I don’t always agree with the reviewers in Otaku USA magazine in fact I often don’t, at least on some big point or another. This time however, they nailed it. I saw a review for The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life, which decided that this was unremarkable, but cute, more about the characters than the story. Then I was off on a business trip and had some time to spare on my way to the hotel and wandered into a Barnes and Noble. I saw this on the shelf and decided that I wanted it for light reading, even though I already had 2 novels with me.
“Light” is exactly what this is. The basic story, such as it is, is Mariela a teen alchemist in training who lives on the edge of a small but prosperous kingdom, on the edge of a forest filled with monsters of all kinds. She puts herself in suspended animation to escape a monster stampede, and wakes up 200 years later. Things have changed, and there are no more alchemists in her area (her master has disappeared), but if she reveals that she is one, who knows what will happen. Luckily, she runs into the Black Iron Freight Corps who are a bunch of nice guys willing to help out a random stranger. They take her into town, and help her set herself up. In the process, she buys a nearly-dead slave named Sieg whom she cures of most of his physical problems, revealing an attractive and probably strong ally. She starts to set up an apothecary. The end. Nearly everything here is a trope that you can find in some light fantasy somewhere, but this strength of this story is not the story or even the setting.
The characters are all stereotypes of some kind, but the combinations and little details work. Mariela is the typical plucky heroine, ordinary in most ways but has one special skill (in this case alchemy) and happens to be a nice but mostly naïve person. Sieg is a potential top hero who falls from grace, is now severely traumatized, and has to put himself back together. His inner emotional life is both cliché but also interesting. The Black Iron Freight guys are a great bunch, and their names reflect the silliness of a lot of fantasy stories. They range from the mundane (Dick the captain, typical big dumb jock with a good heart), to the slightly foreign sounding (Malaroux, the brains of the operation lieutenant) to the somewhat made-up/non-name (Lynx, the carefree flirt who might just have some hidden depths). A few of the side characters also get some attention including Amber (busty tavern girl who might have a thing with Capt. Dick- so many tasteless jokes there, but the novel refrains), Ghark (elderly shopkeeper who helps Mariela learn the local resources and the Labyrinth), and Elmera, head of the Medicinal Herbs division of the Merchant’s Guild (supposed career oriented old maid, but actually more than that).
The one thing that annoyed me a little is that there is a lot of description of Mariela doing alchemy, but it’s basically standard chemistry using magic instead of mechanical processing. For example, “Form Transmutation Vessel, Fragmentize, Wind Power Separation” is basically a centrifuge, “Form Transmutation Vessel, Control Temperature, Pulverize, Decompress” is essentially dehydration. This is the weakest bit of both versions of the story.
Still it’s a fun story, and the graphic and light novels volume 1 are not perfect matches, so each one has its own emphasis and you learn a little more about different things. The light novel has more characterization and plot, but the graphic novel has more focus on certain character and story attributes.