The stories in each volume of Book Girl are self-contained, fill the reader in on important character traits and could stand alone fairly well, but this story really gains dimensions by building off of established characters and plotlines in the previous books, so I really recommend starting at the beginning (Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime).
Our usual protagonists are at the center of this third Book Girl story – the self-styled “book girl” (who happens to be a literature loving and eating goblin in schoolgirl form) Tohko and her force recruited book club junior Konoha (whose responsibilities revolve around writing Tohko snacks). They often get caught up in mysterious happenings involving other students.
As I’ve warned before, providing an accurate summary of the series’ premise and its main characters is a bit misleading in that it makes the books sound much different in approach and tone than they are. The stories do not much deal with Tohko’s “unusual” appetite nor explain it. Her love of literature is much more relevant. And the weirdness of the premise seems to point towards light, happy-go-lucky stories. This could not be farther from the truth. The Book Girl series is VERY dark and addresses extremely heavy themes. They are great reads featuring compelling characters and are laced with bits of humor here and there, but know going in that this is much more psychological thriller territory than madcap adventures.
This third book features Konoha getting dragged into Tohko’s outrage driven investigation into a recent string of book vandalism presented in parallel with horrific letters written by someone having urges to perform mutilations beyond paper. After Famished Spirit I wasn’t sure the series could get creepier or more intense. I was wrong. Captive Fool escalates things several notches, keeping the reader guessing about who knows and is responsible for what as the character barrel closer and closer towards tragedy. As usual there is a thematic literary tie-in, which is exquisitely used and integrated into unfolding events.
Everything came togther beautifully and this is easily my favorite of the series so far. We have several recurring characters show up along with some strong new ones introduced and all of them have distinct personalities and motivations. There were no easy answers to the things that trouble them and they get scared, make wrong decisions sometimes, struggle to deal with the consequences of their pasts, etc. The author is excellent at dropping in little hints and retelling things we already know something about in a slightly different way that gives more information. It adds a lot of depth and intrigue because the reader is effortlessly learning more about the overarching plots and the characters’ long term problems while being firmly engaged with the current story.
And Captive Fool is a fantastic one. A tense, chilling atmosphere is kept throughout, the writing and translation are as impressive as ever, and I ended every chapter dying to know what was going to happen next. The climax of the unfolded in a wonderfully unique way that did justice to the all the preceding build up. Then just as my emotions were calming down the epilogue floored me with major developments that are likely to be felt throughout the rest of the series.
I will admit that it quite often wasn’t an easy read, and I don’t mean from a technical perspective (the writing flows wonderfully) but rather because of the subject matter. At the risk of repeating myself too much the story goes to dark, unsettling places and our characters are in for a lot of angst and emotional and mental turmoil. So fair warning – this is a brutal ride.
If you can handle it though Book Girl and the Captive Fool is simply phenomenal and it’s well worth accompanying the characters through their suffering.
Highest possible recommendation.