Volume four of The Executioner and Her Way of Life marks a major shift in the series—and it’s one for the better. While the previous volumes had each focused on a specific villain that needed to be defeated, against the backdrop of Menou’s decision not to assassinate Akari, this one takes a totally different route, while also starting to solve the problem of its unlikeable characters.
Not that it’s an entirely smooth transition—at least, not at first. As I mentioned, a weakness of the series and something that I’ve struggled with throughout has been that the main cast of four—executioner Menou, otherworlder Akari, assistant executioner Momo, and princess Ashuna—are at best forgettable (Menou and Ashuna) and at worst, almost irredeemably annoying (Akari, Momo). However, author Mato Sato continues to at least try to develop his characters, this time by having them tag team in different combinations, linking Momo and Akari as they run from Menou in an attempt to save her life, knowing that every time the latter stays together with her charge, she ends up dying before Akari reverses time to start over. Meanwhile, Ashuna pairs with Menou as she chases the other two down.
Unfortunately, the pairings don’t aid the characterization a great deal. It’s obvious from the start that Momo is supposed to become a tad bit softer as the odd couple get to know each other, but she still remains obnoxious and actually pretty evil. I still have a very difficult time accepting how readily she and Akari are ready to die and kill because of their love for Menou, despite the explanations. Meanwhile, Ashuna and Menou really don’t receive much focus during their trip.
And while Akari is now a more interesting character, having finally shown herself to be rather crafty in volume three, she also becomes harder to distinguish from the bunch. Throw in all the returning villains—a choice that I’m not yet sure is a good one—and we’re left with a cast of characters that are varying shades of the same, just with different moralities and levels of energy.
Yet, the final confrontations in volume four, once the silly chase has been mostly set aside, raise the book far above its earlier material and into some of the best writing of the entire series. While I’ve frequently mentioned in previous reviews that Sato struggles with dialogue, it’s quite the opposite when it comes to tone-setting. He’s created powers-that-be who are obviously sinister, yet still compelling, helping to shape a believable world, and all the more so as Menou begins to untangle the deeper secrets of the various estates, particularly the Faust (church), to which she belongs. The depth of conspiracy and world-building are admirable, and very wisely connect with the magic system of the series, which is perhaps The Executioner and Her Way of Life’s most unique element.
And even without a major conflict, the final chapter is full of tense moments as the result of continual, intentional build-up from the previous volumes, leading to a scene that reminds me of, most unusually, a Michael Mann movie, Heat, where a similarly dynamic but controlled conversation occurs between two characters played by Hollywood heavyweights Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. In this case, it begets further thought and discussion, ending the volume in an exciting and reflective way.
This bodes well for future volumes. An uptick in characterization, slight as is, taken alongside the continued strength of the world-building and evidence that we’re heading in a fully different direction for the next book, has me anticipating what’s to come more than at any point since I was enticed by the opening volume. Let’s hope that the series continues executing more of the same.
The Executioner and Her Way of Life (light novel) is published by Yen Press.