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

Myne’s starting to settle into her day to day duties as an apprentice Shrine Maiden and the building expectations from both Benno and the Head Priest, but she hasn’t forgotten her true goal either. With exciting news from her family, she’s even more motivated to create the books she loves–but things will never be so easy for our favorite bibliophile.

Miya Kazuki continues the Apprentice Shrine Maiden arc of Ascendance of a Bookworm with this second volume. The book once again features illustrations by You Shiina, and English translation by quof. J-novel Club published the collected digital release in January 2020, with a print edition expected later in the year.

We return to Myne’s life with the exciting news that her mother is pregnant with another child, and no one seems more excited than our reincarnated protagonist. With a baby on the way, Myne wants to make suitable picture books for her upcoming sibling. The only problem is that the current paper and materials she has been producing with Lutz, Benno and the orphanage are not sturdy enough to survive small children readers. That, coupled with the low literacy rate within society, it’s going to be hard to convince other people about the idea. With that idea on the back burner, the book printing is otherwise going well–when woodblock printing failed, the group then tried stenciling, to much better success–the first batch of children’s bibles have been finished, featuring new art and simple stitched binding. There are mixed reactions to the news that the young apprentice Shrine Maiden has finalized her first book with plant paper, but it’s the biggest success she’s had so far. The thrill and sense of achievement is palpable, and it’s hard not to feel proud of how far our small, sickly protagonist has come since being reincarnated.

The new artwork for the bible was provided by Wilma, a Grey Shrine Maiden who had previously attended a Blue Shrine Maiden who encouraged her in her artistic pursuits. Knowing that she will continue to need illustrations for her books, Myne requests for the older girl to become her newest attendant, to which she agrees–under certain conditions. There’s an important element in this story thread about consent, agency and respect between master and attendant, and Ascendance of a Bookworm handles it with grace and levity that many of it’s contemporaries could learn from.

Along with Wilma, Myne is also appointed Rosalina, another past-attendant of the art-loving Sister Catherine; the Head Priest Ferdinand encouraging Myne to learn an instrument in preparation for Noble society. Rosalina is ecstatic for the opportunity to reunite with her beloved music, but has a harder time adapting to Myne’s rules and expectations. As always, it’s wonderful to see how so many opposing personalities interact with, and are handled by, the young girl. The cast has slowly grown over the course of these books as the personal circle of people surrounding Myne and her crazy ideas has expanded.

Family is another theme that returns to the forefront with this novel; one that I was worried might disappear thanks to the change in setting. Of course much of this is fueled by the pregnancy, but Kazuki gives some great moments to Tuuli too–giving her the spotlight and love she’s due after supporting her sister for so long, and in so many ways. Even as threats get larger, and Myne’s life gets more complicated, the unequivocal love her family has for her has not, and will not change.

As we settle into this current arc, more and more discrepancies between the Temple, Noble Society and the lower classes become apparent. The corruption, totalitarianism and arrogance of higher stations is slowly making itself known—both overtly, with the attack on Myne by a member of the Knight’s Order, to the subtle, in how utterly inappropriate the story of Cinderella is deemed, even as fiction. As Myne gets more and more entangled in Noble Society, this will only continue to be explored, I’m sure.

Additionally to that point, the trombe removal and summons of the Knight’s Order towards the end of the book is the first interaction Myne has had with a Noble outside the confines and decorum of the Temple–and it’s far from friendly. Witnessing our naive and trusting protagonist being verbally and physically attacked by a fully grown man is immensely upsetting. Her desperation and anguish actually hurt to read, and I have to once again commend Kazuki’s writing and Quof’s brilliant translation work. The moment proves just how (potentially) dangerous it is for Myne to underestimate and disregard the strict class system in her new world. Noble society is powerful, and clinging to modern standards of equality without being smart about it will only lead to very scary enemies. Thankfully, she has a powerful and insightful ally with the Head Priest, so she’s not alone either.

The catastrophic trombe affair also prompts Ferdinand to explore who Myne truly is, making him the only other person aside from Lutz to learn the young girl’s secret. I’m not thrilled about the methodology though–there’s an uncomfortable element in him exploring her mind whilst she sleeps, and without her prior consent. There’s already too many jokes about the potential of gifts being misconstrued as courting gestures for me (especially as we know that ‘flower offering’ and other various illicit relationships with young girls are common in the Temple and for Nobles). Although Myne-slash-Urano is fairly blase about the whole situation, and somewhat relieved about not having to find excuses anymore, it’s hard not to compare it with the confrontation and confession that happened with Lutz. Ultimately, despite the young boy’s suspicions, he left it up to Myne to tell him the truth. She made the choice to trust him with her secret and her life–and it speaks volumes on their partnership. Comparatively, although Myne is being protected by the Head Priest in various ways, there’s still a level of trust that needs to build up between them–perhaps now easier done, with her secret known.

Ascendance of a Bookworm Part 2: Apprentice Shrine Maiden continues to balance its elements with ease–it can often be hard to naturally introduce world-building into a fantasy setting without it sounding like an info dump, but this series never struggles with that. The frightening threat of both trombes and the arrogance of nobles are highlighted later in the book, with an emotional genuinity that any invested reader will appreciate. Unfortunately, although Myne continues to treat those around her with respect and humility, the same has not been afforded to her–from friend and foe. It will be interesting to see how things will change in the story now that certain elements have been introduced, and as always, I’m excited for more.

Gee’s Rating: Highly Recommended

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