Review: Sugar Dark

Sugar Dark: The Buried Darkness and the Girl
  • シュガーダーク 埋められた闇と少女 -- Sugar Dark: Umerareta Yami to Shoujo -- “Sugar Dark: The Buried Darkness and the Girl”
  • Author: Enji Arai -- Artist: mebae
  • The novel: -- Books Kinokuniya -- YesAsia
  • The fan translation (by Zero Ender): NanoDesu Translations
  • MAL Entry -- Forum

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Sugar Dark: The Buried Darkness and the Girl

There are a lot of officially-released light novels for me to check out these days, so I haven’t had as much time to look into fan translations lately. But seeing how most of the more popular series are being licensed, I feel this is a great time for fan translators–and readers–to look into the sorts of titles that are more niche and/or experimental. Sugar Dark had been on my to-read list for a long time, and a month or so ago I finally got around to reading it.

At first I thought this was going to be a horror story, but I feel it’s more accurate to call it a dark fantasy/romance. The setting is in a time that vaguely seems to be late 19th century (or possibly early 20th). Our protagonist is a boy referred to as Muoro (“Mole”), a soldier who was wrongfully convicted for murdering a superior officer. He is forced to work digging holes for a remote and bleak cemetery, which turns out to be a graveyard for giant monsters that are kept hidden from the general public. On certain nights he comes across a quiet and ominous girl named Meria, who refers to herself as the grave keeper. What her precise role in the cemetery entails is one of the main mysteries of the story. Meanwhile, on certain days Muoro also meets with a mischievous androgynous individual who goes by “Crow,” who gradually reveals the truth regarding the monsters, also known as “The Dark.”

For a one-line review of this novel, I’d call it “a very slow burn–but one with an exceptional payoff at the end.” The plot twist at the story’s climax took me by complete surprise, and led to one of the best endings I’ve read in a light novel. But that said, it was still a bit of a slog to reach that point. The setup is certainly interesting, and the tone of the story in general is appropriately heavy and gloomy. But the characters are all rather straightforward in terms of personality and how they interact with one another. A lot of scenes in the first two acts thus feel very repetitive–we have to be told again and again how the protagonist doesn’t fully understand plot elements A, B, and C, and there were several points where I couldn’t help but feel a little frustrated by the near-stagnant pacing.

I think your enjoyment of this story will thus depend on how invested you are in the concept and setting, which to the author’s credit is both creative and memorable. I was particularly pleased by the monsters, which in most other books would have been generic giant spiders or ogres, etc — but here they’re eldritch abominations that take some effort to describe their unique and grotesque forms. The way these monsters are dealt with is also creative and memorable, and the decisions Muoro makes upon working out the twisted methods of the cemetery is what ultimately makes Sugar Dark worth reading. If you’re in the mood for a standalone work that doesn’t shy away from grotesque and gory situations, I suggest adding this to your to-read list.

Cho's Rating: Recommended

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