Review: Ascendance of a Bookworm – Pt 2: Apprentice Shrine Maiden (Vol 1)

After surviving her baptism, and discovering an available library within the temple walls, Myne is starting her days as an apprentice shrine maiden. After a generous donation and some accidental strong-arming, the reincarnated young girl is hoping for some quality time with her beloved books—but little does she realise how difficult it will be for her, a sickly child from the slums, to fit within the hierarchy of priests and shrine maidens.

Ascendance of a Bookworm: I'll Do Anything to Become a Librarian! starts a new arc with this fourth book, appropriately subtitled Apprentice Shrine Maiden. The series is written by Miya Kazuki featuring illustrations by You Shiina and the English translation by Quof. J-Novel Club released the book digitally in November 2019, with plans for a print release to follow in 2020.

With the start of this new chapter in Myne’s life, a lot has changed for her. After discovering the chained library within the temple (and subsequently having an emotional breakdown after discovering only clergy could have access to it), the booklover took no time to decide on joining the church and becoming an apprentice shrine maiden. With this new goal and direction in her life, so too do the people around her change. Becoming a part of the religious order has additional benefits for her too—the magic tools used in religious ceremonies are in dire need of ongoing maintenance, which has been interrupted by the removal of many noble-bred priests and shrine maidens from the temple. Myne, with her Devouring, has an excess of mana and no outlet for treatment otherwise. It’s a (temporary) win-win situation for both the girl and the religious ministers, eventually leading to Myne becoming a Blue Robe shrine maiden.

But with the new setting also comes new challenges, as Myne struggles with understanding and existing within the caste system of the temple. Due to her sickly body, large monetary donation, and high literacy (plus a touch of intimidation), she has been given the same rights and allowances as the upper-class children that join the faith. The other group—the grey robes—are the unwanted of society; orphans abandoned to the temple, with the hope that the gods will provide. They also act in servitude to the blue robes, vying to become a chosen servant in exchange for better living conditions. Naturally, Myne is also assigned three grey robes—The level-headed and proper Fran, the cunning and calculating Delia, and the volatile and aggressive Gil. Each have their reasons as for being assigned to the younger girl, and none in the group seem comfortable with the arrangement—least of all Myne.

The three grey robes are now her responsibility—to feed and house and accompany—and it goes completely against Urano’s modern nature to boss around and reprimand the people around her. It makes sense then that her views differ from the majority of her fellow blue robes, treating Fran, Gil and Delia as real people. Even as all three of them initially hate their new ‘master’, she slowly wins them over by affording them the support and humanity they had previously been denied. As orphans, they have been systematically abused and exploited under the guise of service—including implications of sexual assault and grooming of minors, and many of those within the orphanage being unclaimed children of priests and shrine maidens within the temple itself.

These aren’t the only problems and injustices floating beneath the shiny veneer (all too reminiscent of real-life religious institutions, a more-cynical reviewer might say), as the politics and scheming behind the scenes by the Head Bishop and the Head Priest complicate Myne’s apprenticeship even more. Once the young girl becomes are of the orphanage and the terrible living conditions of the children within, she quickly decides to take on the tasks herself—again breaking the unwritten rules of the temple, but ultimately succeeding in her goal. Not only does she want these kids to survive, she wants them to thrive. That of course means her unconventional ideas and programs to let the orphanage be self-sustainable once again throw Myne into the spotlight. It seems subtlety is not her strong suit, regardless the situation.

Though, it’s also the first time Myne can’t wholly rely on her Urano knowledge to muddle through situations, as the religious beliefs of her new world are completely foreign to her. The young girl finds herself struggling with memorizing the numerous religious greetings, gods and ceremonies (made harder thanks to her bad memory), with the High Priest frequently frustrated at the slow pace of her religious education.

With all of the new characters introduced in this book, that’s not so say that the people already in the main character’s life disappear—both Benno and Lutz make semi-frequent visits to the small girl, and the latter still walks with her back home every evening. The paper manufacturing plans are still being perfected, and the restaurant development is a particular point of growth for Benno’s business in this book. All in all, and thanks to the somewhat temporary solution of the temple’s magic tools, Myne’s best hope for long-term survival is monetizing her ideas, revolutionizing the current marketplace and earning enough to purchase her own tools for the future. That plan is dependent on her ability to be accepted by the upper class though—of which her current training as shrine maiden (and the expectations thrust on her as a Blue Robe) will help.

Another interesting development is the escalation and resolution of Lutz’s home life, and efforts in communicating with his family. The short story is the first time we have met the young boy’s father, and gives insight to the larger issues of communication, parenting and personal motivations brewing between Lutz, his parents and Benno.

Ascendance of a Bookworm continues to balance entertainment and worldbuilding in this first book of its Shrine Maiden arc. It’s a pleasure to read about Myne and her perception of the world around her—and her earnest efforts to improve the lives of everyone in her new homeworld; over the course of the eighteen months since her reincarnation, she has also changed for the better. The Urano of her past life would likely be satisfied with just living out her days in the chained library, not noticing or caring about the suffering of those around her and the low education rates—even her paper plans would be incidental in the face of proper books. Its an obvious shift, but one that’s taken place over the course of the past three books in a natural way.

Gee’s Rating: Highly recommended.

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