Summary: Light & Shadow is about a princess whose kingdom has fallen. Princess Edna, raised as Prince Edan, kept her gender a secret growing up, especially from her father whose rule as king was best known for his cruelty and lack of leadership. She waited for her eventual succession of the throne while growing up, with plans to forever keep her gender a secret and aspirations to right her father’s wrongs. However, before reaching that succession a rebellion led by a person from her past overtakes the palace. On the run, she eventually makes it to a viscount’s house where she becomes a mistreated maid. From there, she is chosen as a replacement to marry Duke Eli, instead of the noble daughter he expected from the viscount’s household. This is the set up for the story, and from here you must read it yourself to get the full picture of her new life after marrying Duke Eli.
Tappytoon’s summary, where you can read the story at your convenience is as follows, “It’s a rude insult when lowly and headstrong servant Edna comes to marry Duke Eli, instead of the noble daughter he expected. But the ambitious maid hides an even bigger secret behind her obvious ruse – one that could change the kingdom’s very history. Can the two find freedom, redemption – and love – without drawing their swords on each other? Based on the hit novel. Genre: Romance, Drama.”
Before reading too far into this review and analysis, I would recommend checking out the story yourself. I love this story and think the read of 103 chapters is considerably short given the ambitious plot points provided (from hiding a princess, political marriages, to deeper discussions of defining nobility [the latter of which I’ll discuss here]). I’ve been following the story since it came up in a list of friend-recommendations last August which, I believe, is around the time it was first beginning to be translated (please don’t quote me on that!). It is one of the few series I promote privately to friends as much as I do Who Made Me a Princess.
With that said, let’s jump into the analysis portion for those who already have some familiarity with the story (spoilers for those that don’t) …
Analysis: In the dictionary, or if you Google the term, there are two primary definitions:
1: the quality or state of being noble in character or quality.
2: the body of persons forming the noble class in a country or state–aristocracy.
I will refer to the first definition as “noble-character” or “noble-quality,” and I will refer to the second definition as “noble-blood/birth” or “noble-status” in this analysis.
As early as Chapter 1, the concept of “nobility” and, by extension, how it is defined becomes an apparent theme at the core of the story. The first handful of chapters reflects former Princess Edna’s life with the Viscount’s family. It is here where we are shown the “nobility” of this aristocratic family. For them, “nobility” is about blood and decent, not quality of character. This is shown in the actions taken by the Viscount and his family. Supposedly, the Viscount’s family was loyal to the former King Ducaine (Edna’s father), yet no one from the family recognizes Edna at all. Since they were formerly loyal to the late king, they now have to give up a daughter, Anna, to the new king’s chosen knight-turned-duke as a bride for appeasement. The whole family thinks that this is below them, so they plan to trick the new King and new Duke by sending the “maid,” Edna. They claim Edna as the bastard child of the Viscount and frame her as a power-hungry girl when they send her to the Duke’s mansion in Anna place. It shows the Viscount’s family as being without noble quality or character, but having the nobility of blood to fall back on.
Following her exit from the Viscount’s household, we meet Duke Eli. He also seems to be without noble-character. This comes out the first time the two really speak after their initial meeting. The scene happens later on the same night of the new Dutchess Edna’s arrival to the mansion. Eli barges into her room and rudely declares that any misbehavior or lacking manners he shows is due to is “commoner” blood. It’s one of the first interactions the two have, and the argument reflects the two definitions of nobility as conflicting ideas that will carry throughout the rest of the comic-novel.
Their argument is as follows:
In this scene, the two are painted in opposition. Edna, without noble-status, but possessing noble-character and Eli, without noble-character, but possessing a noble-status. Edna tells him that despite his blood, he is now a Duke and should mind the obligations of such a role. However, Eli chooses to still focus on blood, claiming that a bastard-maid is a fitting bride for a commoner-duke like him. Though one might confuse his anger as something stemming over the disrespect that the Viscount has shown him by sending what Eli believes to be a bastard, as we later learn, Eli is more so blinded and spiteful of his title than by any slight the Viscount has made.
His spite is tied deeply to the inherited belief from his father that nobility is about bloodlines. While he doesn’t necessarily believe that himself, he thinks that all nobility, even bastard maids, must also believe this to be true. These feelings come across through his interactions with Edna most of all. Over time, Eli’s lack of noble-character changes because Edna reminds Eli of the noble-qualities he once held as a child who sacrificed everything to end the madness of his father and lead the rebellion against King Ducaine.
Throughout the work, this concept is played several more times in varying sub-plots. We see it with how Cayden, the current King post-rebellion, views his brother, Eli, while growing up–seeing Eli (once named Hayden) as the one who should have ruled both because his brother is of noble-birth and noble-character. We see it again with Anna, the Viscount’s daughter, who felt like her blood put her above marrying a commoner-duke. She was shown humility after drinking too much and being laughed out of the kingdom, in addition to King Cayden punishing her family for disobeying his order to send Anna to Eli in the first place.
This theme heavily corresponds to the art too. While reading, I was watching how lights and shadows play into the storytelling–something that should definitely be revealing given the title. In my first read, I thought that moments of light were representative truth, such as when McFadden, a knight loyal to Eli, tells Dutchess Edna about Eli’s past. Shadows then represented moments of dishonesty or lies, such as when the Viscount’s family plans to lie to Duke Eli and King Cayden by sending Edna in place of Anna. However, in my second reading, I realized that lies happen as much in the dark as they do in the light. You can see this throughout the work but notably in Chapter 70 when Anna and Cayden first meet in-person to discuss how her father failed to send her to Eli. Instead, I found that the light and shadow that the title seems to refer to is not really about lies and truths. Instead, it too is used to help define nobility within the work.
Discovering this played into watching how the characters are framed in pivotal scenes. Take, for example, the scene I copied above where Duke Eli and Edna are fighting. At that moment, Edna is shrouded in darkness, but her eyes are glowing amongst the shadows. She is not the only character that will display this as time goes on–Eli does too as does McFadden:
(McFadden is in the second picture, notably the one with an eye glowing among the blood and darkness.)
All three characters, based on their respective situations in these different points across the story, are framed in shadows that represent their current situation. For Edna, it is a moment where she must choose between her royal pride and her noble obligation to survive after so many were sacrificed to let her live. Her shadow is representative of her dignity as a royal at that moment. For Eli, the child-version of him shown above, the shadow represents the madness of his father and the family legacy that he has a duty to protect despite the obsession that has possessed their legacy. For McFadden, the shadow is the representation of his family’s legacy to serve and protect the McGregor Family (Eli’s family) without question. All three are thus surrounded by the darkness of their noble-birth legacies as royals, nobles, and knights. All three must stand before that and choose between the nobility of birth or status–the legacies and training and history and conditioning that comes with it–and the nobility of character–the obligation to set such things aside to pursue what is right and necessary. The light in their eyes represents the latter of the two choices, the nobility of character above the nobility of birth or status. Edna sets aside her pride as a royal and joins the lower aristocracy by marrying Eli to pursue the nobler goal of rectifying the damage her father caused during his reign. Eli sets aside his father’s goal and family’s legacy to make him the future king and instead places his common-born half-brother on the throne after clearing the madness of power-hungry leaders like his father and King Ducaine. McFadden, as Eli’s sword, kills Eli’s father, choosing to let go of the family legacy to make a “Hayden the king” and follow the McGregors blindly to instead protect his honor as a knight and obligation to his new master’s mission.
In other pivotal moments, we see light and shadow come into play without the glowing eyes, each reflecting the same idea by highlighting when characters show noble-quality as a person or leader among the dark as well as shading individuals who display darker thoughts unbefitting the nobility or chance to be noble around them. Chapter 1 shows this with the Viscounts family covered in darkness. Chapter 70 does as well where King Cayden’s face is covered by a shadow as he plans to punish Anna/the Viscount’s family. Even the scene above, where Eli and Edna fight reflects this as before Edna’s eyes glow you can see that Edna is covered/lightened by the candle’s glow in the room while Eli is still mostly shrouded in shadows. In fact, her eyes only start to really glow once Eli’s shadow covers her from the light–highlighting what I mentioned earlier.
The conclusion of the story (SPOILERS), brings a close to the debate. As Edna and Eli look out at their son, Alex, practicing with a sword, they conclude that they much teach him a lesson in nobility before he becomes king. This lesson is one of humility, as Alex has grown arrogant since being named the heir to King Cayden’s throne. It’s not just Alex who learns this lesson, Eli relearns it too when Edna is shown to be on par with his skills despite her smaller size and weaker physicality. She wins against Eli in the duel, showing to the readers how the nobility of character wins in the over the nobility of blood/status, and reminding Alex and Eli that you cannot assume you’ll be on top simply because of your born-abilities or given status.
You might conclude it is the two definitions of nobility together that defines what nobility is in this story and there is an argument for such (after all, each of the primary characters, Eli and Edna, were born noble and possess noble traits plus the story is called Light & Shadow not Light vs. Shadow). Though I would argue that both of the primary characters here had to forgo their royal and noble statuses for a good length of time before regaining it in the story, meaning to me that rather than saying the two definitions of nobility go hand-in-hand, it might be better to say that one follows the other. The nobility of character leads and the title follows. For it is the nobility of their respective characters that leads them to the end of the story where they meet their happily-ever-after.
This concludes my analysis of defining nobility in “Light & Shadow.”