December 24, 2021
By Jeannette Ng.
Some portal fantasies are all about the wish fulfilment: being reborn beautiful, beloved and with all the “cheat skills” at your fingertips. The Reincarnated Prince and the Kingdom in Woe by Nobiru Kusunoki stands out as attempted to turn those tables on Ryoko, once a thirty-five-year-old office lady, now killed in a car accident and reincarnated as Prince Herscherik. Despite the opulence of his new surroundings, Herscherik soon learns that his father is but a puppet king and there is rather a lot rotten in his kingdom.
Armed only with the work ethic and auditing skills of his previous life, Herscherik attempts to investigate the vast network of seething conspiracies. He is nothing more than a child without magic or any particular aptitude for swordplay or horsemanship. Though Herscherik does often ultimately succeed in his plans, a few early defeats set a palpably desperate tone and keeps his plans careful and modest in scope. He faces a world that is fundamentally unjust, where innocent people die and the powerful can kill without consequence.
Still, Herscherik manages some small victories, gaining some loyal allies along the way. Kuro, also known as Shadow Fang, goes from being an assassin to Herscherik’s butler/bodyguard over the course of the first volume. Ryoko’s memories always seem close to hand for Herscherik, possibly because he’s only spent a handful of years as Herscherik and those memories from Earth inform his decisions and judgement. It’s almost the reverse of the expected portal fantasy where a child learns how to be a better person in the other world.
Herscherik continues to consider himself a Japanese spinster on the inside and is repeatedly mistaken for girl due to Herscherik’s beautiful, girlish appearance. In this, the novel toys passingly with gender, arguably in an Orlando-y way, where she is wholly a woman grown in the past and now is unquestionably a boy. But the focus is firmly on the desperate struggles for survival and power at court and Herscherik’s faltering attempts at trying to make thing just a little bit better.
Jeannette Ng is the author of Under the Pendulum Sun. The Reincarnated Prince and the Kingdom in Woe is published by J-Novel Club.