Review: Ascendance of a Bookworm – Pt 1: Daughter of a Soldier (Vol 2)

With the merchant Benno funding her attempts at making paper, now Myne and her friend-cum-business partner Lutz have the resources to try and create plant-sourced paper. Between the two children working hard on achieving their dreams—of becoming a librarian and traveling merchant, respectively—and the massive potential Myne’s Urano knowledge has in the new world she’s found herself in, it seems that Benno’s not the only one trying to capitalize on her ideas.

Ascendance of a Bookworm: I'll Do Anything to Become a Librarian! continues its Daughter of a Solider arc with this second volume, written by Miya Kazuki and illustrated by You Shiina. Originally published via J-Novel Club’s digital subscription platform, the ebook was released in July 2019 with translation by Quof. The print edition followed in November 2019.

This book is a direct continuation of the previous, and I would highly-discourage anyone from reading this book before that one (if for some reason you felt compelled to do so). After meeting with Otto’s merchant friend (and brother-in-law) Benno at the end of the previous book, the two young kids strike up a deal with him. In exchange for Myne’s all-in-one-shampoo formula, the decorative hairpins she designed, and the future exclusive sale and control of plant-based paper in his store, the merchant will fund everything the pair needs for production. It’s a huge step towards getting a proper workshop, and with the monetary help they can now focus on making usable paper familiar to Myne’s modern sensibilites. The contract with Benno is a turning point for the story, not just in how much more support our protagonist is getting with her ideas, but also reveals (to her) the existence of magic exclusive to the noble class.

As both Myne and Lutz are pre-baptismal kids, they’re not in a position to become merchant apprentices; so to circumvent this issue Benno registers them with the Merchant’s Guild as temporary members. It allows him to purchase any of their products they may produce before the baptism, whilst also allowing an easier transition for them to join his store once they come of age. It is fairly unprecedented for him to do so though, which catches the attention (and annoyance) of the Guildmaster. In an attempt to hide the real reason Benno wants Myne to join his shop (ie, the paper and her other amazing ideas), he admits to her creating the floral lace hairpin. The calculated admittance forces the Guildmaster into approving the memberships, because he wants to buy one himself. Myne learns that her hair accessories drew the attention of everyone during her sister’s baptism, and the Guildmaster’s own granddaughter, Frieda, has wanted one ever since.

Thus starts Myne’s new life as a merchant. With her membership approved, and Benno paying for tools and materials, she can now start making paper properly. She also has additional income coming from sales of her hairpins, and the ability to save money thanks to the Guild. Together, Myne and Lutz work hard trying to find the best type of wood to use for the paper—and discover one purely by chance. Only problem? It’s both dangerous and rare. With winter looming and the opportune conditions to make paper narrowing, the two kids work hard to maximise their productivity and profit.

Part of this is making the hairpin for Frieda, who has her baptism in the first week of winter. She’s a somewhat eccentric girl—in love with collecting and counting money, as expected from such an influential merchant family—but she was also stricken with the same disease as Myne: the Devouring. Thanks to the love and toil from her grandfather though, the other girl has ultimately been cured, which initially gives Myne hope for herself. That’s quickly dashed though when she discovers that there is no real ‘cure’ for the affliction—only ongoing, highly-expensive treatments for the rest of her life, which her family could never afford. It’s a scary realisation for the reincarnated Urano, but she just decides to work towards achieving her goal of making books in the time she can.

One of the major roadblocks for the previous book, in my opinion, was just how selfish and bratty Myne could often come across as. It was understandable listening to her frustrations about her weak body and lack of knowledge, but often times she seemed to have little awareness about the people around her, unless they were directly improving her life. Thankfully, I never had that problem with this book. Although she still gets annoyed at her inherent physical weakness, it doesn’t feel like the other people around her are mere bit-players to utilize. Her relationship with her parents and sister grows a lot closer and more genuine, and her friendship with Lutz and Frieda, and business dealings with Benno all help her form proper connections with other people—something she never achieved in her Urano days.

I wanted to highlight Lutz here, because he is really the first person Myne found a bond and commonality with in her new life. From a neighboring family to Myne’s own, he’s the youngest of four brothers and the same age as our protagonist (at least physically, that is). In the previous book, their close age and proximity meant that he was put on ‘Myne duty’ whenever she joined the kids in the forest, making sure she didn’t over-exert herself. It’s a role he continues to carry out through this arc, accompanying her on every outing possible to keep her out of trouble (and prevent the high possibility of sickness). It isn’t just a one-sided partnership though, as Myne was the first person to take Lutz’s dream of being a traveling merchant seriously, and works to help him reach goals others would assume impossible. Within society children are expected to go into the same trade as their parents—which would mean carpentry and craftsmanship for the young boy, like his father and older brothers. When she introduced him to Benno, Myne was sure to emphasize the young boy’s vital role in their partnership—she being the brains, he the brawn—securing him a future he otherwise never could have. She also works hard to teach him to read and write, do math, and comport himself politely, all in preparation of becoming an apprentice merchant. He’s also the first one to realize that Myne isn’t the young sickly girl he had know from a year before, and questions her about the change. He’s a bright kid stuck in a pretty terrible situation, with the willingness to work as hard as possible to get out of it; something he and Myne have in common, and are doing together. I’m a sucker for these types of partnerships, and there’s no surprise at the budding romance potential here (although Myne continues to be her oblivious self).

Benno is another great addition to the cast, not only giving an older perspective, but an experienced insight into what merchants actually have to do. His gruff attitude hides his caring and protective nature towards the young kids; mentoring them to be able to survive the cutthroat world of business. There is also many, many hints to why his personality is the way that it is—past complicated relationships and struggles. Again, it’s nice to see the cast continue to be fleshed out, and Bookworm‘s steady, natural growth and world-building lends itself to a rich setting and characters.

Finally for notable characters would be Frieda, the slightly-older girl who also once suffered from the Devouring. Because of her illness, she had been coddled and bed-bound most of her life, which didn’t lend itself to her making friends. Myne is the first girl her age she has the opportunity to get closer to, and their shared health issues give them more relatability to each other than just a seller-customer relationship from the hairpin commission. Although Myne may find the girl (and her family) far too dangerous to handle on her own, you can tell that she values having someone to talk to about the sickness who really knows what it’s like. It’s still early days for their friendship, but I can only hope Kazuki continues to expand on the potential.

Ascendance of a Bookworm builds wonderfully from the first volume with this continuation, and also kickstarts the story itself. Whereas volume one lay the groundwork for our heroine exploring the new world around her, this second volume we see the start of her actively interacting with the world and impacting the people around her. The start of her life as a business partner and manufacturer is really cool to see, and will appeal to fans of the purposeful and detailed economics of Spice and Wolf. The main events of this book also end on a major cliffhanger, and I can’t wait to see the conclusion of this particular story arc in the next volume.

Gee’s Rating: Greatly Recommended

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