Although Kiiro Himawari‘s standalone novel The Misfortune Devouring Witch is Actually a Vampire is fantasy, it feels very much like historical fiction set in the late 19th century. In large part this is due to some very solid worldbuilding; Himawari’s tale takes the basics of the real world and simply uses them as a blueprint to create a vaguely European setting which opened to trade with the far east less than one hundred years ago. While it is clear that Hylant is meant to be England with Hinomoto as Japan and Xingha as China, the use of fantasy elements (like the eponymous vampire) keeps it from feeling stale, and if the author hews a little too close to real-world elements at times, it is hard to deny that they give the story a very solid base to rest upon. Since the vampire mythology is largely Himawari’s own, that does make it easier to more comfortably absorb it without worrying about the setting unduly.
It also helps that Himawari is one of the light novel authors with the best grasp of Western names to be translated, although certainly some of that credit also goes to the translator. All of the characters have believable, regular names that would have been in use in the story’s timeframe, with no misgendered names or oddly contorted ones. The result is more of that solidity for the narrative to rest on and nothing horribly jarring to knock readers out of the book. That Ernest’s name really suits him – he’s nothing if not earnest in his dealings and pursuit of heroine Yuuri – speaks well of Himawari’s writing and understanding of her setting as well.
The plot itself is somewhat episodic, with a through-plot of Ernest and Yuuri’s romance. As a close friend of the king of Hylant and a high-ranking nobleman, Ernest often finds himself asked to perform tasks for the crown, which is what leads him to Yuuri in the first place. After their first encounter, Ernest is smitten and uses a bargain he made with her as an excuse to court her under the guise of his missions for the king. That deal, however, proves to be even more important to Yuuri, who, as it happens, is not a “witch” at all, but rather a descendant of vampires who inherited their need for blood upon reaching maturity. (That Yuuri and her late grandmother, both doctors of Eastern medicine, are labeled “witches” is another good, period-accurate detail.) Yuuri agrees to help Ernest in exchange for his blood once every few months, but what she does not tell him is that vampires only desire the blood of their true loves, and that once she has tasted his, she can only drink from him – and if he stops providing, she’ll die. Ernest, not being a fool, does his research and figures this out for himself, but without telling Yuuri that he knows; this provides some of the back-and-forth between them as the story goes on.
At first this does seem like the sort of deception that could ruin a good romance narrative, and it is a bit annoying on the surface. But it really is part of Ernest trying to show that he respects Yuuri’s decision not to tell him and to become comfortable with her own feelings while also making sure that he understands what he’s gotten himself into. Since Ernest embraced his love at first sight immediately, he’s perfectly thrilled to realize what Yuuri’s request for his blood means, but he also recognizes that Yuuri, who might best be described as a tsundere, is not the sort of person to just comfortably jump right in to a new relationship. While it’s not great that she’s tormenting herself with feelings of her own duplicity towards Ernest and concerns that her insta-love for him might lead to her death, those are part of what she needs to work through in order to be true to herself. Yuuri, as it happens, is not a natural tsundere; her prickly exterior is the direct result of things that have happened to her in the past. Because the vampiric characteristics skipped a generation, Yuuri’s mother rejected her daughter the moment she was born, and this caused her older brother to do the same for many years. (Unlike their mother, her brother Simon got his head on straight before the novel begins.) This caused Yuuri to distrust people out of fear of rejection, and her falling for Ernest therefore feels unsafe to her. Simply put, she doesn’t trust him to stay, even if he knew that leaving would kill her, and so she chooses what she sees as the safer route: being prickly to keep him at a distance so that she’s prepared to be abandoned.
Obviously, the resolution of Yuuri’s trauma is a key factor of the overarching romance plot, and Himawari does do a good job with showing that she’s not going to be “cured” overnight. Ernest’s steadfast presence is probably his greatest appeal as a romantic hero, and watching he and Yuuri work together to intelligently solve the cases he’s assigned is enjoyable. The point of view is split between them, with shorter “interlude” chapters in between the longer main story providing some insight into other characters, such as Yuuri’s older brother Simon. Ernest is also largely respectful of Yuuri, never pushing her to go farther than she’s comfortable with, which is always nice to see.
The Misfortune Devouring Witch is Also a Vampire is a nice addition to Cross Infinite World‘s catalog and the increasing volume of female-oriented light novels in English. With its attention to setting detail, relatively unique vampire mythology, and characters who have a reason to act as they do, it’s a good time and an ebook worth picking up if you like a little blood and history with your romance.