I’m new to the world of Light Novels. I imagine that most people looking at a review of The Faraway Paladin will know what a light novel is, but for the elderly people who follow me, I’ll define it real quickly. Light novels are a Japanese phenomenon that has caught on in other parts of Asia and is starting to catch on here in North America, primarily through the translation of Japanese and Korean series. The term “Light Novel” is actually 和製英語, wasei-eigo, an English phrase or word coined in Japan. It is literally called ライトノベル, raito noberu, in Japan. Light novels are usually Young Adult stories aimed at Jr. High and High School students. They are usually serialized fiction. They are typically a bit longer than a novella and have pretty intense producton schedules. One novel every 8-9 months is common. As a result, they can get a reputation for being pulpy junk. Add in a layer of variable quality translation, and you have an entire medium that is dismissed by the literary community, if they’ve even heard of it at all.
I would encourage people who are interested in the future of reading and literature not to sleep on the light novel. This stuff has exploded in popularity in the last 5-years among its target demographic. When Western publishers realize that this is not just another weird Japanese product and start investing in home grown light novels they will be printing money, in my opinion.
With all of that said, I decided to start my light novel journey with The Faraway Paladin because I had a friend recommend that I watch the anime adaptation. As I was watching the anime I asked this friend if this was based on a novel. The way the show was written, with a heavy focus on internal monolog, screamed “novel” to me. I did not think that this was an adaptation of a manga, which usually have a better blueprint for visual story telling. Often the manga basically becomes the first draft storyboard for the anime. Turns out my instinct was right, though there is a manga adaptation as well. The original material was in fact a light novel.
I thought the story had potential. I thought that the adaptation was a little lacking in, well, adaptation. I’d been wanting to check out light novels for a while now as I host both a book and an anime podcast. It’s the perfect intersection of mediums for me. So, I put down the anime and picked up the light novel. It was the right call.
The Faraway Paladin is a familiar story in the anime/manga world. A shut-in, hikkikomori-type dies and is reincarnated into a new world with memories of his previous life. Your standard “isekai” set up. I’m not typically a fan of isekai stories. They are usually overly indulgent power fantasies for nerds who would benefit greatly from touching grass. At least at this stage, Faraway Paladin is not that kind of isekai.
In this volume our protagonist, William, is reborn in another world where he finds himself being raised by several undead creatures. His surrogate parents are reluctant to explain how this situation came to pass, but we gather early on that there is probably some sort of curse or something at play. Despite appearances, they are a caring family for William. We find out that in a distant past these undead were once great heroes. They teach William everything they know and William is eager to learn.
William uses the memories of his previous life to motivate his fresh start in this world. He does not want to live another purposeless existence. This time he wants to do things right. He wants to be an asset and not a burden to his family. He works hard. He grows stronger. He rises to every challenge his strange family throws at him. All of William’s training, and his dedication to his family will be put to the test when a shadow from the past comes back to haunt his adopted parents. Can William avoid the pitfalls of his previous life and become the hero of his story?
The Faraway Paladin is a refreshingly wholesome take on the isekai genre. Noticably (and thankfully) absent is any scantily clad anime waifu for Will to crush on. The writing a bit heavy on exposition. The translation is a bit clunky in places. It’s very clear that the author did not understand the English words he borrowed for the names of the Gods. But overall, it’s a very charming story. I would recommend it to fans of anime/manga, or even just fans of YA fantasy. But you might be wondering, why is it called “Faraway Paladin”?
Spoilers from this point on.
What has convinced me to buy Faraway Paladin volume 2 is the oath that Will swears to the (unfortunately named) God of the Cycle of Death and Rebirth, Gracefeel. We find out that Will’s family agreed to be turned into undead by (the equally unfortunately named) God of Undeath, Stagnate. They did this in order to protect the world from an army of demons that they would never have been able to stop otherwise. Stagnate’s brand of undeath represents an unchanging stagnation. Stagnate’s undead will never suffer true death or loss, but they are also unable to meaningfully change and grow as a result.
Will has lived his entire life up until this point trying to avoid a life of stagnation. More importantly, he was granted this opportunity by embracing his death and rebirth. To be alive without truly living is the antithesis of Will’s personal philosophy. This prompts Will to swear an oath to Gracefeel. He will become her champion. He will have compassion for all living beings, and he will fight against stagnation by protecting the cycle of death and rebirth.
This basically makes Will into the first Buddhist paladin that I am aware of. And I kind of love it. I’m very interested to see where this story goes. In spite of some of the clunky writing that is going to happen given the output expected from any light novel author, I think this has potential to tell an original and important story. Admittedly, I am holding this to a lesser standard because it is a light novel, but still I like it.