Rating: 4.5 (of 5)
Note for anime-only followers of the franchise: The events of this novel take place after the arc likely to be covered by the upcoming season 4 of the anime. Being familiar with that arc (covered by novels 12-14) is not strictly necessary for understanding what this review will be talking about, and no spoilers for it will be given.
Note for novel followers of the franchise: Reading the Familia Chronicle: Episode Freya novel before reading this one is very strongly recommended, as that introduces some of the key members of Freya Familia who are present here but haven’t previously been brought up in the main series or Sword Oratoria and provides some vital clues about the truths underlying this novel.
One of the longest-standing supporting characters/wannabe love interests in the DanMachi franchise is Syr Flover, the waitress at the Benevolent Mistress who regularly makes Bell’s lunches and has clearly long been sweet on him. Throughout the main series, Familia Chronicles: Episode Lyu novel, and various stories in the Memoria Freese game, an element of mystery has persisted about who she really is. Despite having no Falna, she has shown an uncanny ability to win people over and is frightfully unbeatable at poker. More significantly, connections to Freya Familia have long been implied despite her not being one of their adventurers; one of Freya’s Level 6s has been known to watch out for her, she has been known to name-drop the familia, and she is working at a tavern run by a former captain of the familia, who once mentioned about having to go to Freya Familia to talk to them about something because of her. Further, Bell obtaining the grimoire which gave him his magic after Syr indicated that he could borrow the book (and after Freya specifically pulled it off her shelves with the intent of it getting to him) has always seemed too coincidental, and Syr has always seemed to get away with things that the other waitresses couldn’t (or at least with far less harsh punishment). The Episode Freya novel is even more clear about the connection. So who is Syr, really?
That’s the question that this novel spends almost its entire time preparing to answer, with the revelation finally dropping on the next-to-last page of the main story. The impetus of the novel’s plot is Syr formally inviting Bell on a date during the Goddess Festival, with an implication that it is part of a high-stakes challenge between Syr and Freya. The story takes Bell through the preparations for the date and then the date itself, while the rest of Hestia Familia is being distracted by a favor being called in. Naturally, given the individuals involved, this is not without complications, both in the form of Freya’s overzealous and overprotective minions and Syr’s own desires to upend the plans, to say nothing of certain individuals with an interest in one or both parties who wind up spying on the date.
At its most amusing, the novel shows Bell living up to the series’ title as part of his “training” to become a proper date for Syr, and there is something inherently funny about the normally-timid Bell suddenly outwardly becoming a suave ladies’ man, to the point that even Syr takes a while to get a handle on what she’s dealing with. The date visits some familiar locations but also allows the introduction of some of the more touristy features of Orario (although the dimensions of some of them strain credulity!) and throws in cultural features as well; the Goddess Festival, which is basically a Harvest Festival done Orario-style, is an interesting addition, and references are made to other celebrations which, to this point, have only been mentioned or appeared in the Memoria Freese game. Details on one of the in-setting book Dungeon Oratoria’s best-known stories are also introduced.
However, the novel does have a much more serious side, and that kicks in as the temptations rise for Bell and the stakes seem to rise for Syr. The novel also does not forget Bell’s supposition at the end of novel 15 that there might be a connection between the ancient hero Albert and the current hero Aiz Wallenstein based on surname similarities, though that is more of a side point. (That Albert was responsible for the Black Dragon being one-eyed is, I believe, a new revelation as well.) All of those lead to the dramatic climax, which is followed further by the revelation of Syr’s identity, which is followed by what writer Fujino Omori refers to as a “plot bomb” in the Afterword. And yeah, that’s an apt name for that final development. It has the potential to shake up the story at least as much as Weine’s introduction at the end of novel 8 did. However, given the character of the person responsible for the development, it is something which had to be expected to happen eventually.
Without getting into spoilers, the revelation about Syr’s identity is, unlike the revelation of the true masterminds in Sword Oratoria volume 12, something which is reasonably deducible. It is a possibility that I have long had in the back of my mind but was not fully convinced could be supported by circumstances. The logistics of it also seem a bit suspect. However, a handful of details scattered throughout this novel point firmly in that direction, and in retrospect, certain events and behaviors which have been scattered across the breadth of the main series and Familia Chronicles novels make much more sense within the context of this revelation. This also raises the question of who all knows the truth. The upper echelon of Freya Familia seems to, and I have to think that Mia does, but the rest of the Benevolent Mistress waitresses (and especially Lyu) clearly don’t.
In a technical sense, this may be the best of Omori’s novels yet, as it avoids nearly all of the niggling style quirks that have frequented Omori’s previous novels. The one downside is that he seems to conveniently forget about certain supporting characters that were left in a bind shortly before the end, but presumably the next novel will have something to say about that.
In all, the story is a satisfying addition to the franchise, one which leaves shivers of anticipation about the upcoming consequences of its ending.