Things in Labyrinth City continue as they have for centuries: the Labyrinth Suppression Force continues to try and defeat the largest dungeon ever known to man and the city’s inhabitants who support these soldiers go about their ordinary lives. These aren’t always safe or stable lives but often they feel like the only options left in this cursed, fallen kingdom.
But it seems like the Labyrinth might be even more sinister than those fighting it know, and that Mariela, the resurrected, last alchemist of the ley line corrupted by the Labyrinth, may have to become far too involved in the fate of this city and its lives.
Perhaps the gap between reading volumes 2 and 3 was a bit too long since I didn’t remember this series focusing so much on the “quiet city life” of the title and I found myself bored by it. I enjoy plenty of slice of life/slow life series but seeing Mariela become lazier, more baby-like, and literally putting on tons of weight when Sieg isn’t around (to demonstrate just how childlike she’s regressed to being and how she needs Sieg as a caretaker now) was bizarre and felt out of place. It felt at odds with her characterization when the story started, of someone more street smart from years of living a more isolated existence, I would have much rather have had more actual slice of life scenes of her preparing medicines as such (although there were already enough of those in these 300+ page volumes). It may have been meant to be a light-hearted break from the dangers that threaten Labyrinth City, or meant to up the comedic elements between Mariela and her old master when she returns, but I don’t think it really worked in either of those regards.
Part of the reason why the almost short story-like set-up of volume 3 didn’t work for me is because we the readers know that the Labyrinth is growing more dangerous by the day, via the scenes with other major characters in the city , and Mariela herself is becoming more involved as she’s started supplying more potions and similar to the suppression forces. It’s maddening to know that there’s a much more interesting plot going on in the background that’s being pushed to the side for, well, love triangle antics I suppose. It’s not even a good love triangle! I personally can’t take Sieg’s possibly romantic interest in Mariela seriously, not when Usata Nonohara is still beating the drum that slavery is either something that only punishes “bad” people or that whips “good” people like Sieg onto the straight and narrow, Something ever-present since Mariela is his master (and which ends up playing a major role with various side characters in both volumes 3 and 4). While it’s clear to me now that the magical slave brand on Sieg isn’t affecting his thoughts towards Mariela (the hero worship is 100% his own thoughts, something I wasn’t sure of when the series started), he sure comes across flat regardless. If Sieg is meant to be on a hero’s journey it certainly hasn’t been an interesting one to watch.
As for the other two points in the love triangle, Mariela has no idea that people might be interested in her at all which is a common romance trope but again paired with how much she seems to have mentally regressed it just made me roll my eyes. And Lynx simply just wasn’t fleshed out enough for me to ever really care about him, much less about his relationship with Mariela. Mariela’s non-romantic relationships with the other side characters are often far more interesting, but those characters like Elmera the Lightning Empress and Caroline, are just far more interesting characters period. Possibly the most grating character to date (although there is a lot of competition for that superlative) would be Mariela’s master who (as I predicted) does in fact reappear and is every stereotype you can think of for “insanely powerful and equally lazy mentor figure .” She may provide some background as to what is going on but otherwise I haven’t found her to be a particularly interesting addition to the cast.
Partially courtesy of Freyja, we do have some focus as to what is going on in the Labyrinth suppression mission and while even this part of the story continues to fall back into familiar beats (each new layer is so dangerous and so different from the previous layer that it’s always a struggle to conquer it), at least the actions undertaken each time are unique and interesting. It’s also been one of the series best ways of fleshing out the side characters and the general setting which I do enjoy. It’s clear that Nonohara has spent some time thinking about what lies beyond the walls of Labyrinth City, what could possibly drive and keep so many people in this city with almost no future, and ultimately it’s this world-building that I find myself enjoying the most in The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life.
As I’ve said before, I’m in it for the long haul and Quiet City Life only has two volumes left to go (although I believe that the main story is supposed to wrap up in volume 5). It’s frustrating that a series that started out with an intriguing premise has taken such a muddled path since then, but I’m crossing my fingers for a satisfactory resolution at least.