Emboldened by the success of my first fast-paced reading challenge, I reached for my stack of unread Japanese books and picked one that I’d been thinking about for a while; Spice and Wolf, which I had randomly inherited from a friend long before my reading was remotely up to scratch.
My original plan was to read 15 pages per day (a one-page increase over my average pace from last time) and finish it in three weeks, but after the first week it was apparent that this was going to be completely unsustainable and re-targeted to a four-week pace, bringing me to an even 10 pages per day. Even this would prove to be a challenge, though I did manage to finish it one day early.
To briefly summarize the broad concept: whereas some fantasy authors set out to create a world in which to play out their unique ideas for a magic system or to explore a web of political intrigue, Isuna Hasekura has decided to spin a story all about the dirty details of being a merchant. Rather than an encroaching dragon, the driving tension comes from the possibility of taking advantage of a currency speculation scheme that turns out to have some very powerful actors working behind the scenes. I really do have to give him credit; “fantasy economics” isn’t a genre I would have ever thought of, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t work. The political tension between neighboring kingdoms, the risk of dealing with multiple merchant guilds, the potential for worldbuilding with regards to supply and demand across different regions; there’s potential here to tell an endless number of deep, interconnected stories (and considering that there are now 20 books in the novel series alone, it seems that’s exactly what he’s done).
Where it all falls apart is…I just have no interest in what is very clearly the entire point of the book.
The two main characters, Laurence (a traveling merchant) and Holo (an ancient goddess of harvest known as the Wise Wolf) are well written and have good chemistry. Holo in particular is delightful with her old-timey speech style and penchant for mischief. Their scenes together are highly enjoyable, but they’re interspersed with what I can only describe as excerpts from a fictitious textbook on medieval trade theory. It’s quite possible that I wouldn’t have been bothered by this if my Japanese reading ability was higher, but as I am right now, it just felt like a series of speedbumps that got in the way of my enjoyment of the story.
Spice and Wolf is…not a book for me. I can understand what makes it tick, and I can even appreciate what the author has managed to do, but quite frankly there were not a few moments where reading this book made me want to die. What I can say for certain is that I now understand why some of my favorite series — the ones that describe the process of cooking in great detail and go into depth about the nuances between certain ingredients — fall so flat for other people. If you’re not interested in cooking, you probably won’t enjoy a book written by someone who loves it — and I have absolutely no interest in economics.