Urano is a self-described book addict. She jokes with her childhood friend that she’d be happy dying under an avalanche of books—that is, until she actually does! It seems the bookish university student has reincarnated as a sickly six-year-old in a fantasy world…that doesn’t have any books! Now, the young girl is struggling to try and reunite with her beloved books, despite the prohibitive cost, her failing health and the overwhelmingly low literacy level of everyone around her.
Ascendance of a Bookworm: I’ll Do Anything to Become a Librarian! is yet another Narou-published web novel to have made the transition to a published release. Written by Miya Kazuki, the light novel features illustrations by You Shiina. Originally published online from 2013 to 2017, TO Books later acquired the story for a print release in Japanese in 2015. J-Novel Club has licensed the series in English, translated by Quof. This first volume landed on digital platforms in May 2019, and the print edition followed in September 2019. The series also has an anime adaptation by Ajia-do Animation Studio currently airing, and a manga adaptation (also licensed by J-Novel Club).
Like a lot of J-Novel’s recent Narou isekai licenses, this is one that has a lot of positive online buzz about how it shirks the usual tropes of the genre—and indeed, Myne is incredibly atypical to the usual types of protagonists we come across. Her original self, Urano, was the type of person who would happily spend an entire day reading; tuning out everything and everyone around her as she consumed endless books. Having just landed her dream job at her university’s library, her celebrations are cut short when she is buried under a mountain of her personal collection during an earthquake. Next thing she knows, she’s waking up as the sickly youngest daughter of a new family in a new world—one where books are rare treasures for only the uber-rich to enjoy.
This book (and I assume series as a whole) is not one for fans looking for high-stakes fantasy action and adventure. Instead, we get a methodical world-building plot as we follow our protagonist through her many attempts at navigating both society and her weakened body, whilst trying to create her own books. Myne is the definition of a sickly child—struck with fever whenever she exerts herself even slightly, and so malnourished she’s barely the size of a regular three-year-old. Her family both dote on and love her, but they really aren’t sure how to handle the ‘reincarnated’ girl once she starts trying to take initiative on things. I can’t say that our protagonist is totally likeable at this point—her selfishness, complaints and single-mindedness often grating on the nerves—but you can definitely understand why Urano is having such a hard time adapting, and her frustrations about it.
The first half of this book she spends building her strength and vocabulary in order to have a little bit more independence and understanding, as well as learning this new world’s alphabet and how to read. Despite inheriting Myne’s memories, she was a child who was confined to bed for most her life and doesn’t have much understanding of words or the world around her. Even more problematic is that her family is lower-class and not expected to be able to read or write—the fact that her father knows how to ‘somewhat’ read is the main reason he’s the highest-ranking solider on guard posting (and why they so readily hired Otto for his ability to do paperwork). It works well as a device to introduce the audience to the world in tandem with our protagonist, and as she slowly interacts with the world, her knowledge steadily grows.
She quickly learns that there’s no way she could get access to books in her current situation. Even the paper and ink she’d need to make her own are prohibitively expensive. Over the course of this novel she tries numerous pre-paper written record techniques, but they all fail due to difficulty, her own lack of skill or unexpected destruction. She has her amassed knowledge from her previous life of reading, but not much in way of actual application of that knowledge, so it is nice to have the reminder that just reading a book won’t make you an expert.
She does have one advantage though—her willingness to read, write and do math make Myne an oddity amongst her peers. Her insistence on hygiene and cleanliness standards are unusual too, but her high literacy gives her the opportunity to interact with the world in a far different way compared to her peers and family. As we see towards the end, although nothing Myne does or knows is inherently unusual for a young woman in modern-day Japan, it makes all the difference as a six-year-old low-class child within this fantasy world, and people are starting to notice.
The Part 1 on the title isn’t just for show, and in fact this first arc, Daughter of a Soldier, will be three parts long by the end. That’s not to say this book is short though—quite the opposite! And I’ve heard they only get longer from here. It took a while for me to warm up to Myne, but by the end I was thoroughly invested in wanting to see more of her journey towards her dream.
Ascendance of a Bookworm is the type of isekai for fans who enjoy exploring the minutiae of fantasy settings, and the extreme struggle of adapting to such a different situation it would be for a modern person. The story introduces a range of interesting elements I’m sure will be capitalized on later down the line, and although it takes a while for the plot to actually start, the rewards for those who persevere are great. I can definitely understand why the series has gained such notoriety.
Gee’s Rating: Very good
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