It's been a long journey - well over four years, in fact - but we have at last come to the end of the currently available run of Haruhi Suzumiya novels, with Yen Press sensibly opting to bundle the two-part final story into a single. It's been a bit of a downward spiral for this light novel series of late, so can The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya, well, surprise us?
An anyone who has read the previous novel, The Dissociation of Haruhi Suzumiya, will expect (and if you haven't read that book, then this one won't make much sense!), Surprise is a direct continuation of that story as it sees us suddenly split into two timelines following similar yet at the same time very different events. On the one hand, Kyon finds himself dealing with the latest of Haruhi's exhausting schemes as she looks to find fresh blood for the SOS Brigade via a gruelling application process, while the other timeline sees Yuki subjected to an other-worldly attack that leaves her bedridden, in turn leaving Kyon in particular exposed to the whims of the SOS Brigade's rival group as they seek to depose Haruhi of her place at the centre of everything.
Ultimately these two timelines converge in spectacular fashion, albeit not before a lot of stress on Kyon's part as the two parallel worlds see him trying to stave off these attempts to have Sasaki replace Haruhi by the group of oddballs which has gathered around her, or trying to get to the bottom of the appearance of a particularly talented but plain prospective SOS Brigade member by the name of Yasumi.
There is but one question we find ourselves wanting to pose about these volumes of the series - is the final payoff worth all of the build-up? The answer is a tentative, uncertain "almost" - the final chapter or so of the second half of this book is truly great, and ultimately a really satisfying way of ending the story of Haruhi (and of course Kyon) as it currently stands; if there were never another novel in this series, this is as good a finale as any.
The trouble is that the build-up to that big finish is both slow and frustrating - the author, Nagaru Tanigawa, insists on describing or explaining situations and elements of the series over and over again even ten novels into the series. At this point we know who the SOS Brigade and its characters are, and what they've done in the past, so why keep recounting these facts ad infinitum? At times The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya reads like the work of a schoolboy trying to pad out an essay to hit the word limit, and it becomes irritating in the extreme after so many books in the series.
Even when it isn't re-treading old ground, things often plod along slowly - this is admittedly helped along in places by Kyon's inner monologue, but even this doesn't seem as sharp as it once was, and it's only later in the book that any of the novel's characters really take hold and shine. There's some good dialogue and enjoyable moments scattered throughout, but not enough to really set anything ablaze - again, some of the more enjoyable conversations, mostly between Kyon and Sasaki, still feel like an attempt to fill time and space.
This makes evaluating The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya a tough proposition - its good moments are just that, and even great in some instances, and the final chapter or so of the book is arguably close to the series at its best. But, this enjoyment is tempered massively by the length of time it takes to get to that finale, and the fact that a lot of the journey feels needless bogged down. This could so easily have been a 150 page book - perhaps even less - while losing little to nothing of its core conceit and content. It feels strange to suggest that a light novel (or two of them in this case) should have been lighter, but that's certainly how this volume feels at the end of it all.
Still, long-standing fans of the world of Haruhi will ultimately not only want but need to read The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya, and if they're patient enough to make it through this novel they will ultimately be rewarded with an enjoyable ending. It's just a shame there wasn't more of those enjoyable moments in the midst of the more repetitive or wasteful fare on offer here.