Note: Don't read the character data section at the end of the book until you've finished the novel. There are at least a couple major spoilers.
Naotsugu Toudou is a hero summoned from another world (more than likely ours) to defeat the Demon Lord Kranos. Only the hero has the necessary divine protection required to defeat the Demon Lord, but others may accompany and aid him. All heroes start off at the lowest level and have to work their way up from there. Theoretically, the hero's party members should all be high level, but this party is...different.
Limis Al Friedia is a Level 10 elemental mage who can only use fire magic, even though all elemental mages are supposed to be able to use two different elements. Aria Rizas is a Level 20 swordmaster who recently switched to a completely different school of swordsmanship. Also, even though higher level techniques require at least a little magic, Aria has absolutely no magical ability. (It isn't until nearly the end of the book that readers are finally told that the maximum level for humans is probably 100. I don't consider this to be a spoiler, so I'm mentioning it here for context.)
Ares Crown, the priest assigned to be the group's healer, is the only one with any battle experience. In fact, his level is so high that he worries the rest of the group might use him as a crutch, so he lies and says his level is only 3, the last digit of his true level. He somehow has to get everyone in the party leveled up as soon as possible and keep Nao alive long enough to defeat the Demon Lord, no easy task considering that Nao soon becomes convinced that Ares' assistance is unnecessary.
In terms of flow and general readability this was one of the better light novels I've tried. I never got bored or bogged down by the writing. The battle scenes were relatively easy to follow, and I blew through the whole book much faster than I expected I would. I enjoyed Ares' crankiness, and his "keep moving forward and make the best of the crappy hand you've been dealt" attitude really worked for me.
That said, this book missed the mark in a lot of important ways. For starters, the cover art/title led me to believe that this was going to be a bit lighter and more ridiculous than it actually was. I figured that Ares would be the put-upon healer constantly saving his party members from certain death while the idiots kept obliviously charging forward. There was a little of that, but the brutality and bloodshed kept it from being the light read I expected.
At one point, Ares stumbled upon the aftermath of a fight in a tavern. An aggressive mercenary had freaked Nao out, and, as a result, Nao accidentally maimed nearly everyone in the building. Nao then ran off, basically leaving everyone to die, and only Limis knew that Ares then healed everyone and hushed the whole thing up. This incident was never mentioned again and seemed to make zero impact on Nao. In fact, a short while later, Nao came across a seriously injured monster (secretly injured by Ares, who was hoping Nao would kill it and thereby manage to level up a bit more) and, horrified, said that whoever had hurt it so badly and left it like that must be a monster. There were multiple times in the book where Ares wondered whether Nao was unstable, and I have to say that I wondered that myself. This particular volume provided no answers.
Ares was not a nice guy, and he definitely wasn't a devout priest, but he was absolutely a professional. He did his job, no matter how much the people around him pissed him off. The book included several brutal multi-page scenes in which he beat up and/or maimed monsters and demons, including a monster that looked like a little girl, in an effort to aid Nao or obtain more information (the violence is of the bone-crunching variety, but there is thankfully not much in the way of "gory squishy bits" descriptions). As ruthless as he was, I still preferred him to Nao. It really bothered me that Nao seemed unaffected by the fight at the tavern, and Ares' experience and practicality worked better for me than Nao's boneheadedness.
There were some POV issues. The bulk of the book was first person present tense POV from Ares' perspective, and the author was clearly most comfortable with this. Unfortunately, this resulted in a story that was mostly Ares running around and reacting to things. After a certain point, he was cut off from Nao's party and reduced to guessing where they might go next and what they might do. He was also in the dark as far as the Church went - Cardinal Creio kept saying that the Church had its reasons for assigning Ares to this job, and Ares just had to keep doing his best despite everything. His POV also put limitations on the things readers got to learn about the other characters. Ares wasn't the sort of person who made friends, and he really didn't care about anyone around him, beyond what their level of usefulness might be in battle. I had a better idea of most of the female characters' breast sizes than their personalities.
And speaking of breasts... I think the only female character whose breasts weren't described was maybe the one female mercenary. For a guy who seemed to care more about work than about romance or sex, Ares sure noticed breasts a lot. The breast thing irked me but was mostly ignorable, until the end, when it was revealed that leveling up could affect at least one character's breast size. Yes, the author wrote magically growing breasts into this world. ::sigh::
The overall world was painfully generic, the breast thing was annoying, and there was more bone-crunching violence than I expected. Still, there were some intriguing aspects that might prompt me to at least read the next volume. There are indications that Nao might morph into a more interesting and difficult-to-handle villain than the Demon Lord. There were brief mentions of Ares' workaholic tendencies being his biggest weakness - he isn't good at or used to delegating work, and he uses holy energy on himself to keep himself going past the normal limits of human endurance. This particular volume didn't really demonstrate the drawbacks of his way of operating, and I'm hoping that future volumes do a better job of digging into this some more. Volume 4's cover art features most of the female cast in bikinis, though, so that isn't very encouraging.
- Character data for most of the book's prominent characters. The only information not included that I would have liked to see was character ages. There was a bit on page 30 that seemed to indicate that Ares was only 18 years old, and that can't possibly be right.
- An afterword written by the author.
- Several black-and-white illustrations throughout.
- A couple color illustrations on a folded sheet at the beginning of the book. The illustrator seems to have forgotten that Amelia's hair is supposed to be blue.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)