Review: Spice and Wolf – Spring Log III (Vol 20)

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Once again we rejoin the Spice and Wolf bathhouse and its owners, Lawrence and Holo. In this short story collection from Hasekura we watch the seasons change, from summer to autumn, and how it’s affected our long-time companions.

With volume 20 of Spice and Wolf, we’ve reached the third of the Spring Log books–originally written for the 10th anniversary of the series, continuing on the lives of Lawrence and Holo–and the first to promise more for this beloved franchise.

Objectively, this short story collection is the best of the post-series bunch that we’ve gotten so far. Unlike the previous two, which strung together seemingly random events from the now-scheduled lives of our favorite ex-merchant and Wise Wolf, a large chunk of this book manages to follow somewhat concurrent events, as the summer turns to autumn. Previously these books have been far more haphazard with the timeline–bouncing to before and after Myuri and Col’s departure–which left the reader with a distinct feeling of these stories being “extras”, rather than ideas worthy of their own novel. Throughout the five stories found in this book it becomes apparent which direction this chapter of Holo and Lawrence’s lives is moving to, and by the end, fans will be happy for the new hope and promise it brings.

The first story, What Falls in Spring and Wolf, hinges on Holo’s seasonal shedding and the inspired idea from her partner to sell protection charms made of her hair to travelers, ensuring safe passage. It’s short but humorous; bringing back mercenary Luward of the Myuri, as he explains his experiences with the problematic reality of such charms. It’s a strong opening to this book, full of the humorous but clever tone this series has become known for, and it’s nice to see a return of the Myuri mercenaries.

The White Hound and Wolf is an interesting new perspective from the outside of our usual pair, being written from the perspective of a Church Inquisitor. The tone is appropriate, and we learn that rumors have been bubbling about the Spice and Wolf owners possibly being linked to witchcraft. Holo, with her youthful looks and child-like brattiness, initially seems to raise red flags to our narrator, but logic ultimately dictates that jealousy is the real fuel behind such accusations. (Even though, of course, we know the truth.) This story also is the only one that includes Myuri and Col, not yet departed to their own adventures.

Caramel Days and Wolf is somewhat fanciful–Holo’s new interest in diary-keeping prompting her husband to read whatever secrets she may be hoarding. The whispers around Nyohhira is that of an affair, but all Lawrence finds is lovingly detailed reports on food and trickery–as expected of the Wise Wolf. In addition, the diary itself is not quite what it seems, and the end perfectly highlights why Lawrence and Holo have become such a beloved couple: their good-natured barbs and teasing sincerity complementing each other perfectly.

The fourth story, Blue Dreams and Wolf, is by far the longest, and–as has been the case thus far with these Spring Log novels–the most serious. During a scouting trip headed by Holo and to find a useable path between Nyohhira and the neighboring towns, a body is discovered in a hidden cave–long dead, but untouched by nature and rot, adorned in wolves of every type. The discovery brings a bubble of fear to Holo and Lawrence over the intentions of the deceased traveler and the actions of the church at the body being found. Ultimately the truth is revealed, and problems resolved in a typically-untypical fashion, but it brings forward Holo’s fears about her leisurely life previously explored in prior Spring Log books. We also see a returning mention of the funeral attraction to drum up interest in the town during the slow tourism seasons, which is a nice bit of continuity to show how Nyohhira functions as a town and a community. For fans, it’s this story and the last that makes this book shine.

Harvest Autumn and Wolf is the final story in this collection, and whilst a similar length to the first three, it’s this one that resonates the most with the previous ‘main story’ of Spice and Wolf. In this short, a multitude of animals hiding within society find their way to the pair’s bathhouse during the slow season, following rumors (perhaps the same ones from The White Hound and Wolf) that a bathhouse exists that welcomes their ‘types’. It’s an interesting dynamic between the various animals–deer and birds and horses, happily obliging the Wolf hostess and her drinking–and how the struggle to stay hidden from the church and accusations of paganism has brought their community closer, despite inherent differences. We had already seen young wolves like Selim and her brother cling to the security of Holo, but it’s interesting to see the same happening with relative strangers too.

It’s not all about Holo though; Lawrence’s worries about his only daughter and religious student’s travels reemerge–something I always worried was taken too lightly in books preceding this. Despite whatever has been said with regards to the young girl and priest-in-training, the two had lived the majority of their lives in the safe seclusion of the hot springs town. The wider world is vast and full of dangers (which we see firsthand in the Wolf and Parchment novels), so as a parent, not knowing about the whereabouts of your only child (and your indisputably-adopted child) would be nerve-wracking. This fear is addressed and affirmed in a really concise way–news of the death of another family’s son brings the sobering reminder that it is only through official channels that parents might even be notified by their child’s passing. For the small town hidden in the mountains, it’s usual for the young people to set out on their own journey rather than settle, but not everyone makes it back safely and soundly. It’s nice to see Lawrence’s fatherly worries treated with some levity, after the more flippant attitude of previous books, and it opens up the bridge to the ending and its possibilities (which I won’t spoil here). What I will say is that this book was a transition, both seasonally and for the characters. After a decade of living in the serene snow, things must once again change, and it makes sense that the ex-wandering merchant and the Wise Wolf, with an empty nest and a foreboding looming of time, would want a change. It seems Spice and Wolf is far from over.

Despite being the third in this string of recent side story novels for this franchise, Spring Log III proves that Hasekura still has plenty of potential for his iconic duo. It doesn’t quite satisfy the itch of the original 17 volumes, but it seems we won’t have to wait long for that to happen…

Gee's Rating: Very Good, especially for fans.

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