Light Novel Club Chapter 37: Tearmoon Empire, Vol. 5 (And a New Club Direction!)

We continue this time with the fifth volume (and fifth club meeting involving) one of our favorite light novel series, Tearmoon Empire! This time, Gaheret and Jeskai Angel talk about this lovely novel which, is wonderful like the rest, but encounters some issues as well.

But before we get into that, I want to let everyone know about the changes to the Light Novel Club we’ve been teasing at! After 37 meetings (!), our light novel club prez, stardf29, will be stepping aside. And I’ll (Twwk) be stepping in as we move these meetings forward! We’ll be meeting less regularly and intend to try to engage you readers out there more as we move forward, so look for updates in the coming weeks and months!

In addition, we have a new initiative launching soon that’ll have our staff going further and deeper into light novels. That concept is taking shape now—we hope you’ll anticipate it!

But in the meantime, here are our thoughts on the novel of the moment, Tearmoon Empire, Vol. 5!

1. What are your overall thoughts on the novel?

Jeskai Angel: First, as per usual with Tearmoon Empire, I loved this volume. However, like we’ve noted with some of the other volumes in this series, this volume is a bit disjointed, with the major elements (i.e., the conclusion of island story & the Ruby/race story) feeling almost like separate volumes to me. We also get perhaps the most notable revelation since finding out the Chaos Serpents exist, learning the first emperor of Tearmoon was in league with them.

Gaheret: I would say that this novel is surprisingly good and enjoyable, given the circumstances. By which I mean that, in my view, Tearmoon Empire is currently fighting a big problem, which is the lack of tension due to the fact that the Revolution has been (in all probability) avoided two volumes ago, and the subsequent threats are not as immediate and convincing. A similar revolution arising in Remno seemed a brilliant idea, but there is no sense of a Darth-Sidious-type mastermind using the new circumstances in his favour right now. I think the Mia Effect has worked too well, too. Those already convinced and changed remain so, their flaws and competing interests brought to perfect balance, which drastically reduces the conflict. Gone are Sion’s and Rafina’s terrifyingly rigid morality, Tiona’s anti-establishment prejudice, Ludwig’s master incredibly high standards, Sapphias’ contempt for others and Dion’s bloodthirsty approach. They get along perfectly, and I’m afraid that the same thing may happen with Esmeralda’s and Ruby’s antics. Geo-politically, Remno is on board, Sunkland and Belluga are on board with their tremendous power, Ludwig is successfully reforming the Empire with plenary powers, and Dion is on the army. Their relationship is going perfectly well, Miabel is fitting in just fine, and there’s no tension between Abel and Sion. At this point, the worldbuilding is great. We have a rich and detailed alternate Europe, with lots of characters with compelling backgrounds. We get an enjoyable story, full of comedy and interesting elements, Mia keeps growing and maturing, and I appreciate that. But with a more threatening villain, or some cracks in Mia’s group, this would be filled with tension!

2. What are your thoughts on the characters in this volume?

Gaheret: We have two conversion arcs and a new, intriguing character. First, I think Ruby’s arc would have been much more suspenseful if we didn’t know for sure what her motivations were until the competition was over (perhaps we didn’t need to know them in this volume at all). We would have wondered if she was trying to manipulate Dion, or what her game was. She starting to cry would have been a puzzling development, and Mia thinking that something romantic was going, with her admitting it, could have been sincere or the work of a master manipulator. And, even if it’s a common theme in anime and manga, I’m not a fan of the love stories that begin with some minor and random encounter in childhood which generates a crush that survives for years. That said, I love her character and her traits, her tragic ending in the other timeline and the headhunting and military background of the Redmoons, and I hope that she keeps all that. Well, except for the tragic ending.

Jeskai Angel: Esmeralda completes the conversion arc that started in the previous volume, becoming a full, devoted Mia fan. Her story especially made me conscious of the weird volume divisions in this series. I think it would have been far stronger had the island arc taken place within a single volume. But as things stand, Esmeralda’s arc here felt a little anticlimactic to me: vol. 4 already gave us notable insights into her character and indicated that she would end up as another of Mia’s allies (much like Sapphias), so her development in this volume suffered from strong “exactly as I expected” and “we already knew that though” vibes.

Gaheret: Esmeralda is, like Tiona, one of the few characters who lost something with the timeline change. In her case, it was her personal connection with Mia, which she regains now. This could have been more interesting. Had she been a firm and thoughtful believer in the traditions of Tearmoon’s nobility (and had she had more people of the group on her side), this would have been an amazing, unpredictable conflict. Just imagine a scenario in which she takes the inscription at the chapel as proof that Mia is participating in a conspiracy to bring down the Empire right now, resisting her and seeking support from other aristocrats. Or one in which she takes Nina’s stance concerning familiarity as something meaningful that she has to fight for as a noble. Things as they are, she is still an interesting character with interesting issues.

Jeskai Angel: Citrina, last of the Gemstone Kids (TM), finally makes her appearance. I would be more suspicious of her, except for a couple points. First, we know how things turned out with Sapphias, Esmeralda, and Ruby, and it seems reasonable to anticipate that Rina will have a similar arc. Second, Bel considers her a friend, which I think rules out that the possibility that Rina could be playing for Team Chaos Serpents. Not because Bel is an incredible judge of character, but because I don’t believe the story/author are cruel enough to have Bel’s first friend turn out to be an evil villain on top of all the other suffering Bel already endured before her time jump.

Gaheret: Unlike Jeskai, I’m hoping that Citrina of the Yellowmoons is a Chaos Serpent, and an evil mastermind as well. Until now, they have been adults that we only got to know superficially. We don’t know much about her, apart from the fact that she is sickly and an expert in plants. Specifically, I would love to see something like a reverse Mia Effect in play that could affect Miabel and other characters. The idea that there are evil elements disguised in the foundational pillars of the country and that she could use to undo or compromise Mia’s work would be great, too. She could even be a time traveller, or use Miabel’s time traveller status to her advantage. That said, the help she has provided to heal the horse probably means she is not a Serpent, or that she is one, but against her best judgement. 2. Nina doesn’t get a lot of attention, but I liked the idea that she is attached to how things are now, professional distance and everything, even if Esmeralda wants to change them. That’s realistic. I thought in that scene of My Hero Academia in which a stoic and distant superhero tries to change his style and be more kind to a fan, and the fan reacts adversely.

Jeskai Angel: Did we really need another redheaded character who’s hotheaded and passionate and has a name associated with fire or the color red? Isn’t that just super cliche at this point? My griping aside, I don’t actually dislike Ruby, and she is the big winner for character development this time. We learn what happened with her in Mia’s first life. Our old friend the Sealance Forest massacre reappears, and we find it turned not only Dion but also Ruby against Mia. But unlike Esmeralda (who escaped with feelings of guilt), Ruby and her whole family subsequently perished in the revolution. And so Ruby joins the group of characters who have received second chances thanks to Mia’s alterations to the timeline. She’s also notable as yet another character with at least vague echoes of memory relating to the previous timeline.

A couple of characters get name-dropped in this volume for first time (I think?), and though we don’t know anything about them, I’m certainly interested. First there’s Valentina: Abel’s deceased older sister. I’m curious about the character herself as an iconoclast who challenged her kingdom’s prevailing misogyny, and also in terms of how she influenced Abel. Second, in the fluff at the back of the book, it shows the results of a character popularity poll…and one of the names on the results is Adelaide Luna Tearmoon, identified as Mia’s mother. Isn’t this the first time the story has acknowledged that Mia even has a mother? Is Adelaide dead or alive? What kind of person is she? What happened to her in Mia’s first life? Why has everyone avoided acknowledging her existence for the past five volumes? Inquiring minds want to know.

Gaheret: Outcount Gildan, like Outcount Rudolvon and the Four Houses, is a good, useful character. He is competent, guarded, and takes care of the interests of his people and his region, but has his own agenda, which is not automatically Mia’s. I liked all the worldbuilding concerning the North, and the “Heaven on Earth” infinite flower field sounds quite evocative. 2. Malong. He is a minor character, but I found the story, the ideas and the formal attire of the Equestrian Kingdom to be very, very cool. The attention to secondary characters and this kind of fascinating background are my favorite elements of Tearmoon Empire.

Mia is getting better at being the Empress. This time, she correctly read what Esmeralda wanted and needed, and used it to counterbalance her respect for the First Emperor. Her reasoning concerning Ruby, both in the bet and the outcome, was also sound, original, and filled with kindness, and even wisdom. Moreover, she contacted Rafina about the island, reflected on her duty to prevent catastrophes after the encounter with the giant fish and learned of her horse, she took some aspects of Miabel’s education into her hands, and the flower field was legitimately her idea (even if the North was not). She worked hard before the race. Her flaws and occasional silliness have not disappeared, but she’s working on it. She remains the most convincing and relatable of all the characters, a true heroine in the making.

Mia’s “inner circle” keeps the same traits, which is okay, I guess. Anna and Ludwig get more attention, as he is working to unravel the conspiracy and attracting the aristocrats to Mia’s cause and she challenges Esmeralda and inspires her to embrace the new model of leadership and loyalty. Keithwood, interestingly, gets curious about Mia, while Dion and an old Elise keep developing under the “Mia Effect”. 2. Miabel. She’s definitively a good, kind, fun-loving kid, and not the survivor or the hardened rebel I hoped for, and she isn’t seeing any dissonance between the fabulous grandmother she kept hearing about and the real Mia. Well, it is what it is. Mia failing at teaching her the art of dancing was interesting, but Keithwood steps in. The implication that she could disappear if the timeline changes greatly is intriguing. At least, she is friends with Citrina, which could lead to interesting developments.

I seem to remember that Mia’s mother is dead. I could be wrong. The deceased Valentina of Remno is probably setting up a new plot concerning Abel, which is great.

3. What do you think about the revelations about the history of Tearmoon Empire?

Jeskai Angel: Alexis is long dead, but I found his role in the story really satisfying, much as I did with the revelation of the Chaos Serpents. He reminds me of Rogue One, the outstanding Star Wars film that explained why a single torpedo to a minor exhaust port could blow up the Death Star: because someone designed it to fail catastrophically. Galen Erso intentionally littered the Death Star’s power system with subtle flaws meant to make it easier for someone to come along and blow up the whole thing. Similarly, everything about Tearmoon’s collapse (in Mia’s original timeline and in Bel’s alternative timeline) makes more sense if the empire’s founder intentionally set it up, both politically and culturally, to collapse in disastrous fashion. Alexis is gone, but the weaknesses he built into Tearmoon’s foundation are still ripe for exploitation by the Chaos Serpents. On a related note, the weird crystal shrine continues the association between the Chaos Serpents and demonic forces. It’s a corrupted mockery of a proper chapel, and further situates the Serpents as being in opposition to God.

Gaheret: As Jeskai Angel, I found the “slightly wrong” demonic shrine to be a haunting and powerful symbol of the villains. C. S. Lewis used that concept brilliantly in A hideous strength. I wouldn’t trust the records of a cult which is devoted to manipulation and anarchism concerning the supposed anarchism of the ancient founder of the Empire, a millennium ago, no less. Those groups tend to invent illustrious predecessors, and to connect themselves with ancient mythologies. That said, the comments of the narrator himself imply that this is the true story of Alexis. It’s quite ironic, then, that an embittered anarchist ended up building the greatest empire of this part of the world, accepting a thousand years of prosperity to possibly cause great suffering afterwards. The cool part is that this may imply that in the very core of the government’s institutions there may be some elements that the villains may use, perhaps including magical ones. In general, the idea of destructive social and historical engineering is very cool. While it isn’t quite as deep, it reminds me a little of St. Augustine’s deconstruction of the causes of Roman decadence, tracing them to the sin present since its foundation and made manifest in its public mythology. At this point, we’re talking about redeeming and healing an Empire conceived for evil by confronted the darkness at its roots. It’s a very cool concept.

4. Any additional or concluding thoughts?

Gaheret: Something I wanted to comment on is the new insights we receive concerning the religion of the Central Orthodox Church. We have a quite detailed Christmas fantasy parallel, the Holy Eve Festival, “based on the story of the Holy Deity descending to the mortal realm and bestowing the light of hope upon man, the festival’s purpose was to express that year’s worth of gratitude for His Holiness”. We have also “a solemn candlelight mass”, though it’s a symbolic rite.

We have princess-priestesses doing ritual dances, wooden lamps and lamps and bonfires, a rite that is similar to that of the Easter Sunday, as well as a traditional list of hymns and a sermon. An afterlife paradise, too, with an infinite field of colorful flowers.

The compassionate Deity, though, seems to provide hope, instead of salvation, and doesn’t seem to have suffered a Passion.

That’s it for now! As mentioned above, please be looking forward to future iterations of the club and other light novel goodness!

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