Sunday, April 22, 2012

Gosick: The Novel, Vol. 1 (book) story by Kazuki Sakuraba, illustrations by Hinata Takeda

This was one of my library checkouts, and it's an excellent example of why interlibrary lending is a Good Thing, so I'll take this opportunity to sing the praises of ILL.

This book has been out of print for some time. In the Amazon Marketplace, people are trying to sell used copies of it for $47+ and new copies for $84+. On Alibris, people are trying to sell used copies for $47+ and new copies for $117+. This wasn't available from my own library, but I was able to check it out via ILL. My 1-month checkout cost me $0.

Since I refuse to devote all my entertainment dollars to any one thing, I would not have read this book if I couldn't have gotten it from the library. Plus, since it's not exactly the best book ever, I would have been more than a little upset if I had spent $47+ on it. Libraries let you try out books that you may or may not enjoy, that may be in print or out of print. Most bookstores only give you what's in print. Used bookstores aren't guaranteed to have what you're looking for. Even if you broaden your search to what's online, you'll only get what you can afford to pay for. Libraries are for everyone to enjoy, no matter what you, personally, can afford to pay. If your library offers ILL, I encourage you to take advantage of it. Your local library may not have what you want, but another library might.

Okay, enough about ILL and libraries. Now, on to the book itself!

Synopsis:

[I forgot to write down what year this took place, but the anime took place sometime during 1924 or 1925.] Kujo is a transfer student at the prestigious Saint Marguerite Academy in the country of Sauville. Most of his classmates avoid him and whisper about him, because of superstitions they've attached to him, but he does have a couple friends: Avril Bradley, a lover of ghost stories, and Victorique, a beautiful, brilliant, and reclusive girl.

After Victorique solves a mystery involving the murder of an old fortune teller, Kujo is incensed to learn that Grevil de Blois, the detective in charge of the case, grabbed all the credit for himself. In order to keep Kujo from telling everyone who truly solved the case, Grevil invites Kujo and Victorique to spend time on the fortune teller's yacht, which Grevil was given as a gift.

At the yacht, Kujo and Victorique find an invitation for dinner on a cruise ship that was addressed to Roxanne, the fortune teller who was murdered, and they opt to go in her place. Unfortunately, their time on the cruise ship turns out to be more dangerous than either of them expected. The ship is booby-trapped, and there's no way to call for help or leave. Almost everyone on the ship turns out to have been involved in a similar incident. Ten years ago, they trapped a group of children on a ship and arranged things so that most of the children died. Now, 10 years later, it seems as though one of those children has decided to get revenge. Somehow Victorique and Kujo have to survive and make it to safety, despite the possibility that someone among them may be a killer.

Review:

I have read very few light novels that I'd recommend to someone who hadn't already seen the anime adaptations or who wasn't interested in anime/manga. Sadly, I can't add Gosick to my short list.

The book's biggest problem is that the writing is kind of clunky. I have no way of telling if this is because the original writing was bad or because the translation was bad. Tokyopop had a less-than-stellar reputation for its translations, so I'd be willing to believe the latter explanation.

Despite having thoroughly enjoyed the anime version of Gosick, this book was a slog for me. I know some of that was due to the writing. Some of the word choices were awful, and some sentences were a bit awkward. I'd have to include a longer passage to really illustrate what I'm talking about, but this sentence in particular stuck with me. Victorique is taunting Kujo, who must use the library's many stairs while she gets to use the elevator: “'You have to trot on down the stairs, suffering and leaving your thighs quivering and exhausted.'” I noticed at least one instance where a word was misused: “She was a dignified, hollowed [sic] creature who never should have been brought to this filthy, sinking ship” (170). “Hallowed” should probably have been used instead.

Although I do think the writing/translation was a big part of the reason why this book took me so long to finish, the fact that I already knew how the book would end probably didn't help. The first three episodes of the Gosick anime are an adaptation of this novel. I did note a few minor changes here and there, though.

There were a couple things that I think must have been edited out for the anime adaptation to reduce the possibility that there might be complaints. For instance, although Victorique was allowed to keep her pipe in the anime, she never once actually smoked it. In the light novel, she smokes it and even occasionally blows smoke in Kujo's face. So, I guess now I know why Victorique always kept that silly pipe around in the anime. Another scene I think was changed was the bit where Kujo and Victorique had just gotten on the cruise ship and Victorique was eating dinner. There wasn't another dinner available for Kujo, and I think I remember Victorique giving Kujo some of her bread. In the novel, one of the other passengers, Ned, tells Kujo he can sit on his lap (which Kujo does after Victorique orders him to) and then proceeds to feed him. Ned is a grown man, and I think Kujo is maybe 15 or 16 years old. The scene made me a tad uncomfortable.

One other difference between the novel and the anime: I don't think Book Victorique had the pendant that Anime Victorique had. However, near the end of the novel, the character who orchestrated everything on the cruise ship mentions having seen someone who looked a lot like Victorique at a sanatorium, so I'm guessing that the light novel series does still include the ongoing storyline about Victorique's mother.

In my opinion, some of the best parts of the novel came near the end, when Kujo began evaluating his feelings about himself and his friendship with Victorique. I loved the moment when he decided to make it clear that he was saving Victorique because he wanted to, not because he was the third son of a soldier – he went from being someone with a duty and a need to prove his worthiness to being an individual who needed to do the best he could in that particular moment in order to save himself and his friend. For most of the novel, Victorique was a cool, distant, somewhat grouchy, and dismissively intelligent beauty. Near the end of the novel, however, her facade cracked a little, showing her vulnerable side.

I also enjoyed the flashbacks showing the children who had been imprisoned on the ship 10 years ago and tricked into killing each other. Although I knew what was going on and why, it was still interesting and chilling to read about the children trying to survive, forming alliances or deciding to distrust one another. Part of me wished that more pages had been devoted to these flashbacks, as well as to the passages that further developed Kujo and Victorique and added depth to their relationship.

The relationship between Kujo and Victorique, as well as the hint of mystery about Victorique's mother, could make reading later volumes in this series worth it, despite the bad writing/translation, particularly if the light novel series storyline differs greatly from the anime storyline. It looks like Tokyopop only ever got around to publishing two volumes, though (strangely, despite the high asking prices for the first volume, the second volume can be had for only $17-$19).

If you decide you'd like to read this, I highly recommend getting a copy from your local library – I'm not sure I would have recommended buying it back when it was still in print, and I definitely don't recommend buying it for $47+. Really, though, since only the first two volumes are available in English and I imagine the writing/translation isn't any better in the second volume, my recommendation would be to watch the anime instead: you can do so on Crunchyroll. It's much, much better, and, I promise, it does have a proper ending.

My grade for this book: C-. The overall story is decent but dragged down by clunky, awkward writing/translation.

Extras:

Like every other light novel I've read, there are black-and-white illustrations. Again, I prefer the anime over the book. One of the illustrations, supposedly of a scene not long after Kujo was badly beaten, showed Kujo looking perfectly fine. The anime, at least, took into account what Kujo had gone through – his face was swollen and I think he was a little bandaged.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • A Study in Scarlet (book) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The first book in Doyle's Sherlock Holmes series. I don't know that I like this book as much as some of the other stories, but it's been a while since I've read a lot of them that I can't remember my favorites, if I had any.
  • Black Butler (manga) by Yana Toboso; Black Butler (anime TV series) - Another series with mysteries, a historical setting, and a master-servant relationship (Victorique treats Kujo like a servant, and Kujo doesn't seem to mind). Ciel Phantomhive is an orphan who has inherited his parents' successful toy company. He and his butler (who is actually a demon bound to do his bidding, in exchange for eventually being able to eat his soul) conduct investigations on the order of the Queen. I've written about the first five volumes of the manga and both seasons of the anime.
  • Spice and Wolf (book) by Isuna Hasekura; Spice and Wolf (anime TV series) - Something about Victorique's aloof vulnerability reminds me of the girl (wolf goddess of the harvest) in this series. In addition, this series has a semi-historical setting and a pair of main characters with a strong relationship. I've written about both seasons of the anime and the first book. The first Spice and Wolf book is much smoother and more readable than this Gosick light novel.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (manga) by Hiromu Arakawa; Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (anime TV series); Fullmetal Alchemist (anime TV series) - Those who'd like something set in a similar time period might want to try this. As with Gosick, there are interesting characters, action, and the occasional mystery. I'd recommend starting with either the manga or the original Fullmetal Alchemist TV series. Brotherhood unfortunately glosses over several early events, lessening their emotional impact for anyone who isn't already familiar with the story. There are a few Fullmetal Alchemist light novels, but I didn't find those to be all that much better than this Gosick novel, so read at your own risk.

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