I Heard Light Novels Were Good, but I Read Some and Was Disappointed!

What happens when you read a light novel.

Light novels: a form of popular literature in Japan, comparable to the pulps of yesteryear. They eschew high literary aspirations in favor of violence and sex. Lovely dames easy on the eyes, not mannish harpies drawn ugly, grace the covers and the pages. Many an anime have been made from these books, and more are being produced as we speak. It sounded tailor-made for me, so I decided to delve into this genre for myself.

Only to get burned twice.

I attempted to read two light novels: How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom and The Combat Baker and Automaton Waitress. The first one had a really bad opening that just plunked the main character into the alternate world with little setup, then placed him in the main kingdom’s government; the opening chapters had little in the way of engaging characters or good description. The second one had painfully slow pacing; I got halfway through the book, but not much had happened beyond drama involving the main character’s bread shop; what made this galling was that earlier on, there was a plot thread implying that the titular waitress was not supposed to be at the shop, as well as some drama involving someone’s father being involved in an irregular military. The inklings of a plot only begin in the second half; even if I do finish Combat Baker, I’m not likely to read a sequel.

(I might give The Asterisk War a shot, but I won’t make any promises.)

One thing I noticed about these books is their very spare prose; little description is given, whether we’re talking about settings, characters, or feelings; they are a masterclass in what not to do when writing. Simple sentences are far more common than in Western novels, giving the prose an odd rhythm. As a result, one does not even have the pleasure of “enjoying the ride” through well-written narration as the early Gor novels or the Appendix N novels tend to have. I simply cannot understand how books such as this became so popular in the first place.

Once bitten, twice shy. I’ve read actual 1930s pulps, and the quality of prose there is far better than the dreck you get with light novels. I’m not likely to spend my money on any more of these things, as life is too short to read bad literature. If light novel authors hope to compete, they have to step up their game; I know they’re capable of more than this.

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4 Responses to I Heard Light Novels Were Good, but I Read Some and Was Disappointed!

  1. Mary says:

    Are they done by different translators? Because one translator might point to a different cause.

    • Rawle Nyanzi says:

      I don’t think it’s the translators; if the prose was up to snuff, it wouldn’t look so spare even in translation.

  2. Roffles Lowell says:

    How did you choose these particular novels as your test subjects?
    While I’m by no means an expert on this subject, I always assumed that unless the light novel in question was a high profile property it would be subject to the kind of flat, utilitarian translation you see in most subtitled anime. The points you brought up are kind of confirming my bias, lol. Were these books presented as something special?

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