Ascendance of a Bookworm Part 1: Daughter of a Soldier LN Review

ascendance of a bookworm vol 2

What’s a bibliophile to do in a world without books?

While the title of this post does note it, I want to re-emphasize that this review covers the entirety of Ascendance of a Bookworm Part 1, also known as Daughter of a Soldier, and which consists of the first three books from this LN series. (For reference, I’ll note that there are currently twenty-one books out in Japan, four of which are out in English; a fifth will be coming out later this month.) I’ve used the cover of Part 1 Vol. 2 for the header image as it is my favorite of the covers from Part 1.

Ascendance of a Bookworm’s been enjoying some decent success in the anglophone fandom since J-Novel Club started publishing the books in the spring of 2019, enough so that they’ve begun releasing it in paperback (if you’re unfamiliar with their business model, this isn’t the norm; J-Novel Club as a company is focused on providing digital releases, given a monthly subscription-based model which is similar to that offered by anime streamers like Crunchyroll or HIDIVE). The first season of its anime adaptation also just concluded, and appears to have been a moderate hit outside of Japan. Given all that, you’re likely already familiar with the basic plot – Myne’s a young girl in a medieval -esque fantasy world which she’s been reborn into following a literal death by books when her bookshelves collapsed on her in her previous life. But while the powers that may be were sympathetic enough to her plight to let her have another chance, they nevertheless have done so in what seems like a monkey’s paw situation, for Myne is a very weak, sickly child in an illiterate family who is so impoverished that simply making it through a winter is a grand undertaking. And while Myne at first curses her circumstances, it isn’t long before she begins trying to sate her own desires for reading material by inventing a whole new material vital to bookmaking – paper.

The volumes which comprise Daughter of a Soldier focus on Myne’s varied attempts to create usable writing surfaces (among other things, she tries making clay tablets), her struggles with the severe physical limitations of the body into which she has been reborn, and, at long last, her successful re-creation of paper. Myne’s physical weakness and her susceptibility to disease, as well as her family’s deep poverty, feature heavily, as it becomes quickly apparent that even the simplest facts Myne took for granted in her modern Japanese life, such as having a clean bed to sleep in, are borderline fantastical in her new life. While the quest for books remains the heart of the narrative, ultimately these volumes are as much about the minutiae of survival for a working class family in a pre-modern society, featuring such necessities as candle-making, cloth-weaving, and cooking.

While the stakes are daunting, Myne is helped to a degree by the fact that her mother in her prior life was a handicrafts enthusiast, meaning Myne does possess at least some knowledge which is useful. Some of this is on a fairly basic level, but some of it proves valuable in an entrepreneurial sense, as she ends up discovering that some of these are skills wholly unknown in her new world. In less skilled hands, this would probably be used to completely obviate the actual challenges Myne must contend with, but while it does grant her a fighting chance, there remains a significant amount of hard work to be done to improve her chances of achieving her ultimate dream.

As is always the case when I do pick up a LN, I felt a substantial amount of suspicion before I started; as much as I liked the sound of its story, I nevertheless expected that the usual issues I have with LNs would manifest, i.e. prose that was simple to the point of boring me senseless. I’m happy to say that this didn’t prove to be the case at all, and, in fact, I am willing to say that Ascendance of a Bookworm thus far is easily the best LN series I’ve ever read.

Myne makes for a terrific lead, and, while I haven’t mentioned them much, I really liked the supporting cast (for the most part). If there are any quibbles
I have, its that I’m not sold yet on the huge change which comes about late in the third book, as Myne ends up having to make a genuinely life-altering decision about how she’s going to live her life. And as much as I like these books, it is a bit dismaying that, yet again, we’ve got a fantasy world which largely replicates the sexism of our own, albeit in ways that do leave our lead mostly untouched and not at all in the viciously gleeful way as is the case in many other isekai.

Altogether, this is a strong start to what is going to be a lengthy journey for both Myne and the reader, and I feel entirely at ease recommending it to other, to include to folks who don’t tend to like LNs. Having said that, they’d probably be a poor fit for anyone who prefers more fantastical elements in their stories, as those are largely absent here (it isn’t until the second book that its revealed that there’s magic at all, and even then Myne’s interaction with it is limited to magic-enhanced contracts and what are essentially bank cards which can be tapped together to swap currency)¬†and an awful lot of time is spent on the fairly mundane. But if you’re in particular hankering for a fantasy LN series focused around a girl, this is an excellent bet.

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