Review: Light Unto Another World: Volume 1 by Yakov Merkin
Light Unto Another World: Volume 1 is a fresh take on the popular isekai genre light novel, featuring a compelling lead with a detailed background, a true fantasy setting, and plenty of action. Wonderfully illustrated by Philip San Gaspar. This first volume of the Light Unto Another World series takes you to a place you won’t want to leave!
Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Light Unto Another World: Volume 1. I encourage you to check it out!
Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions. (You can request a review here.)
This review contains minor spoilers.
Light Unto Another World Publisher Description:
Soldiers are trained to improvise, to prepare for the unexpected.
However, there are some things you just cannot prepare yourself for.
Such as getting pulled through a portal and into another world.
Uriel Makkis, a young soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, was on his way to base for just another week in his tank when something very unexpected happened.
A portal opened, pulling him into an unfamiliar world, with no one to be found.
Never one to succumb to panic, Uriel does the only thing he can do: push forward to figure out just what has happened to him.
Almost before he knows it, he finds himself entangled in an entirely new conflict, one that runs far deeper than he realizes.
With no way home, all Uriel can do is trust in God to point him on the right path, and fight to secure not just his own survival, but that of those he has quickly come to rely on and care about.
With the help of his new friends, he sets out to make his place in the new world, where, finally, he can make a difference.
The new world will never be the same.
And in this exciting, new isekai light novel series, you can’t simply leave the old world behind.
Follow Yakov Merkin:
An isekai story features an ordinary lead, usually male, who is transported from the modern world to a fantasy world (influenced by RPGs) where he often becomes a heroic figure, although there are many variations.
Unfortunately, flat, stale main characters who have no individuality and are vastly overpowered flood the genre. The interpretation of “ordinary” seems to be “generically pleasant and competent while romantically oblivious (but attractive) and lacking all passions beyond friendship.”
Light Unto Another World does something different.
Sympathetic, Not a Surrogate
Uriel Makkis is not a reader surrogate. Blank-slate main characters are designed to appeal as a reader stand-in for as many people as possible, to allow a large audience the thrill of wish-fulfillment–fully immersing themselves in the world, much like a video game.
Uriel is not the smartest, most popular, most talented, most attractive person in existence, though. Neither is his backstory one that most people share. After all, “soldier in the Israel Defense Forces” is highly specific and comes with its own unique mindset.
However, Uriel is easily relatable and a sympathetic character. He exhibits genuine humility and care for others, and his serious outlook presents an appealing contrast to the more typical laissez faire attitude. A principled person who carries his convictions with him makes for a much more appealing character.
Furthermore, Uriel’s unique background generates interest and adds to reader engagement. It is far more thought-provoking to pose the question, “What would this specific person (a soldier and a religious Jew) do in this situation?” verses a generic wish-fulfillment via a bland nobody.
The character’s resulting impact on the plot is to make it more meaningful. The usual slow growth and practice of skills, particularly magic are more intriguing with Uriel’s confidence that there is a greater purpose behind his presence in that world and the type of magic he wields.
The stakes in battle are higher when the hero has responsibilities at stake and is willing to fight for what he believes is right, rather than fighting out of some “nice guy” syndrome.
The action itself is exciting and strikes a good balance between detail and momentum, per Merkin’s usual skill, as seen in his Galaxy Ascendant series.
Light Unto Another World takes place in a stereotypical fantasy setting characteristic of isekai fiction, but it sets a particularly pleasing contrast to current trends in western fantasy stories. The world possesses all of the potential for danger and adventure one could wish for, without being bogged down by dark and gritty realism.
The towns, for example, are clean and aesthetically superior to modern equivalents that Uriel is familiar with. Even though they lack running water, Merkin does not force his readers to live the experience of using an outhouse. This enables the setting to maintain an allure, a desire to visit such a place and an affection for its people.
It also develops the town as something worth protecting, something that could be threatened later in the series, perhaps.
One of the unique themes this isekai presents relates to responsibility. Instead of seeing his transportation as an opportunity for license, Uriel instead ponders the question, “What are my responsibilities, even when removed from my usual obligations?”
The answer for Uriel includes the importance of proclaiming God, fulfilling commitments, and doing the right thing. The last means keeping religious obligations, fighting to protect others, and abstaining from indulging in the romantic interests cast his way.
The question itself was thought-provoking, prompting self-reflection. The genre usually focuses entirely on the new world, to the point that reincarnation has become more common than transition. Having a well-developed main character with deep roots at home is more easily relatable, and easily turns the thematic question onto the reader.
If I was removed from my environment and community completely, what responsibilities would I still have? Am I disciplined enough that I could perform them?
Check Out Light Unto Another World!
Light Unto Another World: Volume 1 puts a more complex spin on the isekai expectations in both character and theme, while delivering the action and setting enjoyed by lovers of the genre. This series is certainly a must-read!
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