Side Colors is an apt subtitle for volume seven of Spice & Wolf, the fantastic light novel series mixing myth, romance, and medieval economics. This volume is a side story collection, and like many others in well-written light novel series, this one adds color to and fills in the tale. In no way is it a throwaway, instead functioning as an opportunity for author Isuna Hasekura to express sentiments and tell stories that wouldn’t fit into the narrative proper. And while volume seven may not rise to the levels of the previous volumes, it is a charming and insightful addition to Spice & Wolf.
The novella that leads it off, “The Boy and the Girl and the White Flowers,” is by far the longest of the three stories in volume seven and could easily have extended to the length of the book’s 200 pages. I wouldn’t have minded if it had as it’s a lovely and heartwarming read. Featuring two new characters, a boy and a girl who have been thrown out of the residence at which they served and are now making their way to the sea, the story is slow-materializing at first. That’s not a bad thing, though, as it allows the story to linger in the rustic setting of Hasekura’s world and build up the relationship between the innocent youths. The story picks up about a third of the way through, when Holo makes an appearance. As she is wont to do, Holo teases the adolescents (particularly the boy) as she helps draw them together. Of course, trouble also seems to follow Holo, and thus the story features a surprising amount of adventure as well to make a well-rounded tale.
The second story, “The Red of the Apple, the Blue of the Sky,” reads very much like it could have been the introduction to volume two of the series, like a draft that was eventually trashed because Hasekura decided to go a different direction. Focusing on Holo and Lawrence’s budding relationship early in the series, it is a peaceful aside before the more action-filled events the duo will later find themselves in. It was animated into an OVA that functioned as episode seven of the anime series.
Fans of the light novels will find the timing in these stories fascinating. As noted, the second story takes place right after the first volume, while the last story takes place just after the third. However, the timing in the first tale is more ambiguous, and I kept trying to guess its place in the timeline. Holo mentions her desire for a tonic that could make one live forever—is that for Lawrence? Not according to the author’s note: Hasekura indicates that “The Boy and the Girl and the White Flowers” takes place before Holo met Lawrence.
But returning to the third story—it’s my favorite in this short collection. “Wolf and Amber Melancholy” marks the first time that Hasekura has written from Holo’s point of view. It is a penetrating read and we learn so much of what Holo is actually thinking and how taken she is with Lawrence—even this early on in the series! Holo is such a proud but emotionally astute and intelligent character that reading her inner monologue reveals much, leading to a fun, lovely, and even somber read.
Reading from Holo’s perspective also helped answer a question for me: Why would she choose Lawrence despite all his flaws and often immature actions? From this interlude, it seems that it’s not just his sincerity that attracts; Lawrence simply seems to be the right person to have come along at the right time for Holo. Just as relationships in our lives are God ordained and full of meaning, so, too, seems to have been the meeting between this goddess and the merchant.
But for all the fan service we receive from these stories, I did feel the title and description of Side Colors were a bit misleading. The volume is described as “a series of vignettes focusing on the series’ favorite characters,” but only three characters from previous stories show up, and two of them are not supporting ones but Lawrence and Holo themselves. I enjoy those two immensely, of course, but I don’t want to be led to believe that supporting characters, most of whom have only appeared in one volume of the series, would show up.
Nonetheless, volume seven is an excellent collection to transition from the first six light novels to the next part of the series. It’s a chance for us all to slow down, revisit the past in gentle scenes and from different perspectives, and enjoy a little more time with our favorite wisewolf. When side stories are done right, they make you appreciate the main tale and desire even more from it. Side Colors certainly does that. It has me practically howling for the next volume of Spice & Wolf!
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