Book Review: Tearmoon Empire (Vols 1-7)

19 May

Book Review: Tearmoon Empire (Vols 1-7)

Surrounded by the hate-filled gazes of her people, the selfish princess of the fallen Tearmoon Empire, Mia, takes one last look at the bleeding sun before the guillotine blade falls… Only to wake back up as a twelve-year-old! With time rewound and a second chance at life dropped into her lap, she sets out to right the countless wrongs that plague the ailing Empire. Corrupt governance? Check. Border troubles? Check. Natural calamities and economic strife? Check. My, seems like a lot of work. Hard work and Mia don’t mix, so she seeks out the aid of others, starting with her loyal maid, Anne, and the brilliant minister, Ludwig. Together, they strive day and night to restore the Empire. Little by little, their tireless efforts begin to change the course of history, pushing the whole of the continent toward a new future. And why did the selfish princess have a change of heart, you ask? Simple—she didn’t. She’s just terrified of the guillotine. Dying hurt like hell, and Mia hates pain more than work.

-Book One Blurb

My opinion of light novels and manga has always been a little mixed.  Some of them are very good – Death Note, for example – while others, I suspect, don’t translate very well.  I enjoy Ascendance of a Bookworm, but there’s something about the style that makes it hard to read and I can’t put my finger on it.  They also shift between formats.  The Ascendance of a Bookworm light novels work very well, but the manga comics aren’t so detailed; Death Note woks much better as a manga than an animated or live-action show.  I stumbled into the Tearmoon Empire books more or less by accident and found myself hooked.  They may be based in a fictional world, but they are definitely of interest to alternate history fans.

The basic concept of the series is that Princess Mia, a rough expy for Marie Antoinette, is dethroned by a revolution (following a major famine) held in prison for several years and then meets her end under the guillotine.   And then she wakes up as she was in her early teens with an opportunity to do it all again.  She remembers the final moments so clearly that she is willing to do anything, anything at all, to avoid being executed again.

This is a difficult task, because the problems facing the empire are vast and, in the original timeline, Mia’s personality flaws made them worse.  She was – and still is, to a degree – ignorant, lazy, greedy and selfish.  She did come out of her shell a little, in her last few years, but it was far too late to do more than struggle before the end.  The crop failures and famines led to disease, deprivation and eventual revolution (led by someone who Mia bullied harshly at school)  Mia knows this to be true, but can she stop it?

She doesn’t know, but she’s determined to try.  This time around, she makes allies both at home – including Ludwig, this world’s counterpart of Jacques Necker – and at the school, which is more of a meeting places for aristocrats and a handful of commoners.  She’s afraid of some of the students who will turn on her, in the first timeline, but somehow she finds herself making new friends and allies.  She does this so well, partly by accident, that she earns the title of Great Sage of the Empire.  Her insights into people – spurred by the first timeline – give her a reputation for perceptiveness that is simply not true.

Indeed, most of the humour of the books comes from the discrepancy between Mia’s true thoughts and how her friends and allies (and even some of her enemies) perceive her.  Mia reaches a pedestal too high for any of her closest allies to lose faith in her, even when she is clearly driven by selfishness.  They are, in a sense, gas-lighting themselves.  (Although, to be fair, it is a very practical kind of selfishness; she’s aware of just how easy it is to make enemies and goes out of her way to try to avoid it.)  It also leads to some amusing moments when her romantic letters to her crush are intercepted and read – the spies assume the fluff is a secret code, rather than soppy exchanges between two youngsters in love.  The narrator is the only person who is aware of this discrepancy and regularly highlights it.

These books are not too deep, to be honest, but they do make a lot of good points.  The kingdom is in serious danger of a famine, at least in part because the aristocracy look down on farmers and refuse to assign more than the bare minimum of land to growing crops.  The public health system is non-existent – Mia shames the aristocracy into funding a orphanage and hospice for the poor – and education is terrible.  She works hard to try to fix the problems, while ducking other problems; somehow, she blunders through the world and does things, in a manner that reminds me of Darth Jar-Jar, that have astonishingly positive results.  And in this case it is luck.

The romance is fluffy and, at least at first, rather silly.  OTL’s Mia was in love with a prince who disliked her, because of her entitled personality.  The second time around, she falls for a young prince who is a much better match, but the relationship is often cringe-worthy because most real-life teen romance is cringe-worthy.  It gets a little annoying at times.

The side characters are also fleshed out, with hints of what they were like in the original timeline contrasted with the new.  Some characters see dreams of themselves as they were and find them disturbing, even wrong.  There are also suggestions the future timeline is constantly changing, with each of her improvements leading to different timelines … some more worrying than the rest.   

The series does have a weakness, and that is the introduction of an ancient conspiracy to tear down the empire and civilisation itself.  I understand the temptation to blame everything on evildoers, but it is a mistake.  A great many problems are caused by incompetence, short-sightedness and a simple failure to ensure good leadership.  Blaming one’s woes on shadowy figures merely deflects one from solving the real problem.  The empire brought most of its problems on itself, as did the real-life France of Louis and Marie Antoinette.  There was no one else to blame.

A somewhat lesser weakness is that there is no real tension.  Mia has a knack, in this timeline, for winning people over and making her enemies into friends.  There’s no real sense she’s ever in any major danger, even when she thrusts herself into situations that should threaten her. 

Overall, though, the series is very good, if you like light-hearted books which don’t take themselves too seriously.  (The manga comics are less good, because you don’t see innermost thoughts and suchlike.)  If you want to try, you can find them on Amazon or direct from J-Club. 

8 Responses to “Book Review: Tearmoon Empire (Vols 1-7)”

  1. George Warner May 19, 2022 at 5:13 pm #

    Excellent review; The difference between the light novel, magma & anime adaptations has often been noted… they are definitely different media. I really felt this when reading & watching Ascendence of a Bookworm. At some point you just have a accept each for what they are (and that the light novels are just the best!).
    I love to read your opinion on “The Wandering Inn” by pirateaba (web novel; now available on Kindle).

    • George Warner May 19, 2022 at 5:16 pm #

      Oh, but I’d rather read Her Magesty’s Warlord (stuck in Magic III)!!!

    • chrishanger June 3, 2022 at 4:49 pm #

      I haven’t read the Wandering Inn, but I’ll give it a look.


  2. welp May 27, 2022 at 1:25 am #

    “I understand the temptation to blame everything on evildoers, but it is a mistake.”

    “Blaming one’s woes on shadowy figures merely deflects one from solving the real problem.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong Chris, but your Zero Enigma books often contain shadowy evildoers as the main antagonists. And the “real” problems usually remain unsolved. As a writer, you seem quite fond of the genre. That’s understandable. I think many people find it appealing. But isn’t it hypocritical of you to criticize it as a reader?

    • koh June 3, 2022 at 8:29 am #

      Perhaps you could write something similar? Maybe Rolad Windsor would do

      • chrishanger June 3, 2022 at 4:56 pm #

        I may, but by the time Roland was born the Empire was doomed anyway.


    • chrishanger June 3, 2022 at 4:55 pm #

      I don’t think history is purely driven by historical forces beyond humanity’s control or by ‘great’ men – the heroes and villains of history were both shaped and shaped the historical forces. They had options presented to them by history and took them as they saw fit – for example, Hitler would never have risen to power if Germany hadn’t already been gravely weakened and the pre-Nazi system thoroughly discredited, but Hitler was also the person who made the decision to go to war and unleash hell.

      In pre-Revolution France, the country slide down to ruin because of various parties looking out for their own interests, rather than the good of the country as a whole. None of them really wanted to cause a revolution (or Napoleon), and they didn’t set out to do it, but they helped it happen. One doesn’t need a conspiracy. One just needs selfishness, short-sightedness and stupidity.


      • George Warner June 3, 2022 at 6:11 pm #

        It’s kind of like nature vs. nurture: There’s what we’re born with… and the environment in which we’re born and live. As popular as the “use time machine to kill Hitler” meme is every time I see it I think “NO: Himler would have been MUCH worse”.

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