Review: Ascendance of a Bookworm: Part 1, Vol. 3

After having collapsed in Benno’s office due to the effects of the Devouring, Myne wakes up in a luxurious bed, surrounded by dark green curtains. As she’s wondering what new fate awaits her beyond those veils, she hears a familiar voice, Freida, who explains that after Myne collapsed, the guildmaster brought her to his home and used a broken magic tool to save her life. But of course, kindness isn’t cheap. In this case, as Freida triumphantly explains, Myne’s indebted to the tune of two small golds and eight large silvers. Such a price would normally dwarf the savings of any merchant’s apprentice, but Myne’s certainly not a normal case. It turns out that the three golds Benno paid for her knowledge about shampoo was just enough to cover the cost. 

At least, it was enough this time around. Though Freida is disappointed that she couldn’t use the magic tool’s price to force Myne to work for her store, she’s also concerned for her. The tool was only a temporary solution; the heat within Myne is still growing, and the guildmaster won’t be so kind next time she collapses. If she doesn’t want to die of the Devouring, Myne only has one option: sign a contract with a noble who has the necessary tools to save her life. But she doesn’t want to live the rest of her life as a noble’s slave, forever estranged from her family and her dreams. Time’s running out, and Myne needs to find a way to outlive her deadly disease if she wants to read books once more.

Baptism-outfit Myne here to shield your eyes from the coming spoilers. You have thusly been warned.

Volume 3 of Ascendance of a Bookworm: Part 1 sprints away from the starting line at breakneck speed. But it’s not long before the novel settles down into a pace usual for the series. And it’s in this business of de-escalating that Miya Kazuki’s writing really shines, as she gently weaves together important segments of exposition with moments of levity and lighter themes. For health reasons, Myne’s compelled to stay at the guildmaster’s house until Freida’s baptism, so she and Freida pass the time with some impromptu baking and a bath. And while Myne is enjoying the whole experience, she can’t help but feel a little homesick. Avoiding the deceptive wiles of Freida and her grandfather is exhausting, and for some reason, she’s suddenly hungry for home cooking for the first time in quite a while.

In fact, if I had to sum up this whole novel in one word, it would be “homesick.” As Myne faces a myriad of decisions related to her future aspirations, she can’t help but long for home, for the ordinary life she’s used to. When pressed to decide between saving her life through contract with a noble or dying with her family, Myne would rather choose the second path. Even when Freida offers to use her connections to nobles to secure a favorable contract for her, Myne refuses, preferring to work with Benno and Lutz instead. This tension between Myne’s ever-expanding ambitions and her longing for home—her ascendance and her homesickness—adds a degree of depth to her character. I’m able to sympathize with her quest to spread books throughout the world when I know she’s not doing it purely for personal gain. There are difficulties along the journey, and the book addresses those difficulties in a way that feels honest.

Nonetheless, Myne continues to ascend—and we’re invited to join her along the way. We learn alongside Myne about the true nature of the Devouring, the political structure of Ehrenfest, its cultural customs, and ultimately its temple and religious beliefs. It’s all introduced gradually and in a way that feels natural, without any long exposition dumpstruly a pleasure to read. The six(?!) short stories at the end of the novel offer further glimpses into the world from the perspectives of its other characters. I especially appreciated the chapter from the guildmaster’s perspective; it shed some light on the motives behind his dealings with Benno, and I hope Kazuki continues to develop these little details in Part 2, even as the world continues to expand.

Because ultimately, Ascendance of a Bookworm: Part 1 Volume 3 stands out for balancing the grand and the minute. Even as Myne’s life becomes more and more entangled with the nobility, at heart she’s still Urano: that restless, bookish college student who died to an avalanche of books only to wake up in a world with none. And even as she ventures out toward her dream of making more books than she could ever read, she never forgets to come back home to her family and friends, who support her throughout her journey. Wherever Myne’s journeys take her next, I’ll be glad I was privileged to tag along for the ride.

Live shot of me reading this book. Probably.

Ascendance of a Bookworm: Part 1 Vol. 3 can be purchased through J-Novel Club.

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