Skip to main content

Note: you can read our review of the first volume here.

You really can’t always tell who you can trust, can you? For the late Scarlett Castiel, it was less a question of whether or not they deserved her faith and more about her firm belief that she could overcome anything thrown in her path. But that faith in herself proved to be just as misplaced as anything, since it ultimately led to her public beheading at age sixteen. Now a ghost haunting sixteen-year-old Constance Grail, Scarlett is learning just how deep the roots of her betrayal went, and to say that those answers are uncomfortable might be understating the matter.

The second novel in Kujira Tokiwa‘s fantasy/mystery hybrid light novel brings us a lot of answers, several of which only ask even more questions. Chief among them is the truth about why Scarlett was killed in the first place, and what’s interesting about that is not just how intense her betrayal was, but how very little this fact matters in the grand scheme of things. The increasingly ubiquitous villainess subgenre of light novels (isekai or otherwise) has primed us to expect villainesses to be redeemed in some way, or to have been bad people rewritten by the good person reincarnated into their bodies. That is a genre trope that is thoroughly refuted here, which admittedly the first novel told us it would be: Scarlett isn’t reborn or sent back in time; she’s a ghost whose life is unquestionably over. Constance isn’t so much out to right the wrongs as she is to figure out what actually happened a decade ago, and Scarlett is already pushed out of the role of main character. That trend continues in this second novel – not only is Scarlett not the protagonist, but it turns out that she never was. We all may be the stars of our own lives, but Scarlett wasn’t even the villain of the lives of those around her – she was simply an expendable pawn in the hands of powerful people.

While this is an interesting plot development all on its own – as well as a very sad one when you consider Scarlett’s personality and short life – it’s also very much in keeping with the pseudo-18th or 19th-century world the story takes place in. As the daughter of a nobleman, Scarlett is considered more property than person, a being who exists solely for her father’s benefit, to marry off (or remove from the playing board) as he believes will best serve the family and country’s interests. For all that she’s a proud person, Scarlett has nothing but what she has been allowed to have, and her position makes her uniquely vulnerable to the political machinations of those around her. As a woman, she’s most valuable for what she can do – and that is link two families via a child-producing marriage. She’s a walking womb who matters most for the bloodline she’s part of.

Although this isn’t explicitly said in the text, it’s easy to piece together from the various flashbacks we get in this volume. While most of the novel is told in the third person omniscient, this book has two chapters narrated in the first person by players who have either since left the stage or are on their way to the exit: King Ernst Adelbide and the late Lily Orlamunde. While Ernst gives us some very clear answers about Scarlett’s death, it is Lily’s chapter that is the most informative. Lily, you may recall from the first novel, was the wife of Randolph, Connie’s current fiancé, and died by suicide a few years before the main story began. Getting her words elevates her from the mysterious absent player to a key performer in her own right. As Scarlett and Prince Enrique’s childhood friend, Lily was on the front lines of everything that happened in the past, and her actions are arguably some of what set everything in motion. She’s the one whose legacy caused Connie and Randolph to begin searching for the eponymous holy grail, and arguably she’s the most important character in the whole mess that was put into motion ten years ago – a character who voluntarily left the stage before someone could take her off, and the one who actually has the strongest reach from beyond the grave. Scarlett may be the ghost, but Lily is the force that moves her.

All of this leads to the realization that Scarlett simply didn’t matter at the end of the day. That’s not something that she’s ready to admit yet, but it’s one of the most striking takeaways from the book. She’s a better person as a ghost empowering Connie than she ever was when she was alive, and that’s deeply tragic, even as she fades into the background of her own series. Scarlett’s death was terrible and she may have been aware that she was essentially fulfilling a role required of her due to her social position, but in the long run she’s not even the catalyst for the main plot. At this point she’s mostly there to help guide Connie and to fill in background details about the insidious drug Jackal’s Paradise and the key players. In the end, this volume suggests, Scarlett’s life didn’t matter much at all.

The story isn’t over yet, and Scarlett’s role and our understanding of it may change. Neither she nor Connie have much of a part to play in this volume, which is mostly about filling in the details of the past, but both are still very much wrapped up in the central mystery and the questions that yet remain. If you’re a fan of historical mysteries and want to see a little something different with a villainess light novel, The Holy Grail of Eris is worth giving a chance. It’s dense both in terms of writing and plot, but I think that in the end it’s going to have been very much worth reading.

Source link

Leave a Reply