volume only takes place in a small area geographically, so there’s still a lot of world for us to learn as Will explores outside the city of the dead.

Also, I like how magic in this world works. It’s not just “oh yeah people can use magic,” nor is it too videogame-like or overly “scientific”. There’s a greater sense of mystique thanks to the connection to the “Words of Creation”, and even Will himself mentions it’s more like classic fantasy novels in this way.

Now, about those gods. As I mentioned before, the “good” and “evil” designation of gods is not static, and that does make me wonder a few things. For one, what exactly defines what makes a god “good” or “evil”? Gus does say at one point that he considers those designations something that their followers, i.e. the people, decided, and that makes me curious as to the greater religious sociology of this world. It also makes me wonder if there are any cases where an “evil” god ends up beoing more “good”…

4. What connections does this volume’s story have with our Christian faith?

Jeskai Angel: The conflicting divine approaches to death provide fascinating contrasts with the third possibility Christianity teaches. Gracefeel represents reincarnation with no memories. Life ends in death, but then restarts from scratch. In this system, a soul is basically an Etch A Sketch, getting erased & reused over & over. I find this a deeply unsatisfying concept because it makes one’s life meaningless. It doesn’t matter what you do, eventually you’ll die & get erased & nothing about you will carry over. This approach leaves no room for reward or judgment. It actually reminds me a bit of some of my issues the versions of predestination/election found in some circles of Christianity, in that by say God absolutely predetermines the outcome, they risk making this life meaningless.

Stagnate has beef with this, & thus offers undeath as an alternative to reincarnation. Your identity won’t get erased, but you’ll be stuck as some damaged or half-destroyed version of yourself (e.g., a skeleton, zombie, or ghost) that isn’t truly alive. By offering some degree of continuity, Stagnate’s undeath does have an advantage over Gracefeel’s soul recycling bin. Unfortunately, it’s rightly called ‘undeath,” not “life.” The solution to death needs to be life, so in that respect Gracefeel’s approach has an edge over Stagnate’s.

Finally, there’s Christianity, promising a transformative bodily resurrection. Gracefeel & Stagnate only have workarounds to the problem of death; they can’t do anything about death itself. On the other hand, in the person of Jesus, Life directly challenges & overcomes death. In the resurrection, we will still be ourselves in some meaningful sense, unlike Gracefeel’s reincarnation. But unlike with Stagnate’s static, flawed imitation of life, we will be truly alive as transformed, perfected versions of ourselves. In short, the contrast between Gracefeel’s reincarnation & Stagnate’s undeath really drives home how awesome our Lord’s promise of resurrection is.

stardf29: So one of my favorite moments in the novel is when Mater protects Mary, and shows that Mary’s “punishment” was entirely self-inflicted, and that Mater had long forgiven her. It’s a good picture of grace, and how we can sometimes believe we are being “punished” by God, and perhaps even try to punish ourselves, even though God has already satisfied all need for “punishment” through Christ’s death. Sure, we have to deal with consequences of our actions, but that is not some kind of divine judgment.

Now, this story’s theological worldbuilding is based on the idea that “if good is created, then evil must be created to balance it”. There’s also how Will feels like he needs to fear death in order to feel like he truly is living, in opposition to Stagnate who wants to remove death entirely. It’s this idea of “balance” that I think comes from one of the major Eastern religions (will have to do some more research on this) and is fairly popular in fantasy works. It’s certainly a nice-sounding idea, but I think Christianity shows how we can look forward to a future without death, and not feel like we’re “missing” something because of that.

The contrast with Stagnate, as Jeskai pointed out, is particularly helpful because it shows that eternal life, separated from God and His perfect design for life, is pretty crappy. (And I have to agree that Gracefeel’s reincarnation of souls feels rather empty.)

Thank you for checking out our discussion on The Faraway Paladin, Vol. 1! The series is available digitally from J-Novel Club if you want to buy this volume or any later volumes for yourself, with a hardcover print edition planned for release in March 2022.

Discussion on our next Light Novel Club title, Tearmoon Empire Vol. 4, has started on the Beneath the Tangles Discord! The discussion will be open throughout the month of August, so there’s still time to read the series and join our discussion.

If you want to prepare for the novels we are discussing later in the year: In September 2021, we will be discussing Sword Art Online: Progressive, Vol. 1! And if you want to know what we are discussing in October 2021… we will be discussing the next novel in the “Rascal Does Not Dream…” series, Rascal Does Not Dream of Petite Devil Kohai!

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