My Happy Marriage Novel 1 – Review

Set in an alternate version of the late Meiji or early Taisho era, My Happy Marriage is a fairly classic take on the Cinderella story – especially if you remember that in many, if not most, variants of that tale Cinderella’s father is alive and well and just watching his second wife abuse his daughter. That’s the life that Miyo Saimori has been living for almost all of her nineteen years; Her parents were forced into an arranged marriage despite her father being in love with another woman, and when her mother died, her father quickly married his first love, upon which both he and his second wife transferred their anger onto Miyo. To make matters even worse, Miyo lacked the one quality that her parents were married for in the first place: a special power known as the Gift of Spirit-Sight. The birth of their child, Miyo’s three-years-younger half-sister Kaya, certainly didn’t help, and by the time Miyo turned ten she was more or less kicked out of a family circle that barely accepted her to begin with.

Plenty of light novel heroines start life in a similar fashion, with recent (in translation) examples being I’ll Never Set Foot in That House Again! and A Fairy Tale for Wizards, but in most cases the torment ends the moment the heroine is rescued. That is not the case for this story, and Miyo’s PTSD from the treatment she received at her family home is a major theme of the novel; just because she’s no longer under the Saimori roof doesn’t mean that she’s magically cured of the trauma caused by years of emotional and physical abuse. While that can be hard to read, it’s also a point in the book’s favor because it gives Miyo something real to develop as a character. There’s no magical fix for her emotional issues, as her fiancé and his elderly servant quickly find out. The only things that will help Miyo to heal are kindness and time, and while this doesn’t necessarily make her the most engaging protagonist, it lends an appreciable thread of reality to this story of Grotesqueries (spirits and demons). Not that fantasy romances are strictly required to be realistic, but it’s a good way to set My Happy Marriage apart from its brethren.

And it does have plenty of the hallmarks of fantasy romance that readers of the genre have come to expect. Mostly those are concentrated in Kiyoka Kudou, Miyo’s fiancé. Physically gorgeous, Kiyoka has a reputation for being incredibly cold and possibly cruel. The most talented Gifted of his generation, he heads up a special army unit for Gifted soldiers, and his hard-working personality is often misinterpreted as curmudgeonly. Naturally, that’s not the case – he’s just really not good at things like “emotions” and “not working,” but his personality is such that few of the spoiled young noblewomen his father has affianced him to are bothered to see that. Since Miyo doesn’t expect anyone to be nice to her, she’s not bothered by his attitude – but he is upset by hers, which is cringing and fearful in every single interaction they have. Fortunately for the story, he’s not stupid, and neither is Yurie, his longtime servant. The two of them quickly figure out that something was very wrong in the Saimori household when Miyo was living there, and from there they begin to take steps to help Miyo regain a sense of self-worth and confidence.

To say it’s an uphill battle would be understating the matter, and in some ways this can feel like a very long short book. (It’s under 200 pages.) While Miyo’s beaten-down reactions and personality make absolutely perfect sense, they can be very difficult to read about because she is so damaged by her experiences. Whether you feel sorry for her, frustrated with all of the characters, or furious with her family (or all three with some bonus emotions thrown in for good measure), there are definitely times when putting down the book and walking away is the best way to finish reading it. It’s a good, well-written story (despite the odd fact that the title and chapter titles are in first person while the text is in third person), but it’s also as far from light and fluffy as you can get in a romance, and Both the cheery title and the gorgeous cover illustration can make the darkness of the plot difficult to realize. It’s worth sticking it out, but it’s not always easy to do so.

That cover image is also the only illustration in the book. Author Akumi Agitogi is good enough that the novel is plenty visual even without the assistance of illustrations, and it’s also not difficult to figure out the rough time period from given clues within the text, so this doesn’t actually hinder reading. The world-building is also well done, with a familiar early twentieth century feel nicely offset by the few fantasy trappings that are worked in. Gifts are strictly psychic in nature, and there are some hints that Miyo may not be as Giftless as she is thought to be based on her mother’s peculiar bloodline talents. There are also interesting ideas of Grotesqueries being a product of a pre-industrial society and Gifts being on their way out in a world that now has automobiles and other similar modern features, which is something that will hopefully continue to be developed in the next book (s).

My Happy Marriage isn’t always an easy book, but it is a good one. Miyo’s treatment at the hands of her family is appropriately horrible, Kiyoka is quietly dashing, and Miyo’s slow growth into someone who knows she’s not garbage is heartening, even if it is occasionally difficult to read about. It’s not a light romance, but if you don’t mind that, it’s worth checking out.

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