By Shelley Pallis.
Tanya is twenty-five years old. She’s got half a decade of adventuring behind her, looting treasure from dungeons, spell-casting to protect her friends from goblins and ghouls. But, you know, twenty-five is kind of old, right? And Ryan, the leader of her party, has just told her that he expects she’ll be wanting to settle down and have kids soon, and that all things considered, it was probably best for the party if he kicked her out now.
Understandably miffed – and for a light novel, swearily vocal – Tanya starts throwing thunderbolts around a wilderness, accidentally dislodging the resting place of Laplace, an ancient sorceress imprisoned beneath a mountain.
Actually, I should use the capitals. Laplace is a Sorceress, a class of magic-user legendarily way above the humble Mage represented by Tanya. And hundreds of years ago, Laplace was a literal legend, one of the most powerful sorceresses ever known – a.k.a. “The Great Sorceress”, a.k.a. “The Wicked Dragonwhore.” And now she owes Tanya a favour.
On the way, author Ameko Kaeruda playfully interrogates many of the tropes of fantasy fiction, starting with the moment that Tanya’s skimpy girl-armour leads to her being mistaken for a stripper. Before long, regardless of the author’s intention, I was giggling along at the voices in my head, as if Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock had reconvened to make a fantasy follow-up to The Heat. They swear at merchants, they take-down slut-shaming swordsmen, and they gripe about the faffy paperwork required of a modern-day dungeon quest.
At last! I never thought I would see the day, but finally I have found a light novel that not only captures the feeling of a really great role-playing game, but OWNS it like a boss. Tanya and Laplace are deeply unconvincing characters in a medieval fantasy world, but note-perfect gamers acting with uncouth, potty-mouthed disdain at whatever crap the dungeon master throws at them. And all the while, they are zeroing in on the horrible Ryan, preparing to give him the arse-kicking he deserves.
Full marks to J-Novel Club for relegating this light novel’s pointlessly unwieldy original name to a subtitle: My Sexist Party Leader Kicked Me Out, So I Teamed Up with a Mythical Sorceress. I have long suspected that the trend for such titles over the last decade has been a feature of their original appearance in the online e-book site Shosetsuka ni Naro (“Be a Novelist!”), when the need to market one’s self-published novel among thousands of others leads to titles that also function as plot synopses. But J-Novel Club, or possibly translator Molly Lee, are having none of that, and have instead come up with the snazzy, eye-catching Sexiled.
Pseudonymous author Kaeruda notes in an afterword that she was originally inspired to take on the subject by a real-life 2018 scandal, when it was revealed that female applicants for the Tokyo Medical University had their entrance exam results artificially downgraded in order to give male students an unfair advantage. The implication, as you might well imagine, was that there was little point in wasting all that time and resources training a lady doctor if she was just going to leave and have kids after a few years. So, you know, let’s make it extra hard for the bitches! When the news broke, it turned out that this had been going on for years, but nobody had blown the whistle.
Well, that may have spurred Kaeruda into writing, but the more obvious inspiration for this story is, of course, some role-playing game or other, or possibly even a half-remembered chapter of Slayers, that golden-oldie book series/anime/manga that similarly featured a hapless female adventurer travelling with a sassy, femme-fatale sorceress.
Kaeruda’s world-building is done with the customary broad-strokes of a light novelist who knows what everyone has come for. The city is somewhere in the east, and it’s sort of medieval-looking, and it’s full of “parties” who have come to browse the latest “quest listings” – because why pretend that a gamified narrative doesn’t originate in a game? But as the narrative trips along, she leans on another source for inspiration: Larry Niven’s peerless fantasy The Magic Goes Away, set in a world where the strength of magic, once enough to destroy demigods and float castles, has dwindled to the occasional fire-squib and healing spell.
At Laplace’s urging, Tanya stops wasting her time as a Mage, and instead becomes a Magi-Knight, concentrating her limited magical abilities into improving her physical swordsmanship. And with something of a Xena vibe, the two ladies begin to snog and swash-buckle their way around the world, looking for treasure, opportunity, and above all, revenge.
Kaeruda’s world is revealed as one where “adventures” in the lower ranks amount to menial tasks like picking up litter. It’s only the upper echelons that get to be back-up mercenaries, and only the upper-upper echelons that get to go anywhere near a haunted ruin. Tanya, it transpires, has been held back for years by her piss-poor former party. Freed from their restrictions, she is already a level 100 Magi-Knight, qualified to lead an elite party on the most dangerous missions of all. And if Ryan gets in her way, there will be a reckoning…
Sexiled is published by J-Novel Club.