While otome games are the norm in most Japanese reincarnated-as-a-fictional-character forms of isekai, in most South Korean and Chinese takes on the genre that I’ve read, characters are much more likely to find themselves inside a book. (That’s a subject worth looking into, as it says a lot about how different cultures interact with fiction.) Joining titles like The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System, Daddy, I Don’t Want to Marry, and The Male Lead is Mine, Why Raeliana Ended Up at the Duke’s Mansion is the story of someone who dies in her original world (ours) only to find herself waking up as a fictional character in the world of a novel she once read. But unlike those other protagonists, heroine Eunha isn’t the villain of the story: she’s a side character named Raeliana McMillan, and her death is the inciting event of the original book’s story. In her original life, Eunha was told by a fortune teller that she was doomed to live a short life; she’ll be damned if she’s going to do that twice in a row.
On the surface, this is a story about how one very determined young woman saves herself. Honestly, it almost doesn’t need to be more than that. Raeliana is a strong character and no fool; she’s ready to learn from the mistakes of both her past and what she remembers in the novel. She immediately begins proving to us just how smart and dedicated to survival she is: first, she sets about getting rid of her murderous fiancé, Francis Brooks, who will poison her via the popular Victorian method of arsenic in her tea. When she finds that she can’t just dump him, she decides to go further by using her plot knowledge to coerce the novel’s romantic lead, Noah Wynknight, into entering a contractual engagement with her. She thinks that if she’s engaged to a duke, the highest level of the peerage before the king, there’s nothing a lower-ranked peer like Brooks can do about it. This shows not only a good memory for the plot but also a keen understanding of the pseudo-Victorian world the original novel is set in – she’s using the author’s world-building to save herself.
While we get hints in volume one that the novel may well have been a mystery – the chapter where the original Raeliana dies is about heroine Beatrice solving the case – the manhwa is a combination of mystery and romance, with the latter taking precedence so far. Noah is the perfect incarnation of a historical romance hero who is in over his head when dealing with Raeliana. He’s haughty, smarmy, and snide by turns (at least, to her face), but by volume two, it becomes clear that at least some of that is because he doesn’t quite know what to do with her. During the hunt storyline of that volume, he begins to show jealousy of her relationship with her guard Adam. Although he turns the fact that she embroidered a dragon on the handkerchief favor she made into a way to tease her in public, it also seems like he wanted to hunt a dragon and present it to her. He’s unable to understand his emotions where Raeliana is concerned. By volume three, it looks like he’s struggling with that fact. Count Westenberg, one of two people fully aware of the contract, at one point, raises the subject of how he’d be happy to court Raeliana after Noah ends their engagement; Noah shocks himself with his intense opposition to the idea. Likewise, he is less than pleased when Raeliana catches the eye of High Priest Heika. It doesn’t matter to him that Heika wants her as a disciple rather than a bride – he is unwilling to entertain the notion. Throughout these three books, Noah is the character who’s leaning the hardest into the idea of a romance developing between him and Raeliana, which again fits nicely with the usual tropes of historical romance fiction.
In Raeliana’s case, it isn’t because she’s not attracted to Noah, although he is off-putting to her modern sensibilities. Mostly, she’s grappling with the fact that she’s undeniably changed the trajectory of the original plot, and she hasn’t entirely figured out that she’s not in a book; she’s just living her life. Beatrice’s absence is the problem that troubles her the most – not only has she “stolen” Beatrice’s romance plot out from under her, but she’s also deprived of the catalyst needed to become the heroine in the first place. As avid readers of this subgenre of isekai are aware, the most common change made when a reincarnated soul takes over the protagonist slot is that the original heroine becomes a bad guy, and volume three seems to hint that that may be what happened to Beatrice. However, there’s more going on here than a simple reassignment of roles. When Raeliana searches for places where she knows Beatrice is supposed to be, she’s absent – including one where she should have been when Eunha first took over, which implies that she was perhaps never there. We’re all probably familiar with the concept of the unreliable narrator, which may be what happened when Eunha read the original book: the novel’s author wasn’t telling it like it was. Just like the novel’s villainess, Vivian has some homelife things that are informing her actions (she, too, may have been looking to Noah to save her); Beatrice may not have ever been the heroine Eunha believed.
The mystery elements, which are developed further in each successive volume, blend well with the standard romance plot and the humor aspects, forming a series that is hard to put down. The full-color art does an excellent job, especially with the sketch style for humor. While it does have its issues, such as the horses in the anime not staying true to the source material, it makes up for them with vibrant colors and some fantastic costume designs. This is both a fun and intriguing read. Hopefully, we will eventually get the source novels – something that feels very possible, given that the source novels for another popular manhwa/webtoon title, Under the Oak Tree, have been licensed. If you enjoy the anime and want more detail, or if you simply enjoy a story that blends genres smoothly and tells an engaging story, definitely check this out.
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