This volume of the light novels vindicates my hope that the series would improve after the preceding two volumes. The eighth volumes covers the first part of “The Town of Strife” story arc. Our heroes become plunged into a vortex of intrigue involving the church, pagan relics, a horn of immortality, rival guilds, and Eve, the femme fatale who almost cost Lawrence his life in addition to his money. This novel manifests all the reasons people love Spice and Wolf, and I am looking forward to the next book and this story’s thrilling conclusion.
Of note, the banter between Lawrence and Holo has lessened compared to the previous novels, and most of their conversations tend to be serious. This novel is the most plot-centered of the series thus far. Much of the dialogue is between Lawrence, Eve, and particular guild heads as he tries to work out a safe and profitable position for himself. I greatly enjoyed this focus on the plot, especially after the last two novels. But, don’t worry: Holo and Col still get plenty of print too.
One curious matter which struck me at last is that Spice and Wolf is anti-intellectual. What do I mean by that? The tale far and away values experience over book learning. If you remember my review of volume seven, Arya, an avid reader, knows nothing of value despite the many books she reads. Earlier in the series, a former nun, whom Lawrence and Holo seek for her knowledge of mythology and folklore, is portrayed as an eccentric and turns out not to be terribly useful to our protagonists. All the important or admirable figures in the books are men and women of experience, economic influence, or political power. Holo herself is not “the Wise Wolf of Yoitsu” because of her learning but rather because of her long life and frequent travels. The Wife of Bath would love Spice and Wolf.
Setting either learning or experience at naught is a bad thing. People learn best by both, as certain forms of knowledge can only be gained by experience and others only through learning. (As an example of the former, a friend of mine was shocked to see someone in an anime cutting a wooden plank with a bandsaw by pushing towards the blade and letting the blade pass between their hands. He did not believe that people used bandsaws that way. But, I told him that the opinion among blue collar workers was that real men cut that way, while wimps kept their hands as far as possible from the bandsaw. Very few books will mention that!) The intelligentsia and the illiterate often have the least accurate picture of reality. (E.g. Abraham Lincoln’s father thought Lincoln wasted time by reading books, and the bookworm Karl Marx’s prescriptions for a prosperous society result in the opposite.) As Fulton Sheen relates in this video here, one can fall into the two extremes of being high-brow or low-brow. One ought to read widely, varying from subject to subject, on the one hand and to truly live one’s life on the other.
Reliance upon experiential data explains why Isuna Hasekura’s criticism of religion strikes one as weak. In order to really understand religion, book learning or studying under a learned man is vital. Right now, I am reading Avery Cardinal Dulles’s A History of Apologetics. Challenging critics of Christianity have existed all the way since Porphyry (d. 305 AD) wrote his Adversus Christianos. These opponents understood philosophy and Christianity, and so could come up with excellent critiques because of their great learning. Trying to criticize Christianity (as Hasekura does through the medium of his world’s church) by relying upon experience or even historical accounts (the author is familiar with medieval history) comes across like Yuri Gargarin’s famous quote: “I see no god up here.”
Anyway, I highly recommend this volume and the following one. I can’t wait to read the conclusion of these convoluted machinations.