The first volume of The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt (covered in our Fall 2019 light novel guide) introduced a story with surface similarities to a few other light novels currently on the market, most notably How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom and The Economics of Prophecy, both of which feature someone using their otherworldly knowledge to help struggling Medieval fantasy kingdoms. The major differences here, however, are that Toru Toba‘s story features zero isekai elements and that the kingdom is basically fantasy in name only – there are other vaguely supernatural races, but there’s not really any discernable magic and things seem to function in a fairly realistic manner. That makes this more of a political comedy than anything else, and while you’re certainly likely to enjoy this if you like the other two series mentioned, Toba’s novel series has that little something extra in the form of fewer obvious tropes.
Probably the most striking way that we see this is in the relationship between Wein and his aide Ninym. Ninym is a Flahm, a marginalized people notable for their pale coloring and red eyes, and she nominally serves as Wein’s aide in a system established hundreds of years ago when the Kingdom of Natra opened its borders to her persecuted people. But there’s clearly more going on between the two – not only does Wein refer to her as his “heart,” but their closeness is such that very few people who have observed them even think about coming between them. That’s a significant point in the case of this volume’s main plot, which is that the Second Imperial Princess of Earthworld, Lowellmina, is fully aware of this when she announces that she’d like to be considered a candidate for Wein’s hand. In almost any other series (and certainly in Realist Hero), this would be the spark that ignites either a fight for Wein, a harem gag, or both; Toba instead manages to subvert both of those tropes by focusing on the dual facts that any marriage between Natra and Earthworld would of necessity be very political and that all three of the characters in question are actual honest-to-goodness people who have complex feelings an motivations.
It’s this last that truly drives the plot of the book. Wein, as we know from volume one, likes to proclaim that he’d sell Natra off in a heartbeat just to get a break, but his actions and relationship with his family and retainers already makes the truth of that at least a little suspect. He relies on Ninym to help keep him on track, but also to keep his sanity, and their relationship comes off as very symbiotic. Lowellmina, on the other hand, has almost nothing to gain from marrying Wein apart from a link to his country and possibly an escape from her own, yet she comes off as a very politically savvy young woman, which begs the question of what her actual motives might be in courting Wein. Given that the Empire has a history of absorbing smaller nations and making them provinces (think the 19th century British Empire), she could be going for conquest via matrimony, but with her three brothers vying for her deceased dad’s recently vacated throne, does that actually do her any good? The easy answer, that she’s in love with Wein, somehow doesn’t fit properly into the narrative, something Wein quickly picks up on while he’s trying to figure out why in the world she’s not only expressed an interest in him, but also come to Natra so promptly.
Suffice it to say that there is, in fact, something going on below the surface. The body of the book is devoted to Wein and Ninym trying to figure out what that is while Lowellmina tries to outmaneuver them with the whole thing wrapped up in multinational intrigue. As with the first volume, there are some scenes of action when Wein puts his more physical plans in play, but most of the novel is devoted to the characters trying to out-scheme each other interspersed with Wein complaining about how much work he has. It works surprisingly well, relying on Wein, Lowellmina, and Ninym’s smarts and the contrast between their dialogue and actions to carry things, and all three are interesting enough characters that Toba is able to pull it off. It helps that there’s some frustration for the reader in that the narration is largely limited to Wein and Ninym (in the third person in both cases), leaving us largely in the same position they’re in with regards to Lowellmina’s plans.
In its second book, The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt establishes that it doesn’t plan to stick too closely to the tried and true. It isn’t hugely innovative, but it’s different enough from other similar works to give it a bit of an edge, and the ongoing subplot about Wein and Ninym’s relationship as well as the occasional reminder that Wein’s dad is, unlike Lowellmina’s, still alive, just sick, also keeps things off-balance, as we never know when Wein’s rule will become the real thing. Falmaro‘s illustrations with their vague air of pencil sketches enhance the piece nicely, making this an interesting series worth checking out if you haven’t done so already.