Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
A serene and enjoyable slice-of-life fantasy with whodunit element.
When I was first offered Balam, Spring to review by the author, I wasn’t sure when I was going to read it. However, hearing that Final Fantasy IX (Final Fantasy is one of my top favorite gaming franchise of all time) was the main inspiration for this book, I immediately pushed this to become one of my priority read. Balam, Spring belongs heavily in the slice-of-life fantasy genre. For those of you who don’t know about this genre, you can search the meaning online but I usually relate slice of life to the depiction or exploration of characters normal life; most of them dealing with daily or uneventful activities. Although I’m quite a fan of this genre in anime format, I’m pretty sure this is the first time I attempted reading a slice of life novel. Because of this, I feel like the only way I can explain my feelings about this book properly is by dividing my review clearly into what worked and didn’t; by correlating my experience of reading/watching a slice-of-life story.
Let’s start with what worked first. Balam is a calm village where nothing happens and everyone is acquainted with each other. Suddenly, the white mage of the village—Freya—died mysteriously to an illness. The main characters—Theo, Aava, and Ryckert—must discover the real cause of death before the entire town of Balam succumbed to it. This mystery part worked well and I really wish there was more of it; I feel like if this book was more of a mystery genre, I would’ve loved it more. Riddle’s prose was good and it shined the most in the world-building part. It’s crazy how vivid the description and tone of the book was; Balam really came to life through Riddle’s prose and I feel like I was truly there in the city. I also loved the implementation of Final Fantasy elements into the book. Excluding the fact that the title of the novel itself, Balam, Spring, came from Balamb Garden in Final Fantasy VIII, there were more elements in the book that reminded me of Final Fantasy IX. In Final Fantasy, the role of White Mage is defensive; dealing mostly with healing (Cure) and supporting magic. Black Mage is the other way around; they dish out offensive magic like Fire, Thunder, and many more. These two roles were in the book and they were utilized aptly. The city of Balam reminded me of Dali, the Yunesca tree was probably inspired by lifa Tree; both from Final Fantasy IX. I enjoyed reading every part that made my nostalgia of Final Fantasy sparked, and I think Riddle did a wonderful job on the world-building aspect.
There were however several parts that didn’t work for me. One of the most evident was its pacing. Although I generally loved slow paced books, there were some moments where it did get too slow to my liking; a slice of life story, in general, can get too slow. Even when I’m watching my favorite anime in the genre, there tend to be a few sections that still felt too slow. However, the differences between anime and novel are that in anime, these faults can be redeemed through the usage of music, animation, and spectacular voice acting; these are some elements that are hard to find in novel format. Slice of life involved little action scenes, and that holds true for this book. The few moments with tensions were well-placed and gripping, but the distance between one danger to the next did felt too long. I also felt that the characterizations weren’t as in-depth as I would’ve liked.
“He was a man who enjoyed getting comfortable in bed and reading a while before going to sleep. He had to unwind somehow; he wasn’t the type of person to just get home, get in bed, and fall asleep.”
Overall, I found Balam, Spring to be quite a nice change of pace from my usual intense read. I didn’t loved it as much as I hoped, but I still liked spending my time with it; it was a highly atmospheric read and one I would definitely recommend to anyone in need of a break from their grim read.
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