If left to its own devices, history is perfectly willing to repeat itself. Whether that’s down to human nature or the cyclical nature of events is possibly up for debate, but when history tells us that ten years ago, a young woman was made a pawn in a game she didn’t even know was being played, it’s cause for alarm. Scarlett Castiel was not only executed but also tarnished, a sacrifice made by her father and the king that only delayed the plans of those working against the kingdom rather than ending them. The bitter knowledge that Scarlett was only ever the star of her story in her mind was one of the strongest elements of the middle volume of this trilogy, and now in the third and final book of The Holy Grail of Eris, it looks like Constance Grail may be headed down the same path.
Nothing showcases Scarlett’s tragedy like the fact that she and Connie are opposite personalities being used in the same way, with barely anyone stopping to blink. Yes, the fact that Connie has good friends where Scarlett’s abrasive personality made that less likely is a significant difference, but the fact remains that men in positions of power are using the exact same tactics of vilifying a teenage girl to further their own ends. Daeg Gallus is seeking to execute Connie for their own kidnapping of the young prince Ulysses, a diversionary tactic to buy them more time to carry out their plans. They seem to be counting on the desire of the people to see a perpetrator punished, even if there’s no real evidence that she’s the actual perpetrator, and they’re also hoping for a repeat of the bloodlust that marked Scarlett’s execution a decade before. But more importantly, Daeg Gallus’ actions mirroring Duke Castiel’s in the past serve as a statement of how little girls like Scarlett and Connie matter in the long run; girls are expendable commodities, useful tools in the battle between factions.
Interestingly enough, we see this play out with Crown Princess Cecilia as well. Her past is finally fully revealed in this volume, filling in one of the major gaps in our understanding of the political machinations within the government. Cecilia may have been fooled into thinking she was making her own choices, but it’s clear that this is a mindset she was guided into, and in truth she’s been nearly as powerless as Scarlett. When Cecilia finally takes a stand and truly makes her own decisions, it’s too late for her, and she’s left to repeat Scarlett’s “choice” of going out with a bang. That nearly three female characters are given such slim control over their lives makes Amelia and Lucia stand out in comparison. Yes, Amelia made a lot of really poor or questionable choices, but she made those calls herself. Little Lucia, meanwhile, takes the terrible situations she finds herself in and bulldozes her way through, determining herself that no one is going to put her in a position where how she dies is her only remaining drop of agency. Women in this finale aren’t entirely powerless, but the ways they have to take their power are even further below the surface than the anti-government conspirators.
Lucia, even more than Connie, is the beacon of hope for the future. As a little girl adopted into a noble family, Lucia brings a different kind of street smarts to the table than some of the other characters, and alongside that she also has the understanding that things don’t have to remain terrible all the time. She’s been through a lot of ups and downs, and that gives her a clearer picture of what she wants in life along with the determination to go out and get it. That’s something Connie learns along the way, too, but her calm pre-Scarlett life makes it more of a challenge to get there. Connie needs Scarlett to give her perspective; Lucia’s own experiences mean that she already has it. No one will be able to do to her what was done to the older ladies in the series.
Along with being one of the most consumable light novel series in English translation at only three volumes of main story, The Holy Grail of Eris is also one of the best. It shines a light on the hypocrisy of a world that worships goddesses and mistreats women (Viscount Hamsworth’s the debauched priest is certainly an interesting example of this when we compare his actions to others’), and it also gives us characters who are important not because of their roles in the story, but because of who they are as people. It runs the gamut of emotions, with a second full-page illustration and the story that goes with it standing out as a stark reminder of the heartbreak behind the scenes that we don’t often see. Its world feels fully realized, and if it has too many named characters, at least we get those handy character summaries at the end of each chapter to help us keep track. With a plot that’s much more than a twist on the tired villainess formula (because that’s really only what it is on the surface), this is the light novel series for people who might be getting tired of light novels. It’s just a good historical mystery fiction that’s worth picking up.
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