Helen: The Holy Grail of Eris is not an isekai title and while the backstabbing nature of Adelbide high society would make for a fun game to play, it’s not so fun for Constance Grail to live through. She’s never had many friends and when she discovers that her fiancé, who her family desperately needs a relationship with in order to get rid of foolish debts taken on by her father, is seeing a serial temptress, she’s not sure what she can do at all . “I’ll help you. But in exchange….” are the words she hears before becoming possessed by the ghost of the infamous villainess she saw executed 10 years ago, Scarlett Castiel!
This book starts out a little weak, in that there wasn’t much to grab me (which is the challenge when writing where 90% of the cast is unpleasant, that’s one point of interest gone for many readers) but as it went on I Found myself more and more interested in the underlying conspiracy of drugs, secrets, and the murder that Connie and Scarlett keep running up against (and the updated character bios at the end of every chapter grew on me as well). It also helps that while Scarlett remains contrite throughout the story, Connie is able to reflect on her own past actions and mindset fairly early on and realize that she does need to grow up, change, and not lean on her family’s motto of “sincerity” as a crutch, that she can’t keep using it as an excuse for her actions or inaction. Connie isn’t a dislikable protagonist at the start but having this moment of reflection early on, and as a result forcing her to grapple with her principles while having to lie, go incognito, or just go behind people’s backs to uncover the deeper truths, makes her more interesting for sure.
While I’m certainly interested in reading more I am a little curious about the series’ long term plans. Obviously, going by the title, finding out what the Holy Grail of Eris even is will be a major plot point but this doesn’t quite line up with either Constance or Scarlett’s goals; by the end of this first volume Constance’s original goal of calling off the engagement to her unfaithful fiancé and finding her family another way to repay their debt has been achieved (at least temporarily) and Scarlett says that she wants to find out who’s responsible for her death but her actions don’t quite fit with that. As far as the reader can tell, Scarlett has been wandering the earth (or at least, Adelbide’s capital) for the 10 years since her death but she doesn’t come to Connie with a list of theories or people she wants to investigate, she Just seems interested in whatever old-time name comes up in front of her and miraculously that approach seems to be leading them down the correct path.
Of course, while Scarlett says that the final poisoning attempt on now-crown Princess Cecilia’s life wasn’t her doing, it does seem like all of the other actions she was accused of are accurate. Her life seems to rival Rachel’s of Prison Life is Easy for a Villainess except that Rachel only unleashed her not-so-inner devil after her crown prince fiancé had been stolen away by a another noble of much lower standing, not before! Perhaps the end result of the story will be Scarlett discovering that she is in fact responsible for her own death, although I don’t think she possesses enough contrition to make that a satisfying ending (ie, an unlikely theory) so the search continues for what was going on behind the scenes 10 years ago and still today!
Helen’s rating: 3 out of 5
Krystallina: Born into a family known for their sincerity, Constance (Connie) is stunned when she sees her fiancé, Neil, embracing another girl. But then Connie finds herself accused of being a thief by Neil’s lady love in the middle of a ball with no one coming to her defense.
But the gallery is stunned when Connie suddenly turns the tables on Pamela — who knew little Constance Grail had such presence and a way with words!
Well, she doesn’t. But the ghost who possesses her certainly does!
The Holy Grail of Eris is another entry in the villainess genre, but the author shows you can still find new ways to play around with the concept. In this case, why settle for just one villainess when you can have two? True, calling Connie a villainess is a stretch since she doesn’t suddenly walk down the path of evil or anything (she’s not even good at lying), but the misunderstood, unjustly accused noble girl make up many heroines in the genre. And like many of her contemporaries, part of her growth is to become less selfless and to stop being a doormat.
On the other hand, Scarlett checks off several boxes for a typical Japanese media female antagonist: beautiful looks, sharp tongue, the crown prince’s fiancée. Years ago, she was executed, and somehow Connie was able to interact with Scarlett without realizing she was dead. Now that Scarlett prevented Connie from being ostracized, she demands Connie return the favor by helping Scarlett get revenge on whoever set her up to be killed. Scarlett didn’t have any real friends when she was alive, and while she often thinks Connie is a fool for being too softhearted, we see some of Scarlett’s aloofness and rudeness melting away thanks to Connie.
The Holy Grail of Eris Focuses a lot on the dynamics of the heroines to great success, but more than being a tale of friendship, it’s a mystery novel with a political intrigue. There’s a bit of irony here that despite Scarlett being labeled an evil woman (and Connie reluctantly taking cues from her), many of the nobles have a dark side. Connie’s heart combined with Scarlett’s spine and memory keeps the investigation moving forward, and even though Scarlett died a decade ago, her execution appears to be tied to events in the present.
Still, there are bumps in their search for the truth. The biggest wrinkle early on is Randolph, a military man who picks up on Connie’s suspicious behavior and who happens to be the type that throws Scarlett off-balance. Compared to Connie, who is trying to find the right balance between white and/or purposeful lies versus honesty, or Scarlett, a woman whose memory is so good she could dominate any game show but would have no one rooting for her, Randolph is rather dull with his serious, not quite off-beat personality. The girls have also been bailed out several times already, and I’d rather not see them always saved just in the nick of time by an ally.
The Holy Grail of Eris is unusual in that it has an updated character guide/recap at the end of each chapter. The novel occasionally has chapters outside of the following third-person action around the main characters, and it has themes with drug use, heavy human trafficking, and sexual coercion, but in terms of following the story, you can’t get much more reader -friendly than this. The illustrations also do well to show off the key cast members.
At over 250 pages, The Holy Grail of Eris was a novel that flew by because I couldn’t put it down. There are a lot of shady dealings in this medieval-style kingdom, and I’m eager to learn if Scarlett will end up with revenge or redemption.
Krystallina’s rating: 4.5 out of 5