“Kept you waiting, huh?”
Better late than never, as they say. My apologies if you have been waiting for the blog post for our Light Novel Club discussion of Tearmoon Empire, Vol. 4, which happened over August. As a reminder, all our discussions are held publicly on the Beneath the Tangles Discord, where you can join in on our discussions… or at least read them as they happen.
Anyway, the wait is over so let’s jump right into the continuing adventures of Mia Luna Tearmoon and her attempts to avoid a bad future! Joining me in this discussion are Jeskai Angel, Marth, and Gaheret.
1. What are your overall thoughts on this volume?
Jeskai Angel: Tearmoon Empire continues to be a strong contender for the title “very best light novel on the market.” This volume built a lot on the Chaos Serpent plot introduced / teased in vols. 2-3. Also, I read vol. 5 shortly before going back to re-read this volume for the discussion, and I noticed there’s actually quite a bit of foreshadowing that I overlooked the first time I read vol. 4. Finally, I continue to adore the way the story keeps Mia’s first life / original timeline relevant to the ongoing story even though she has changed history enough to avert a repeat.
marthaurion: I agree that the references to the original timelines have been great. The parallels between Mia and Esmeralda were nice, and I thought it was cool that they felt like a problem that Mia was actually qualified to tackle for once. In addition to that, one of my favorite moments in the volume is probably Ludwig’s dream of the original timeline, because I felt that it demonstrated that Mia was a decent person despite her haughty attitude even at what’s presumably her worst.
Gaheret: This one felt like a transition volume concerning the Chaos Serpents, and instead, dealt with an underlying conflict between Mia and Mia’s Team and the Greenmoons. The Duke of Greenmon, his daughter and his people are the representatives of the prejudice against agriculture and commoners which is ultimately harming the Empire, the protectors of the potential monopoly of Ganudos. There was some discontinuity, though, and I felt the plots were a little disordered and not directly connected. Of those, I loved Mia’s Academy plot, with the Duke of Greenmoon interfering and an innovative curriculum in motion. I would have loved to see more of that: We get innovative agriculture, the Orthodox Church creed and whatever was that Ludwig’s Master taught him, which judging by his character, would be geopolitics, strategy and human behaviour, with some admiration for experimentation and virtue and, well, not very good manners. In a way, I regretted that development, as I find theories and practices concerning education in fictional settings to be fascinating, and having a Leonardo da Vinci of sorts as a reliable director solves most of it. I would love watching Mia and Ludwig forced to consider what would be useful to learn, and dealing with each other’s blind spots.
The parts I enjoyed the most were those in which Mia includes the talented orphans, earns the support of the Central Orthodox Church and convinces Viscount Berman of the practical issues concerning the setting of the Academy. Esmeralda’s trip was interesting, but I think there’s some undeveloped potential there. In particular, I think there’s too little conflict. As Jeskai said, Esmeralda isn’t particularly evil, her plot to embarrass Mia cannot be very effective, surrounded as she is by Mia’s allies as Sion and Abel, and she is in the minority when they become lost in the island. Plus, there is almost no tension between Sion and Abel, which I find very puzzling. Imagine there would have been five compelling characters who think just like Esmeralda, for example. In this scenario, everyone more or less agrees in what to do. The conflicts between Ludwig and Ganudos are interesting, but with Dion Alaia in the field, it also seems like Mia’s Team has without dispute the upper hand. I think this could have a lot more tension, especially if there had been a more morally sound and articulated defender of the Nobility prejudice, Ruby perhaps, who would have been a formidable foe.
stardf29: This was a volume of two parts, both great in their own way. The first part is mainly Mia managing to push forward her plans, with the usual mix of her unique sort of ingenuity and some misunderstandings from others. It’s as fun as this sort of thing has been in the previous volumes, and as a bonus we get to see how a lot of Tearmoon’s problems come from some ingrained ideologies that Mia has to fight.
The second half has a more adventurous feel, between Mia and co. being stranded on an island, and Ludwig and co. uncovering the first signs of a conspiracy within the country. This part definitely feels like it’s pushing the overall story forward, and while there’s still some room for some fun, it overall feels like a more “important” part of the story.
2. What are your thoughts on the characters?
Jeskai Angel: Esmeralda feels like the big winner of character development for this volume. Prior to this, she’s been shown in a negative light, but was a relatively flat character with few traits besides pettiness. In this volume, we learn that she really and truly wants to be friends with Mia. She has a twisted way of going about it, but as seen with her preparation of matching swimsuits, her legit swimming instruction, and even the way she sent the guards back to the ship for the sake of Mia’s “privacy,” she actually does try occasionally to be considerate. This volume also emphasized that Esmeralda is a product of her upbringing; she act as she does because that’s what she was taught. Obviously that doesn’t excuse her behavior, but it certainly makes it more difficult to see her in a completely negative light. Finally, there’s her dream about the original timeline. Since vol. 1, we’ve been under the impression that in Mia’s first life, Esmeralda betrayed her. But we find out that actually, her family absconded, taking her with them, against her wishes, and she actually felt bad about abandoning Mia like that. It really casts Esmeralda in a different light.
stardf29: It’s definitely good to see what Esmeralda is really like. I definitely have to agree with the narrator that she is quite the handful, wanting to spend time with Mia as her friend but going about it in the most awkward way. Overall, she acts like the typical haughty noble, but that’s because that was the way she was brought up, and inside she’s really more like a typical girl with wants that perhaps conflict with those expecations of nobles. In particular, there’s all the time she almost calls her maid Nina by name, before correcting herself, as if she would rather be more personal with her than her noble upbringing would allow. It’s an interesting contrast, and with Esmeralda now in something of a dangerous situation, it’ll be interesting to see how she deals with it.
Jeskai Angel: Ludwig also has a dream of the original timeline that reveals quite a lot. The narrative has a made of point of telling us that people misunderstand Mia, even mocking Mia’s friends and allies as delusional. And we can’t help but wonder how they would respond if they knew the purported “real” Mia (purported because I’ve written at length about how I think Narrator-san isn’t always right). With this dream, the Ludwig of Mia’s second life see her at her worst, and even realizes that somehow, the Mia in his dream is the same Mia he knows. And he decides that he would still serve her even if she really were just like in the dream, because beneath her flaws he still sees that “There is good in her,” to paraphrase Luke Skywalker. Of course, this isn’t entirely surprising, since we know that in the original timeline, Ludwig stayed loyal to Mia up to and even after her execution. But it’s still a significant moment: for the first time, we see someone in Mia’s second life face the “truth” about what Mia is or could be, and it doesn’t inspire him to abandon her.
Gaheret: I think Ludwig’s realization that he would still serve Mia with devotion if she was a flawed, not-so-intelligent ruler (as she is in reality, and as most of us would be), as he did in the first timeline, is a great step on the right direction. In general, I think Ludwig is the great protagonist of this volume. We get a glimpse of his formation years as a genius and a strategist, see him surpass his master (in a way), see him investigating as a detective, using the bond with Dion Alaia in which he worked so hard, and finally working on a diplomatic minefield in Ganudos, see him come to this important realization about Mia and see him dealing with Bel as an old man. In Mia’s Academy, he’s forming the next generation of people like him, too. It feels like a complete cycle. I only miss he marrying someone, or having a wholly personal life in either timeline. But it’s true that this are decisive years, and his Master lives as a hermit, so maybe that’s out of the question for him.
stardf29: The moment when Ludwig had the dream of an “alternate” Mia was a really good moment. One could argue that up until this point, Ludwig had simply “gotten lucky” with Mia and thus not being aware of her faults. But, however confusing that dream must have been to him, it did make him consider if he would follow Mia even if it turned out she wasn’t quite as smart as he thought she was.
And that’s important, because even the smartest person in the world will get something wrong. If we follow someone for how much we think they know about something, we are prone to either being disillusioned to them when they turn out to be wrong, or worse, we refuse to believe the truth. Of course, following someone for their personality has similar pitfalls, depending on what aspects of their personality we admire, but Mia’s concern for others (even if it’s to save her own skin) and willingness to learn from her mistakes are pretty good things to follow someone for.
Jeskai Angel: Bel is as sweet as ever. Her unfaltering gratitude is a worthy example, and her interactions with people such as Ludwig, the baker, Lynsha, and Elise are heartwarming. I especially enjoyed the time loop where Bel hears stories about Mia from Elise, then goes back in time and unwittingly becomes Elise’s source for those stories, so she’ll be able to share with Bel in the future.
Through Arshia, the story continues to tease us about the role of the divine in Mia’s life. Arshia recalls her old prayers and considers that Mia might be the fulfillment of her plea. Considering what we know about Mia, that seems like an astute realization. I also liked how hard Arshia made Mia work to win her over. It’s sometimes comical how easily she wins friends and influences people, but Arshia proved unusually reluctant.
Speaking of Mia and Arshia, their interaction struck me as another outstanding example of how Mia is an intuitive hero. Protagonists who rely on strength are common. So are protagonists who rely on cunning. Not so with Mia (though she actually is fairly intelligent). For as much as her conscious reasoning can be flawed, she has a remarkable knack for saying and doing the right thing at the right time. Inviting the kids to the party wasn’t Mia’s intended way of convincing Arshia to teach at the academy, but it ended up working when all else failed. Sure, one could critique Mia’s main plan as a failure, but the fact remains that it was her idea to bring Arshia’s future students to the event.
This volume also continues to show us how Mia continues to change people’s lives for the better. Selia’s case is a big one; another is Chef Waggman’s. But her good influence covers more than just completely rewriting people’s destinies. We see that because of Mia, Sion and Ludwig become friends, something we know never happened in the original timeline. The friendship between Abel and Keithwood is another example of this. Developments of this sort don’t completely transform a person’s life, but they are nonetheless reflections of Mia’s positive impact.
I enjoyed how Mia retained her proficiency at counting-small-barely-distinguishable-items from her first life. The effects of her first life are also apparent in her nonchalance about staying at the Lulu village and camping on the island. I like when she does these unconventional things point back to her experiences in the original timeline.
stardf29: I really liked how Mia handled Arshia’s recruitment. Her initial plan might not have worked, but she did have the idea to bring the children along to double-up on her persuasion, and that shows her ability to approach problems with backup plans, which is never a bad skill to have.
Her handling of recruiting Ludwig’s master is also great. Sure, trying to use extensive waiting as leverage against him is very much a “nobility” move, but she also has the patience to actually do it, something most nobles probably would give up on and thus why this is not a more widespread tactic. So when she sets her mind to something, she’s quite good at getting it done.
Gaheret: I want to mention that I find the way of thinking of Ludwig’s master terrible. As if an intelligent man should disdain to serve with his intellect anyone other than an indisputable genius of complete virtue. I think rulers are flawed, as are friends and aristocrats and commoners, yet we are to serve our neighbours with our gifts, and not proudly retreat into towers of ivory to serve only the chosen ones. Instead of birth and political power it’s intellect or moral character, but is the same superiority prejudice. So, not a fan of this man, or of his way of teaching. Maybe he will redeem himself thanks to the Mia effect.
Abel, Sion and Keithwood. In addition to my by now customary protest that I find Tiona and Sion to be a very interesting pair (and a beautiful Cinderella story of sorts), and that I feel there are a lot of undeveloped possibilities there, I’ll say that it’s odd how Abel seems to have forgotten his inferiority complex concerning Sion, while Sion himself doesn’t seem troubled by the fact that Mia has chosen Abel and not him, even if he seems to like Mia too. They seem to have become friends, and Abel doesn’t seem to mind. I know that they came to an understanding in the second volume, but come on. Not even a bit? Abel is becoming very supportive and helpful (the school notes), determined, cool, and more of a flirt concerning Mia, so it seems that their distance is rapidly disappearing (and that Mia is quite unable to resist his charms). But, everything we know about them, or almost, is from an external point of view. Even Keitwood gets more focus, as we see him discovering that Mia’s Sage of the Empire knowledge doesn’t extend to mushrooms. He’s as loyal and devoted to Sion as always, too.
Tiona, Chloe, Anne, Rafina and Sapphias. Tiona and Chloe remain in the background. As for the last two, things are more interesting here. Mia still sees them as potentially dangerous, and both have clear motivations and an agenda besides taking inspiration of Mia’s behaviour, even if they do that too. Sapphias, remarkably, has a clear non-Mia romantic interest who is said to be first in his devotion, and is adapting to Mia’s ways from his position as the future Duke of Bluemoon, while Rafina keeps governing the Academy while Mia is absent, and even when present, she mostly just approves her initiatives. Anna’s devotion, its contrast with the behaviour of the maid of the other timeline and, even more, her parallels with Nina, Esmeralda’s devoted yet mistreated maid, are one of the most moving and interesting parts of the entire series. In an emergency situation, the maids do not disappoint, proving themselves reliable and trustworthy.
And, about Mia herself and Bel, we get some hints of how Bel’s time under the constant threat of death made her grateful and kind, and how much she admires Mia. I would want them to be even more different, but hey. Mia does not disappoint, continuing to be the relatable, clumsy, oblivious and pleasure-loving, yet kind and loyal princess we know, still cooperating with a miraculous and often comical Providence and, as Jeskai notes, deserving much of the praise she gets from other characters. Her reasoning concerning Ludwig’s master’s disrespect was sound, she was merciful towards Esmeralda, she helped Anne at the island, she vetoed the gold statue thinking of the costs and the absurdity, and to bring the brilliant orphans so that they would awake the interest and the calling to teach of Perujin’s second princess was legitimately her idea. Seeing her fighting to lose weight, resist a ghost story or pass the tests warmed my heart. And she takes care of her bonds, personal and political.
Dion Alaia briefly appears in the last part, but the focus is on Esmeralda. I agree with Jeskai. I will only add that I feel sorry for her, somehow. All her plans backfired, all the boys are interested in Mia, and she wasn’t even that bad, just fighting for attention and trying to live up to the wrong sort of code, that is, snobbishness instead of dignity, responsibility or nobility. Her bond with Nina, though unacknowledged, is strong and moving. Ruby of the Redmoons is a more focused, fierce kind of noble, while the mysterious Yellowmoon girl is yet to appear. As the Yellowmoons are becoming important in Ludwig’s plot, we may hear of her soon. I still think that Ruby will be the Serpent (because it is obviously not Esmeralda), but we’ll see.
3. In this volume, we see that a large part of Tearmoon’s problems come from a widespread perspective that agriculture was a “weak” profession for people who cannot find a better job to do. What do you think of this attitude, both in this story and also with similar attitudes in the real world?
marthaurion: I can’t really speak to the practicality of that stance, given the technology level of the setting (seems like it wouldn’t be great, though). I did like the idea of presenting it from a historical context, though. My favorite part of learning about history is learning how things begin and how they change over time. So. it was interesting to see how it started from a position that somewhat made sense, but those nuances are lost through time, leaving behind a rather simplistic prejudice. For me, I’d draw a parallel to language (mostly because I know some of the history related to that). For example, the original version of the word “starboard” was closer to “steerboard”, because it referred to the side of the boat where the oar was. But this literal meaning is lost through time as pronunciations changed.
Jeskai Angel: Speaking as an American historian, Tearmoon’s anti-agriculturalism makes kind of a ironic mirror for the way the self-sufficient yeoman farmer has historically been treated as an ideal in America (cf. Thomas Jefferson’s weird romanticized notions on the topic). This attitude is much less common now than in times past, but it’s still around to some degree.
Personally, while I’ve seen some scorn toward many different professions (e.g., lawyers, police officers, college professors, military servicemen, etc.) from one segment of society or another, I’ve never gotten the feeling that occupational bigotry was anywhere near as pronounced as what we see in Tearmoon. That said, I think the story’s example of how bias gets deeply embedded in culture is perfectly applicable to other kinds of bigotry, whether based on ethnicity, religion, or whatever else. The story was also correct that it’s easier to fight institutionalized bigotry than subtle cultural biases.
Although it’s popular in our society to attribute bigotry to fear, I think there’s a much more relevant cause, in our world and Tearmoon’s: pride. No matter how dissatisfied with my life I feel, if I can put you down enough, then I can at least enjoy the satisfaction of believing I’m better than you. People sometimes wonder why so many white southerners who didn’t own slaves fought to defend slavery in the American Civil War, and this is part of the answer. There’s something deeply seductive about the idea that one is inherently superior to others, about living in a society that recognizes one’s superiority. It seems to me that Tearmoon’s anti-agricultural bias very much appeals to people’s pride. The imperial nobles don’t fear farmers, but their egos get a boost as they look down their noses at farmers.
Gaheret: In his Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville describes a similar prejudice by former hunters in the Canadian frontier. Even after receiving land, they would not cultivate it, as their pride as a hunters precluded it. Spain had also for a long time the prejudice that “servile” works, commerce and getting paid was unfitting for a noble, even a very minor one, and even if he was ruined or near starvation (which could happen to minor nobles quite easily, in times of big economic changes). The same people who would gladly do some work for free would proudly refuse to do it for a pay, and had to be tricked into taking food for their livelihood. While the excesses of the commercial spirit and the obsession with work and profit may be even worse, this attitude was exaggerated and proud, and often comical, as is the attitude of Tearmoon’s nobility.
I agree with Jeskai’s thoughts. I would add, though, in defense of Tearmoon’s nobility, that there is a right and a wrong way of being proud of what you’re doing. Not all prejudices are indefensible (or even avoidable). The nobles come from a culture who values hunting, and thus admire hunters and like hunting, while they don’t react as well to other ways of obtaining food. Even if they became rationally convinced that hunting is not the right solution, they would still be attached to it. Those who come from the sea tend to prefer it to the mountains, and the opposite is also true. That has to do with childhood memories, referents, trajes and traditions that help each culture appreciate their surroundings. Fishermen or coal worker villages in Spain are proud of what they do and would have difficulty adapting to other trades (which is often necessary nevertheless). Disliking agriculture and preferring hunting is not necessarily bad. What is wrong is not thinking straight when assessing their relative importance (hunting is not a reliable way to confront a situation of famine, and agriculture is far more useful) and even more, despising those who prefer agriculture and looking down on them.
stardf29: I like the point about how pride can be a source of this sort of discrimination. It’s one thing to be proud of who you are, whether in heritage, profession, or anything else, but once that leads to a belief that you’re better than people of a different whatever… well, there are plenty of examples of that in our world even today.
4. How does this volume build upon the role of a potential “God” in this story, as we had discussed previously?
Jeskai Angel: I feel like the theological implications were toned down a bit this time around. The big clues are Arshia’s prayer, where she reflects that maybe Mia is God’s answer to her prayer, and the dreams Ludwig and Esmeralda have about the original timeline. More vaguely, the church remains a significant presence, and there’s a storm on an inland body of water named “Galile(vowel).” Maybe the name is just a coincidence, but that certainly reminds me of a Bible story or two. Finally, there’s the incident with the giant golden statue, which made me think of the big shiny statues that appear in Daniel 2-3. (Incidentally, it also reminded me of Percy Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias,” about a proud king’s decrepit statue.)
stardf29: So the interesting thing I found in this volume is how other characters are starting to receive “dreams” of what happened in the past timelines. Whereas we had previously mainly focused on Mia and how she was brought back in time to be able to change the future, now others get their own glimpses of this “bad future,” as confusing as it must be to them, who have no personal experience with said future, and at least in Ludwig’s case, it’s directly contributed to increasing his devotion to Mia.
All this makes it seem like our possible “god” is working through more than just Mia and Bel, and of course that only increases the sense in which there is divine intervention going on throughout the story.
Gaheret: I agree. I think it is becoming clearer that the “God” the Orthodox Church and Rafina serve, and Who Mia believes in, too, is changing the History of the Tearmoon world for the better, against the designs of the anarchist/Satanic Chaos Serpent cult, whose anti-Bible we come to see in this volume. In doing so, the corruption or tragic endings of many characters are prevented, including Rafina, Sion, Abel, and arguably Dion Alaia, Viscount Berman and Tiona. He relies on Mia and Bel acting on what their know, and sometimes actively cooperating with the fight. He blesses those who displayed mercy and loyalty. The biggest piece missing, I think, has to do with the horror story of Esmeralda about the origin of the Chaos Serpent cult and its intriguing connection to the “Sea of Galilee” where Mia and the rest are now.
5. Additional Comments
Jeskai Angel: Has anyone else played Fire Emblem: Three Houses? Because I thought it was hilarious that Chaos Serpents’ text, The Book of Those Who Slither The Earth, so closely resembles the villains of FE3H, who in the game are usually referred to as “Those Who Slither in the Dark.” Like, it’s 100% certain that if a group’s name contains “Those Who Slither,” it’s totally evil. The two groups’ MO is even similar, relying on manipulation to stir up trouble, and they also share a hatred of religion. I imagine it’s just coincidence, but I still enjoyed the parallels.
Thanks for reading our discussion on Tearmoon Empire, Vol. 4! The series is available from J-Novel Club, with five volumes available digitally and the first volume available in paperback.
We have a great lineup of novels to discuss the rest of the year. For the rest of this month, we are discussing Sword Art Online: Progressive, Vol. 1; there’s still some time to sneak in and join our discussion on our Discord!
For October, we are discussing the second volume in the Rascal Does Not Dream… series, Rascal Does Not Dream of Petite Devil Kohai! We had a lively discussion with the first volume of this series and I hope we can have a good second volume discussion to follow that, especially with a number of our bloggers writing their own posts on the series!
And for November, we are discussing The NPCs in this Village Sim Game Must Be Real!, Vol. 1! It is an interesting story that was covered in a recent Reader’s Corner, and should make for another good novel to discuss.
If you are interested in joining our discussions (or just want to follow along with them as they happen), join our Discord and look for the Light Novel Club channels!