Most of these light novels with really long titles are self-explanatory. But Return From Death: I Kicked the Bucket and Now I’m Back at Square One With a Boyfriend Who Doesn’t Remember Me is perhaps a little off from what its name suggests.
It’s true that the heroine, Oriana dies and goes back in time to age seven. Not that we see this. The novel opens with 13-year-old Oriana at her magic school orientation flinging herself into her beloved’s arms. But this part of the title is true: Vincent, her boyfriend from her first go-round, has no idea who Oriana is.
Why would she expect Vincent to know her if they only originally met at the academy? Well, Oriana kicked the bucket, but so did Vincent. Oriana had stumbled across her recently deceased boyfriend with no signs of foul play or illness, and she soon loses consciousness before going back in time. So Oriana’s primary goal this time around is to stop Vincent’s early demise, but she can’t help being so in love with him, much to his bewilderment and/or annoyance.
Readers will likely be quickly drawn into the mystery of Vincent and Oriana’s deaths, but this first volume is not about that. Plot alarm bells will ring a couple of times (and ramps up in the final heart-pounding pages), but Return From Death is very romance-based. So much so that even though the leads are attending a school catered to mages-in-training, the amount of magic shown here is next to nil.
The setup for how magic works in this world is quite cool. Dragons are essentially gods in this story, and mages “borrow” their power through a specially made wand. The eight territories once roamed by dragons are now each ruled by a duke, and Vincent is the heir to one of them.
But, at least in this debut volume, don’t expect much to be done with the mystic arts. After showing a bit from their initial days at school, the story skips ahead to their fourth and fifth (and final) years there.
I wonder if skipping almost three years was a bit of a disservice to the plot. The whole “starting from scratch” part of the story is…well, almost immediately replaced by Oriana having not-subtly watching and chasing after Vincent for several years. Vincent, typical of a high-ranking noble in these sorts of stories, is a bit unsociable and pragmatic. He dismisses Oriana’s initial ramblings, but by their fourth year and the bulk of the story, he finds himself being drawn to her. His feelings of first love were cute, but I kind of wish Return from Death had taken a page from other works and had at least checked in with them during their second and third years. Probably would have helped smooth over some of what seemed like character inconsistencies, like:
Oriana: “That [being a duke’s wife] would be a consequence of our union, but it’s not my main goal! I’d have to be crazy not to want to be your bride, Vincent!”
Later narration from her perspective: “They would both have to marry for their respective houses after graduation. Forever didn’t exist for her and Vincent.”
I didn’t really understand why a few years later (and the two having dated in their previous life) Oriana dismisses the idea of her ever marrying Vincent. She does say from the start (although living up to it is another story) it’s okay if they don’t become lovers, but despite repeatedly telling Vincent how much she adores him, Oriana suddenly becomes a naïve shoujo maiden. There are already enough of this archetype, and I liked her best when she was someone enjoying being near the one she loves.
There are three main supporting characters: Oriana’s roommate, the princess Yana, her loyal bodyguard Azraq, and Vincent’s fun-loving friend Miguel. They’re all great, and there’s even more romantic entanglements to be found here. With royal traditions and mixed gender pajama parties, it’s just as or even more fun to read about them than Oriana and Vincent.
Not that I didn’t enjoy seeing Oriana’s optimism or Vincent’s confusion at his changing feelings, but this is just the opening act. The final few pages make for a great hook for volume 2, and I suspect this slow build-up will lead to a solid payoff. But I hope volume 2 flows a bit better to avoid — or explain — some of the characters’ waffling and show off the fact this is a magic school and not just some academy for wannabe nobles.