Listening to audiobooks based on light novels is a new experience for me, and the double-whammy here is that this is not my first experience with The Faraway Paladin as a work since I reviewed season one when it first aired. This made listening to the first two volumes of The Faraway Paladin a unique mixture of brand-new and quite familiar experiences.
The Faraway Paladin is a simple enough story to understand. The kid wakes up as a baby in another world and grows into an adventurer. He can’t remember where he came from other than a few vague feelings and hastily recalled factoids. You know the drill at this point.
The hook this time around that keeps things interesting is that our young hero Will is being raised by three undead warriors from birth: Blood, the skeleton warrior; Gus, the ghost wizard; and Mary, the mummy priestess. They treat him well and raise him as their own while instructing him in the arts of swordsmanship, magic, and faith in the god Gracefeel. His early years are spent learning from them and trying to pierce the mystery of their current condition, how they came to be undead, and where he fits into the picture. Not long after becoming a teenager and graduating from his training, he sets off to find out about the wider world and right wrongs, hoping to start a new family and return one day.
The novel does an excellent job of balancing the familiar with the unique. Most of the setup and world-building are generic as far as fantasy isekai are concerned. This makes the twists to the formula all the more critical, and this is where The Faraway Paladin delivers the best. The opening hook of being raised by three undead creatures is strong, and the work gets a lot of mileage out of the mystery therein. “How are they still moving and talking? Why are they being so kind to me? Why is the nearby city empty, and where is everyone else? What is the rest of the world like?” These are all perfectly natural questions that Will wrestles with, and combined with the fun characterization of Blood, Gus, and Mary; it makes for a strong opening act.
Comparing the anime adaptation to the light novel, this version is better. While the anime was fine for what it was, the light novels provide the depth that only long-form prose can. A huge feature of these novels is Will’s running internal monologue. Without his frequent observations, questions about the world, and doubts about his capabilities, all that is left is ho-hum standard fantasy. The audiobook/light novel provides much more context as to how he feels and his perspective on his experiences, which makes for a far richer experience overall. This is especially evident when the anime’s first season squeezes two light novels into 12 episodes, which is a brisk pace, even considering the relatively short length of these works.
The biggest letdowns are in the general stakes of both volumes. While a lot happens, and there are numerous life-threatening fights, it never quite feels like events are all that tense. I’d say both the first and second volumes lack meaningful climax, as the “big finales” feel perfunctory. There is foreshadowing but not much build-up in tension, if that makes sense – the events arrive, and that’s kind of that. They bring down an otherwise solid enough work.
The production quality of the audiobooks themselves is very nice. I’ve listened to my fair share of audiobooks, which were very professionally done, with clear sound quality. Liam Price does a fine job reading the text, though it is, unfortunately, one of those situations where having a single person read all the text makes for many of the same-sounding sections. It’s hard for anyone to conjure up multiple believable voices while handling all the setup, narration, background descriptions, etc. He was best suited to reading the prose sections, while the character voices were more varied in quality. Despite minor hiccups – such as his British accent making the sections where baby Will is crying quite unintentionally funny, I think he does a good job, particularly in the most important cases of Blood, Gus, and Mary.
The overall runtime for these books was over seven hours for each volume. In my experience, this is short for a fantasy novel, and some folks pick their audiobooks with length in mind to get the most out of their monthly credits. So whether a seven-hour runtime is just right or far too little will depend on your personal preferences in the space. Despite the comparatively short length, it’s fine enough work and the preferred route to experience it if you look into the series. It’s not so good that I think you have to go out and listen to it, but if you pick it up and know what you’re getting into, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Disclosure: Kadokawa World Entertainment (KWE), a wholly owned subsidiary of Kadokawa Corporation, is the majority owner of Anime News Network, LLC. Yen Press, BookWalker Global, and J-Novel Club are subsidiaries of KWE.