Agnes joins a lot of other light novel heroines in that she’s dumped by her fiancé, Philip, at a royal ball. Philip loudly declares he’s met his Dragonmate (ie his fated one), so his and Agnes’ engagement is off.
Agnes is not accused of bullying Philip’s paramour like in the classic villainess setup, and this light novel also goes a step further and has Agnes angrily pointing out Philip’s wrongdoings — namely, he’s a cheater.
You go, girl.
The Dragon’s Soulmate is a Mushroom Princess! takes a lot of inspiration from villainess stories, but I wouldn’t classify it as one. But if you do like that genre, this novel is close enough that you’ll enjoy it too. However, if you are finding the field crowded, Mushroom Princess doesn’t lean exclusively on those tropes.
Agnes’ birth was a commoner from a death kingdom, and her hair and color are looked down upon in her homeland. Another difference is while this country is descended from dragons, in her father’s, spirits are revered. Agnes has been blessed by spirits and is able to cause mushrooms to sprout — usually on men!
Of course, Agnes usually tries to keep this under wraps, especially during the incident at the ball. Philip’s cousin and second in line to the throne, Claude, scolds Philip for his uncouth behavior and escorts Agnes away. With rumors bound to start about her being “damaged goods”, Agnes starts planning to leave her uncle/adopted father’s estate to protect his son/her adopted brother, Kevin. But much to Agnes’ surprise, Prince Claude invites her to another party. Agnes thinks this is to protect Philip’s and the royal family’s reputations, and she ends up revealing her powers to Claude. Agnes is even more bewildered when Claude appears thrilled by all the fungi! And it’s clear to readers he wants Agnes to think he’s a fun guy!
…That Dad joke is not my fault, by the way. Mushroom Princess includes several mushroom-related puns like this. For additional mushroom fun, at the end of each chapter, there is a brief blurb about varieties, and these soon take on a more humorous slant about why each type shows up when it did as these notes explain their hidden meanings to Agnes.
But the real humor comes from Agnes being a bit repulsed by Claude’s love of mushrooms. Yes, she secretly refers to Claude as a mushroom fetishist, and she’s convinced he’s interested in her mushrooms, not her. Her denseness may be frustrating, but I was actually more sympathetic to Agnes’ adopted father and brother. They repeatedly tell her she doesn’t need to leave the family because they love her. Kevin is also rather blunt about her needing to realize Claude is not just acting, so some of her thickheadness is unnecessary with Kevin’s (and his father’s) honesty.
Agnes is at her best when we see her casualness and spicy side come out since Philip doesn’t go quietly, and you can’t help but root for her when she defends herself and her honor. She’s not playing 3D chess or accepting an invisible hand of fate like protagonists in similar situations, and even though Agnes wasn’t in love with Philip, his attitude hurts. Her reactions ring true and make you want to read all the way through.
This is listed as volume 1 of The Dragon’s Soulmate is a Mushroom Princess!, but this reads well as a stand-alone fantasy romcom. I’m guessing volume 2 will go more into lore and magic, as this is basically just Agnes determined to raise money to return to common life and thinking her time with Claude has a fixed ending. Between Claude’s swooning over the mushrooms and Agnes’ understandable reactions to both him and her ex-fiancé, I would have like to see some more dialogue descriptors — what they’re doing with their hands, how loud their voices are, etc. With such a fun setup, I wanted to fully picture the scene for maximum laughs.
However, the novel is still a delight mainly due to its protagonist, and the mushrooms turn out to be more interesting than randomly name-dropping a bunch of scientific names throughout the story. I won’t ever get Claude’s fondness for them, but I can get behind his fondness for Agnes!