A thousand sugar stars
Oh, put them in a jar.
And then whistle around the world
Oh whistle round the world
I’m a little wolf inside a girl.
My dear readers it’s an absolute pleasure to have you join me on this journey through the Spice & Wolf novels. To this day, the anime is still one of my favorites of all time, and the first volume, which we’ll be discussing today, was the first light novel/manga I ever bought. This isn’t the first time I’m reading it, of course, but it has been a long time since I’ve read it, and I’ve only read the first two novels. If you include the spin-off series Wolf & Parchment, there’s over two dozen novels at this point I’m pretty sure, so we have something to look forward to. If you’re here to test out the waters, I can already tell you ahead of time that I’ll definitely recommend this novel and by extension the anime. I love the more medieval, mercantile aspect of economics, in a world where rampant capitalism hasn’t gone overboard quite yet. But the main draw of this series, which most people will likely agree with me, is the Wisewolf Holo’s inescapable charm. Without gushing too much before the review even starts, let’s jump into Isuna Hasekura’s first installment in this series!
Spice & Wolf tells the story of Kraft Lawrence, a 25 year old traveling merchant who dreams of one day opening his own store. After he visits the small village of Pasloe he finds a stowaway in his wagon, a young girl with wolf ears and a wolf’s tail. The girl is revealed to be Holo, the wolf-goddess of the harvest. Pasloe has an age-old tradition where the last person to remove wheat from the fields is the one who becomes Holo and is locked in a storage room for a week, being given offerings. It turns out that this tradition is based on a true story, as the spirit of Holo did reside in the wheat fields of Pasloe. As time went on and the villagers became less loyal towards her, and started employing new farming techniques because Holo was “fickle”, she decided it was time to leave. Thus she joins Lawrence on his journey, at least for a while.
The first novel tells the story of how they meet and then dives into the first story arc, which is about the value of coins and how one can profit off of knowing when a currency is about to drop or rise in value. The pair gets involved with the Milone trading company, which ends up being their backer in this deal. Unfortunately, the opposing trading company, the Medio trading company, has someone on their side who knows Holo’s true identity. A chase ensues and eventually the two end up in the sewers, meeting Yarei again, the person who was Lawrence’s friend and the one to be “Holo” in the last Pasloe harvest festival. Driven to the brink because Lawrence endured a stab wound, Holo transformed into her wolf form and drove off the attackers. Disappointed in Lawrence’s fear at seeing her form, she seems to leave him behind.
My opinion on the story is that it’s decent. The plot itself isn’t particularly griping, but I really like the interactions between Holo and Lawrence, which we’ll get to next.
Since this is the first volume, let me focus on the two important characters; Lawrence and Holo. Lawrence has all the fake confidence a traveling merchant needs, but definitely seems to worry from time to time that he’s not quite there yet. Holo on the other hand exudes so much confidence that whenever there’s a moment of weakness in between it hits extra hard.
This novel is definitely carried by the characters. Holo is witty, funny and just all around an interesting character. Lawrence isn’t a blank slate either, although I do think Holo is the more interesting of the pair, especially in this first book.
Side characters in this story don’t take up a lot of space. Marheit being the only one who gets more than a few lines of dialogue. He seems to be interesting enough. He’s cunning and puts profit first, but at the end of the day he’s far from a bad guy, and when Holo and Lawrence are in trouble he does take the risk to help them. It does require a little push from Lawrence, but it comes across to me that he was considering helping them regardless.
Besides them there’s Zheren, the young merchant who works for the Medio company as well as Yarei, Lawrence’s friend from Pasloe and the bad guy of the series. I need to go back to rewatch Spice & Wolf the anime, because I remember Yarei being a young woman there, but I could be wrong on that.
I was always going to be positive about this first novel, since I’ve read it before and I’m a big fan of the anime. What I found interesting was comparing this to the first time I read it. Back then I was still studying economics, and I have now long since abandoned that career path. As a matter of fact, I started to hate how predatory economics felt, so I completely did a turn around.
Even though I feel that way, I couldn’t dislike the economics in this show. It’s not a grotesque capitalist hellscape like the one we live in, but more akin to early mercantile capitalism when the world still seemed somewhat fair. Sure, the rich got richer back then, but wealth disparity was not as large, and from the glimpses we get the people in this world seem to be doing relatively alright. I’m curious where the series goes from here, and what kind of economics it will be talking about. And more than that, I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read along. Or did you watch the anime and are you here to see if you should read the novels too? I’d love to hear more in the comments down below, and I hope to see all of you next month for volume two! Thanks for reading.