Lady Carolina Sanchez has spent her life hearing how inferior she is. Her seemingly perfect older sister Flora has untold amounts of holy power, making her the obvious choice for the kingdom’s next saint, and she never lets Carolina forget that she’s lacking. When Carolina is married off as a political pawn, she’s certain that it means her doom, but strangely enough, the purported demon soldier she’s to wed is nothing like she’s heard. Could that mean that other words she’s been told are also untrue…?
The Oblivious Saint Can’t Contain her Power is translated by Dawson Chen and lettered by Tran Thoai Xuan Nguyen.
Flora has a lot to answer for. Flora, the older sister of heroine Carolina, has spent all of Carolina’s sixteen years drumming the idea that she’s a disappointment and a disaster into her sister’s head. In public, Flora presents the perfect picture of both a saint-apparent and a loving older sister, but the reality is that she’s devoted her life to making Carolina miserable. And as many of us know, if you hear something often enough, it begins to sound like the truth.
That’s where the story starts. Lady Carolina Sanchez is the younger daughter of a powerful duke, and her sister has taken advantage of their father’s frequent absences to destroy Carolina’s self-esteem. Blaming her sister for their mother’s death in childbirth, Flora seems to have made it her mission to punish the younger woman, using her overwhelming holy magic as a way to maintain her spotless reputation. Flora might be the saint presumptive because of her magic. In reality, she’s anything but, which will likely lead to the somewhat hackneyed title of the series when Carolina is revealed to be much more than she (or anyone else) has assumed. But we don’t get to that point in this volume, which leads me to believe that the manga is taking its time adapting the original light novel. That feels like a good thing; the idea of “saints” and “holy magic” has rapidly become a stale trope, and thus far, is avoiding the crumbling edges of that pitfall. There’s no reincarnation or isekai element, and Carolina isn’t too good (or intelligent or sweet or…) to be believed. She’s just a regular girl who is trying to cope with the horrific bullying she endured and starting to realize that what she’s been told may not be true.
That starts with her family. Duke Sanchez, her father, is also the kingdom’s prime minister who takes him from home frequently. Flora has used that to her advantage, and Carolina now believes that her father also sees her as a disappointment and a failure. On the other hand, he is aghast when he realizes that’s what she thinks, which is Carolina’s first clue that Flora might have been making things up to suit herself. It’s also the duke’s first clue, and while we leave the Sanchez household behind fairly quickly, the details of Carolina’s experiences there form the basis for her character. She’s reassured by the revelation that her father doesn’t wish she’d died instead of her mother, but that alone isn’t enough to overcome the sixteen years of bile spewed in her direction.
Once Carolina moves to the empire to marry Prince Edward Ruby Martinez, we are presented with mounting evidence that her kingdom might not offer the most trustworthy news. Edward is spoken of with fear and disdain, both for his prowess on the battlefield and because his knightly order takes in commoners and nobles, so Carolina is prepared to be killed on the spot. That’s not how the story goes, but it’s to the writing’s credit that Carolina doesn’t immediately lose her fear of Edward and the rest of the Martinez family. This volume’s greatest strength is the way it respects Carolina’s trauma and worldview, while the art lets us know that she’s been misled. Nowhere is that better shown than in the opening chapter, when we see Flora smiling and doing well at a ball: although her actions and words seem sweet, artist Yona Etou gives her a cruel edge to her smile and body language, making it clear that there’s more going on here. At first, it looks like the artist isn’t good at drawing smiles. Still, as we watch Flora for a few pages, it becomes clear that it’s intentional – it’s just that we, the readers, are the only ones who can see that the supposedly innocent flower has a serpent under it.
This deliberate disconnect between text and image is used several times throughout the volume and is very effective. A later scene has Carolina misinterpreting Edward’s mother’s uncomfortable demeanor as dismissive. At the same time, yet another hints that Edward, as the second prince, may have had similar experiences to Carolina’s growing up. It will be interesting to compare this with the light novel because the manga adaptation does an impressive job of backing the writing up with images. I wonder if the same subtlety can be achieved with just text. I wouldn’t necessarily call it beautiful art, but it enhances the story.
By the midway point of the volume, there are hints that Carolina will live up to the overwrought title. Right now, she’s more comparable to Sei from than any other saintly light novel figures, albeit a Sei with the self-esteem issues of Violette from . I could see some readers finding her a lot to take because she spends most of the book working and worrying herself to the bone, to the point where others notice and are concerned. But that feels like an essential element of the story – we have to understand how unhappy she is before we can appreciate her later happiness. This story has some real potential, so if you like an underdog tale, it’s worth checking out.