Sunday, November 14, 2021

REVIEW: The King of the Dead at the Dark Palace, Vol. 1 (book) by Tsukikage, illustrations by Merontomari, translated by Andrew Prowse

The King of the Dead at the Dark Palace is a dark fantasy Japanese light novel. It's published by Yen Press's Yen On imprint. I bought my copy brand new.


When this book's main character wakes up, he discovers that he's now what's known as a flesh-man, a low-level undead being. Horos Kamen, the necromancer who brought him back to life, names him "End" and appears to have complete control over him. End's only consolation is he's able to do whatever he pleases as long as it doesn't contradict the necromancer's orders. He's also incredibly lucky that Horos doesn't seem to realize that he's self-aware.

When he was alive, End's existence was agony. He'd had an incurable illness that sapped his strength and left him in constant pain. If it weren't for his lack of freedom, he'd consider being a flesh-man to be a blessing. He feels no pain, never gets tired, and is much stronger than he ever was in life. Now that he has a better existence to look forward to, he'll do whatever it takes to gain his freedom. He'll have to kill Horos. But is it even possible to kill someone whose every order you must obey? Then there are the additional complications presented by Horos' human slave, Lou, End's lack of knowledge about the undead and their limitations, and the Ender knights, sworn enemies of necromancers and the undead.

I bought this because I'd previously read the first couple volumes of Tsukikage's Defeating the Demon Lord's a Cinch (If You've Got a Ringer). That series had some serious issues (pacing problems, a premise the relegated the most competent character to the background, some problematic behavior on the main character's part), but also some things I really liked (a main character with a strong and interesting personality and weirdly relatable problems). I ultimately decided to stop reading it, but Tsukikage had enough potential as an author that I decided it was worth trying The King of the Dead at the Dark Palace.

Like Defeating the Demon Lord's Ares, End wasn't really a good person. His only goal was freedom, and he was willing to do whatever it took to obtain it. After a certain point in the story, "whatever it took" involved using Lou, Horos' human slave. Lou had been the necromancer's slave for long enough that she'd lost all hope - the only reason she feared death at all was because she knew Horos could continue to enslave her even after she'd died. The thing that irked me most about End's interactions with Lou was the way he viewed her - he saw himself as better than her because he still fought for his freedom and existence, whereas she'd given up.

I don't know that it's quite accurate to say that End lacked agency, but there were certainly an awful lot of instances where he succeeded not because he'd accomplished anything, but rather because he persevered long enough for the story's next convenient development to save him. For now, there's no real explanation for how he managed to do some of the things readers were told should have been impossible, although I have a feeling it has something to do with the reason why the author has thus far avoided revealing End's true name.

There weren't really any characters I could root for. End, like I said, was kind of horrible. Lou was pitiful. Even the Ender knights weren't that great. The author made it clear that they'd kill regular humans without flinching if they thought it was the best way to rid the area of the undead. The only one who seemed marginally like a decent person was Senli, who literally everyone agreed was soft-hearted to a fault. There was a bit from her POV that either confirmed her naivete or indicated that End is an unreliable narrator - I'm hoping for more the latter, but who knows?

Although this wasn't a "reborn in an RPG-like world" story, it felt like it at times. The way the undead evolved felt very much like the way RPG characters could level up. It unfortunately left this series feeling stale.

Will I continue reading this? Right now, the odds aren't good. I liked the lack of weird boob jokes, it might be interesting to see how Senli and End handle each other, and the bonus story with Lou had some potential, but for the most part this was not a fun book. It might improve in volume 2, but for now I have lots of other light novel series I could be reading instead.


A folded sheet with two illustrations, one of all the prominent characters and one of a scene in which Horos Kamen orders End to kill a bear. Also, two bonus short stories ("The Merry and Mournful Days of the Undead," which read like something Tsukikage had been asked to cut out of the novel, and "The Melancholy of Lou Doles," which gives a hint of things to come) and a short afterword by the author.

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