Book Review: The Dark Maidens
Title: The Dark Maidens (Original: 暗黒女子, Ankoku Joshi)
Author: Rikako Akiyoshi, Kristi Fernandez (Translator)
Released: May 29, 2018 (United States)
In this Rashomon-style mystery story, each member of a high-school literature club presents her own version of the death of the group’s leader.
At a prestigious girl’s school, a student has died. Itsumi was the most beautiful, charismatic, and popular girl at St. Mary’s Academy for Girls. She was also the president of the exclusive and tight-knit Literature Club. One week after her death, the members of her beloved club gather in her memory. But as they each testify to what happened in the days leading up to the tragic event, their accusations turn shocking —
Why, and how, did Itsumi really die?
In this glittering and gripping murder mystery, everyone has their own motivations and version of the truth. In its portrayal of the alliances, treacheries, and invisible tensions between friends and frenemies, The Dark Maidens keeps readers guessing and shows that what is sweet can just as easily be as poisonous.
Please keep in mind that this review contains spoilers for the entire book. Read with caution. If you click the “Read More”, it is under the assumption that you either don’t care about spoilers or you’ve already read the book.
Honestly, I’m a bit surprised to give this book four stars. And I only say that because this was a very light read, even for its content. Then again, that’s the point of a light novel – it’s not supposed to be that heavy of a read but the more I thought I was done with this book, the more I ended up thinking about it. And the more I kept thinking about it, I realize more and more that I like it a lot more than I thought.
The point of the novel is to go through each of the club members’ takes on what happened and what they believed to be the cause of the death of their beloved Literature Club president. At first, I was a bit surprised at how quickly the web of lies was constructed between the different members of the club – how they were so willing to throw each other under the bus. But some of the girls made it clear if they were a fan of Itsumi or not, either because of her reputation or whatever issue they had going on – which also surprised me.
Then again, I literally grabbed this off the shelf after I read the plot given on the back of the book. When I finally got enough time to research the author, I was more cautiously optimistic about the writing. And it is a bit more realistic than what one could find in the light novel section of the bookstore.
The challenge, I imagine, the author had to face was to write in five, or more, points of view while remaining focused on what she was writing in the first place. However, some parts seemed a bit too muddled here and there but it’s not too distracting – after all, these are high school kids not really that interested in writing, except for maybe one character.
Although, there is a strong element of a twisted fairy tale in this story – especially since this is a Literature Club. Someone who is more read than me can probably better pick up the subtle nods to other literary masters but for someone like me, I still enjoyed it nevertheless.
One point I’d like to bring up is that the girls all have different reasons for joining the club – to feel like she belongs, to use a substitute kitchen, to practice her writing, to be with Itsumi, and for other reasons. However, the person I really wanted to find out more was Itsumi herself. Even in the second story, you can already figure out something was wrong – in one story, Mirei was invited to Itsumi’s mansion to teach her little brother and was given all sorts of gifts, especially so because she’s poor and the sole owner of the scholarship in their school – only in Akane’s telling is where we found out Itsumi calls her a stalker and secretly accuses her of stealing from her home even after she relents and gives Mirei the tutoring job.
Then you start to wonder – who’s lying? Did Mirei lie in her story or is Akane lying and she’s making claims about Mirei’s stealing from Itsumi? But then it’s slowly revealed that Itsumi does and says things that generally puts people on the spot when they least expect it and you start to realize there’s more to what’s going on than what the girls are implying in their letters.
One claims the transfer student of using voodoo, even after claiming that she’s a woman of science and logic, while another claims that the same student was sleeping with Itsumi’s father with only references to whatever Itsumi told her.
However, you would soon start putting pieces together and you start to realize that maybe Itsumi wasn’t as kind and wonderful as she actually is. Because she’s the director’s daughter, she has responsibilities to abide by… but she also has a lot of advantages.
At the end of the readings, the vice-president, the one who called everyone together for this mystery stew event, reads a letter from Itsumi herself – which, of course, would be impossible when Itsumi had been dead for a week or so.
But when she reads the letter, it becomes clear how manipulative Itsumi actually was. She was in love with her teacher and he had taken advantage of her spoiled attitude and so, Itsumi created the Literature Club – one that’s soundproof and away from prying eyes, to have her encounters with her older lover.
Then she started to get lonely and decided to target each of the girls who had a secret of some sort – prostituting herself with the old people she spends time with, the one who burned her family’s restaurant, to plagiarism, and more.
Instead of finding people who genuinely adored literature, she instead used the literature club as a way to blackmail her classmates under the guise of “serving the main character”, as she strongly believed she was. All that power went to her head as she was the main character in each story.
At first, I wondered why she would go through all of this to reveal this – they had nothing to do with her ‘death’, right? So why? Why all the dramatics? And then it’s revealed that she was pregnant only to be caught by her father and was forced to have an abortion. She had to get rid of her Lily, the daughter that never was.
One thing that really tied all of the girls’ stories together was how, some way, the flower Lily was involved. The scent of Lily, the flower of Lily, the message of Lily, that baby that never was always appeared along with Itsumi – and each girl had thought to be a message from Itsumi which pointed the writer to the killer. But in Itsumi’s letter, she reveals that she believed that because she was blackmailing the girls into joining her club, it was the club members who told her father – especially since they all had one reason or another to be close to him.
And then the vice-president reveals that she really is dead – she’s the one who killed her with the Lilys that Itsumi originally planned to kill the members with. And then, Sayuri feeds the members the body of Itsumi.
The only thing I was disappointed, at first, by was that it wasn’t entirely clear on why Sayuri, the vice-president of the club and Itsumi’s life, randomly decided to kill her but as I kept thinking about it, the more I realize that she had been pulling the strings all along. Everyone had mentioned Sayuri in their stories one way or another and they never thought that much. She just did her job of answering Itsumi’s beck and call but then I realized why she did.
She mentioned that since she was a girl, she had always been sickly and Itsumi was her sun while she was the moon. And I started to feel that she was the one who actually told her father about the pregnancy because Sayuri may have been secretly jealous of the sun this whole time.
And the more I thought about it, the more I really realized how powerful that twist was. I ended up really liking it because, now that Itsumi is completely gone, Sayuri could be the sun to their moons – and as long as they all knew each other’s secrets – especially that last one, she would always be their forced sun.
One thing I thought I had an issue with was that I expected a major theme to come from it but, again, the more I thought about it, the more I started to think of it as a twisted fairy tale than an actual story with a grand theme with no real resolution. Once I understood it that way, that’s when I realized how much I truly enjoyed it.
I only wish the revelations of the girls’ secrets each got explained on how Itsumi knew, but honestly, other than that, I really did enjoy it a lot.
Fairy tales always have deeper lessons than at first glance, after all.
Posted on September 4, 2019, in ★★★★☆ – 4 Stars, Book Reviews, Light Novels, Oneshots and tagged anime, book review, fairy tales, halloween, light novel, reading, review, ritsuko akiyoshi, spoilers, the dark maidens. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.