Have you ever really wanted to like something, saw the potential in it, but it just didn’t cross the finish line for you? Bibliophile Princess is like that for me. I picked it up just recently when I got my stimulus check in the mail and was perusing BookWalker for new manga and deals. It looked interesting enough: a young noblewoman who loves books gets engaged to a Prince who promises to let her have all the time in the world she wants to read. I love books, I’m more and more getting into Regency/Victorian-esque fantasy and romance stories, and the art looks good. Reading through it however, I could see some glaring issues that might have the potential to turn me off from reading more. I want to like this manga, I can see the potential in it to be a very cute romance, and the added concept of a book-loving nerdy princess appeals to me. I’m hoping this might just be a problem that will end with the first volume, but we shall see.
This manga follows the story of our protagonist, a young noblewoman named Elianna. Her one passion in this world is books, and she much prefers them to clothes and jewelry. One day the handsome Prince Christopher proposes to her, offering her a marriage of convenience where she can have all the time in the world to read the books that she loves as well as access to the Royal Archives, where the nations rarest books are stored. Elianna could not refuse his offer and so their engagement begins. But is this only a marriage of convenience, and will the Prince annul their engagement when he finds someone he truly loves?
One of the main draws for me to this manga was not only the concept, but the cover art. I love how the cover looks. It has a vague art nouveau style to it. I love art nouveau, and I think it fits well with this genre. The amount of detail in general is very visually appealing, with her long flowing hair and the copious amount of ruffles on her dress. I’m unsure if the character designer, Satsuki Sheena or the artist Yui Kikuta did the cover, but either way I love it. The soft pastel palette made me think that this would be a very cute and fairly comfy manga to read. The quality of art continues into the interior of the manga. I love how the detail on their clothes is captured in the introduction to the main characters. It really adds to the feel of the world and the story. You definitely get the sense that you’re stepping into a high-class world. And with all the sparkling effects, you right away know you’re reading a josei/shoujo romance.
I do think one of main appeals of this manga is the character designs and expressiveness of the characters. It seems as though pretty much all the main characters, especially the men, are very handsome. I almost started to believe I had picked up a reverse harem story with how many good looking men were popping up. Elianna is fairly cute herself, but i feel like the way she is drawn and how her expressions are, tends to infantilize her a little bit. The chibi versions of her, with her long hair and frilly dress make her look a lot younger than I think she is meant to be, especially when she becomes excited over a new book. I know she is meant to seem a little bit naïve, but I couldn’t shake the sense that her design and expressions were taken a little too far. I almost prefer how she looks when she becomes more serious.
I really love comfy stories that play into my own bibliophile tendencies and interests, so the concept of this manga intrigued me. However, I have a few problems with the overall pacing of this first volume and the character of Elianna in general. The pacing of this first volume seems kind of all over the place, but mostly feels very rushed. I get that there can be some issues with the first volumes of the series as there is a lot of information to impart before the story really begins, but I also think the author glosses over a lot of bits that could be expanded on. For one: their engagement. We are introduced to the series with a one-page explanation of our main character, her love of books, and then we jump straight into the conversation with the Prince about their engagement. I feel like I would have liked if we had a little more time to get to know our protagonist, get a feel for the Prince, and have more space to process and explore his offer. Even just comments from friends and family or reactions from other nobles would have helped. Maybe show her first introduction to the noble elite as his fiancée, instead of just them jumping into her going to the palace and reading more books.
Then almost immediately after this, we get a time-jump four years in the future. She’s settled into her life and role as his fiancée, and makes regular trips to the palace to borrow books and read. This time-skip seems a little unnecessary, but maybe the author wanted the conflict to center around her lack of self-confidence in her role as his fiancée and the thought that he may have found someone to love after four years. In general, I feel like this time skip just makes things seem a little confusing. We don’t really see any build-up of their relationship or get a feel for how he really feels about her. This kind of plays into her insecurity about their relationship, but I feel like I would have wanted a bit more about the Prince before we skipped forward. She makes a comment that she has grown attached to the people she met at the Palace, but since we didn’t get enough time to get a good feel for them, I don’t think this really makes much of an impact on the reader.
The main conflict of this volume is the appearance of another noblewoman who is trying to gain favor with the Prince. In general, this would be a great opportunity for Elianna to gain self-confidence, speak up for herself, and get closer to the Prince. However, the story is crafted in such a way that the reader and Elianna have no idea what is going on. We get the sense that this new character is trying to alienate Elianna, but we don’t get a sense of the full scope of her bullying until the full reveal at the end. The author makes it so that the Prince shields Elianna from the worst of it, but in doing so, also leaves us, the reader, in the dark as well. In the end, this makes the full reveal of this woman’s crimes and bullying feel like it comes straight out of left field. It also made me feel as though Elianna did not have enough agency throughout the whole of the volume.
Overall, I’m left kind of disappointed in this manga. I really wanted to like it, and I may even try to read the second one when it comes out just to see if the pacing gets better. I’d love to hear from anyone who may have read the light novel to see how the story feels there.
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
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