This is the fourth volume of Spice and Wolf and the one that was skipped when the anime was made. It's a shame because it's a good story. The thrust of this one is that the pair continue to look for clues to the location of Yoitsu, following the lead given to them by Diana in volume 3 and then get tangled up in local trouble. I will examine plot, character and polish and then assign a grade.
I like the plot. It is a steady progression towards Holo's series goal of going home. It builds upon the revelation of the previous volume so the goal is still valid with this revelation. It is also woven into the troubles of this town but separate from it. From that angle one can assume it to be seen as filler or Wacky Wayside Tribe but I don't see it this way.
It's the same sort of cloak and dagger economics from previous volumes and the same delightful banter from the leads. It also goes deeper into the religious nature of the setting. It's nice to see sympathetic clergymen for once. Indeed, Lawrence has much praise for Elsa, even though she's technically not a priestess; medieval ordination being what it is and all.
This volume examines in detail the point of contrast between Christianity and paganism. There's Holo, a pagan deity that was worshipped until recently and the last two volumes introduced two more deities and now there's this village of Tereo that worships this giant snake which may or may not exist. With all these pagan deities running around, what's a Christian priest supposed to do? It's a Crisis of Faith for Elsa and it makes an intriguing side plot alongside the economics. I also like the solution she finds.
The nature of the conflict in this volume is a shift from the previous. Unlike its predecessors, where it's a business venture for Lawrence or otherwise a personal motivation initiated by him and carried out economically, this one is more like getting roped into something. It's defensive in nature which is a nice change of pace. He makes a profit, naturally, but it's more about responding to and manipulating a deal settled between two villages long before he arrived.
As before, the ending is good because the conflict is handled skillfully. The book's conflict is closed satisfactorily but the series conflict continues.
Elise and Evan are fine foils for our leading couple. Elise is a proud and clever girl but still developing the confidence that Holo displays so easily. This makes her inner vulnerability more apparent than Holo's. Unlike Holo, she has an easier time showing affection to her guy. Evan is an aspiring merchant who wants to get out of his small town, which is what Lawrence used to be some years ago. The biggest difference, aside from the age and its experience, is his relationship with Elsa; it's much more straightforward.
Town Elder Sem is also good. While is antagonistic, it's still easy to call him a Reasonable Authority Figure given the circumstances that surround him and his village.
This volume gives a more balanced view of the Catholic Church from previous volumes. It's not just some huge monolithic trading firm with religious slogans and different uniforms. The other one is certainly corrupt and greedy but the church of Tereo is portrayed as truly pious, both in this generation and the previous one. It is certainly a boon to Father Franz that a village of pagans have nothing but good things to say about him.
Same as the others, no grammar or spelling errors.
Trickster Eric Novels gives Spice and Wolf Volume 4 an A+
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