As the third son of an Imperial Soldier, Kazuya Kujo has spent most of his life struggling with living in his highly successful siblings shadows. In a bid to strike out on his own path, Kujo eschewed his life in Japan to study aboard at the Saint Marguerite Academy, in the (presumably fictional) European country Sauville. Unfortunately, his appearance, combined with the student bodies love of ghost stories, has resulted in Kujo being something of a figure of terror among his classmates.
Of course, the few who actually know him know that this is complete rubbish – infact, he’s pretty skittish, often recoiling in terror at his friend Avrils ghastly tales. This, alas, hasn’t stopped his teacher deciding that he’s the best person to use as a go-between for the classes other problem student, Victorique.
Well, ‘problem’ probably isn’t fair, as there’s a limit to how many problems she can cause when she doesn’t even turn up to class – Indeed, having never seen her, most of the students have assumed she’s a guy. Instead, Victorique spends her days sitting in the secret conservatory hidden high above the schools huge, labyrinthine library, where she is making her way though every book in the library (several volumes at once) and complaining about the fact that the boredom is, quite literally, painful.
As you may have guessed, Victorique is insanely clever. So clever, infact, that she is frequently consulted by the pointy-haired Detective Grevil De Blois. Well, I say consulted, but he outright refuses to actually talk to her directly for some reason or another. When one of these consultations leads to Grevil landing a yacht as a gift from a murder-victims family, Kujos righteous indignation over Grevil taking all the credit results in Kujo and Victorique being invited on Grevils yachting trip.
Of course, things don’t quite work out like that, and something alarming similar to one of Avrils ghost stories starts to unfold…
Set in 1920′s Europe, I guess if you wanted to sum the book up in one handy term it’d be “Gothloli Detective”. Its pretty atypical for a Light Novel – for one thing, it’s a mystery novel, as it would seem almost half of Japans light novel output, and whilst it’s got it’s fair share of twists it’s not exactly the most difficult of mystery novels to figure out ahead of time. Whilst I’m loathe to use the term tsundere to describe Victorique (it’s a gross over-simplification of her character, although you could probably argue it at a stretch), she isn’t portrayed as being being the easiest person to get along with, echoing better known heroines like Shana, ZnTs Louise or FMP!s Kaname.
But Victorique is better than all of them. I think the thing that really separates this book from most of the other Light Novels we’ve seen published in English is just how well the character are written. Pretty much every exchange in the book is a delight to read, but the Victorique scenes really shine. It’s absolutely dripping in humour and sarcasm.
You know what it’s kind of like – it’s kind of like taking Shinku and Jun from Rozen Maiden and actually casting them as the leads in Detective Kun-Kun. It doesn’t really hold up that well from the Jun/Kujo side of things, but you can definitely draw comparisons between Victorique and Shinku, with the way that she toys with Kujo for her own amusement, and just with the way she carries herself. Sure, Victorique is a few leagues more intelligent than Shinku, but she does have those occasional embarrassing toilet-seat-as-a-table moments as well. I like Victorique more as a character, though. Seriously, if they ever animate this, she’ll be huge.
As for the actual story, it does a pretty good job of continuing to build up the tension even once you’ve figured out what is actually going on. I don’t want to be too negative about the story – it does throw a number of good ideas around, and it does manage to avoid being too obtuse, meaning it doesn’t end with Victorique explaining a whole bunch of things you couldn’t possibly be expected to figure out in a Deus Ex Machina manner as so many of these novels do.
Ultimately, though, it’s just a massively fun and oddly gripping book that I really can’t recommend enough to anyone who enjoys these light novels. It’s not anything bigger or grander than any of these other novels are, but it’s an exemplary example of what these books are all about.
Tokyopops presentation of the book is decent enough. It’s yet another book translated by Andrew Cunningham, but I don’t see that as anything approaching a problem (and, really, I’d rather see someone like Andrew who actively reads and enjoys these books as a hobby translating these things). They do manage to spell his name wrong in the credits, though. They do have the margin decorations that Tokyopop seems to love so much, but they aren’t anything like as overbearing as Full Metal Panics. There’s no colour plates here, though the images are replicated in black and white. Unfortunately, the quality of the images up front is atrocious – it looks like they’ve been scanned and upscaled from one of the Japanese books, and are really blurred and murky. Funny thing is that the image of Victorique on the cover is an enlarged crop from one of those images, yet looks fine. I do wonder if someone sat and traced the thing. The usual incidental black and white images scattered throughout the book display no such issues, though, being nice, clear and crisp looking.
So, yeah, this gets a big thumbs up from me.