Sword fights, treacherous plots and an ordinary peasant girl who turns out to be one hell of an actress are just some of the elements that comprise this thrilling new fantasy manga by Keiko Ishihara. Some readers might be familiar with Ishihara’s other works, such as of The Bride & the Exorcist Knight and The Heiress & the Chauffeur, but Prince Freya appears to be her most ambitious work yet, at least amongst what’s been released in North America.
Freya grew up in a remote and peaceful village with her sickly mother and two childhood friends/adopted brothers, Aaron and Aleksi. When the aggression of the neighbouring kingdom of Sigurd threatens their homeland of Tyr, Aaron and Aleksi leave to join the military and serve under their kingdom’s shining beacon of hope, Prince Edvard. Freya is terribly worried about them, but doesn’t believe that there’s anything she can do to help support and protect the people that she loves. But when the Prince is poisoned just before an important meeting with the enemy, it’s discovered that Freya bears an uncanny resemblance to him and she is called upon to impersonate the Prince in order to help save her Kingdom and its people.
This was a very exciting first volume and a solid start to what’s shaping up to be a truly epic fantasy adventure. Not only are there several dramatic turns early on in the story, but the ground work has been laid for some juicy political intrigue, as infighting and self-serving nobles jockeying for power in Tyr’s court are just as big of a threat to the kingdom, and to Freya’s position, as the armies of Sigurd. And that’s just the beginning of our heroine’s troubles! Freya has lived a fairly sheltered existence up until now and she’s a bit on the shy side and cries easily, so acting like a composed and self-assured Prince is not something that comes naturally to her. Her desire to avoid bloodshed is also causing problems, as the military men who comprise the Prince’s core supporters are apt to interpret this as weakness and she could loose their trust if she isn’t careful. Despite all these pressures, Freya displays great bravery when the situation calls for it and I’m eager to see if she’ll be able to find a way to protect her country without sacrificing her humanity to do so.
Some of my favourite scenes in the manga are when Freya manages to really embody the role of Prince Edvard. In these moments she’s, at least outwardly, confident, clever and charismatic; you can really see why this Prince was such an inspiration to his people. As much as I enjoy these sequences, they unfortunately raise a question that nagged at me throughout the book: Why aren’t we following the story of this incredibly compelling person, instead of the person masquerading as them? This is a question that I’ve bumped up against in other works that share a similar setup (where someone needs to impersonate someone else, for whatever reason). I think the issue boils down to the fact that, in my opinion, in order for this type of a plotline to work well, the impersonator needs to possess some kind of quality or ability that the original person lacks. Something which makes them more ideally suited for the role they’re filling, even if it doesn’t seem so at first. One would assume that Freya’s kindness would be such a quality, but Edvard actually appears to have been a pretty nice guy. Everyone’s accounts of him and everything we see in flashbacks seems to indicate that he genuinely cared about his people and that he was quite egalitarian, giving opportunities for commoners, like Aaron, to rise in the ranks of his personal guard. As much as I like Freya, the more I see of Edvard, the more I wish he was the main character, or at least a bigger part of the story.
Aleksi, who appears to be Freya’s primary love interest, has something of a similar set up, but one that’s better executed. Aleksi has grown up in Aaron’s shadow, never managing to be as strong or capable as his incredible older brother, but circumstances soon arise that force him to step up and be the one to support Freya. So, you might assume that I had similar feelings regarding him and questioned why exactly he’s our romantic lead instead of Aaron, but, in this case, the manga gives us a clear answer early on as to why it’s Aleksi we should be rooting for. In a flashback sequence, we see a young Aleksi hack away at a boulder for days until he finally splits it. Even after accomplishing this, Aleksi is unsatisfied because he had been told that Aaron had split a rock using just one hand. Except, that turns out to have been a lie and Aaron hadn’t actually done anything of the sort. Through this scene we see that what makes Aleksi impressive is that, through hard work and perseverance, he is able to accomplish things that the more naturally gifted Aaron wouldn’t have even thought to attempt. That’s interesting to me and I’m looking forward to seeing Aleksi prove himself as the manga progresses.
While Edvard, and Freya’s performance of him, might have stolen the show a bit for me, I still really enjoyed following Freya’s story and can’t wait to find out what happens next in the series. I’m also dying to discover what exactly Freya’s connection to Prince Edvard is, something the main cast has been curiously uninterested in discussing thus far. I mean, there has to be a reason why she looks so much like the Prince, right? Perhaps she’s a secret love-child of the King and Edvard’s halfsibling? Or could there be some other connection between them? I guess I’ll have to read on to find out!
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10
For more information on this series, visit Viz Media’s website: https://www.viz.com/read/manga/prince-freya-volume-1/product/6221/paperback
What did you think of this series? Does anyone else think a series with Prince Edvard as the main character would have been more fun? What are your theories as to how Freya and Edvard are connected? Let me know in the comments.