“Myne. You see, I have a baby in my belly. You’re going to be a big sister.”
Those simple words singlehandedly send Myne into a panic. For despite the vast sums of wisdom stored in her brain from her Urano days, she doesn’t know the first thing about pregnancy (who would bother trying to remember any of that stuff as an only child?). And what would she even be able to contribute, as sickly as she is? Tuuli might be able to sew clothes for the newborn, but Myne doesn’t even have the endurance for that. As she’s racking her brain to come up with something, a brilliant idea floats into focus. Her head immediately shoots up.
“I’ll make a picture book for the baby!”
This brilliant idea serves as the catalyst for the main events of Ascendance of a Bookworm: Part 2 Volume 2. Up to this point, despite its big talk about Myne’s grand goal to make more books than even she can read, the Ascendance series has suffered from a distinct lack of book-making. But all that changes with this volume. Myne has her sights set on making picture books, and nothing can stop her. After a brief excursus involving the introduction of a new attendant for Myne’s musical education and the decoration of Benno’s restaurant, the battle begins. Myne enlists Wilma to illustrate her picture book; enlists Lutz to make ink suitable for plant paper; enlists the High Priest to critique her summary of the bible (which she plans to use as the base text for the book); enlists her workshop to print individual pages of the book using stencils; and finally enlists Tuuli to do the binding for the first copy.
And after chapters and chapters of hard work, it’s finally complete.
Not a clay tablet, not a mokkan, not a notepad of cobbled-together paper, not a blank picture book with no words on it. I had made an actual book, one that I could proudly call a book with no hesitation. […]
I started with nothing. No stamina, no strength, no money, no paper, no ink, no tools. But I challenged the world anyway, and my work finally bore fruit.
To be honest, I’ve been struggling to write this review for some time now. It’s not that I can’t think of things to say about Ascendance of a Bookworm; it’s just that it’s hard to organize all my scattered thoughts into coherent phrases which mingle together into sentences whose camaraderie forms paragraphs and pages. And once the first push is done, it’s onto editing. Reading the post to myself. Grimacing at my shoddy phrasing. Fixing up grammar. Clipping out sections that don’t fit. Adding clarity when I feel I haven’t made my argument clear enough. Injecting variety and beauty and wit to my prose. Even when the text is finalized, the post has to be proofread and scheduled (thank Twwk for his steadfast endurance in this matter [Editor’s note: It’s my pleasure!]) and published and promoted (go tweet @AnimeTangles and thank them as well).
Here’s the point. Work is long and laborious in this fallen world in which we live, filled with difficulties and dangers and discouragements. It’s so easy to forget that work is good: that it’s worth persevering to the end for those occasional glimmers of gold. That’s why I love Ascendance of a Bookworm so much. When I read about Myne and co. working diligently in pursuit of books, and overcoming every obstacle to reach that end, I’m reminded that the struggle is worth it when there’s something good waiting at the end, and the journey is lighter when you have friends to encourage you along the way.
Well, now that I‘m done gushing, there’s three more points I want to touch on about this volume.
First, I have to give a disclaimer: the pacing is strange this time around. Most of Part 2 Volume 2 is crammed with filler material. There’s detailed discussions about the production process of oil-based paints, the flaws of woodblock printing, the Dewey Decimal System, and winter preparations, among other things. Then, near the end, almost out of nowhere, Kazuki hits us with three dense chapters, filled to the brim with plot-heavy material. Now, I’m not saying that there’s no possible justification for this structure. (I’ll get to that in a moment.) But I loved the way Kazuki balanced the grand and the minute in the previous volumes, like a skilled long-distance runner who scatters sprints throughout their run to keep their endurance. In contrast, this volume deals in the absolute minutiae until the end. As such, you may find it difficult to stay invested. Personally, I wasn’t too bothered by this; I do still enjoy hearing about the minute details of Myne’s life. But your palate may differ from mine.
Now, like I said earlier, there’s a reason why Kazuki hits us with the plot-heavy material at the end of Part 2 Volume 2. It’s because, like Myne, we’ve been sheltered from the ugly side of high society until now, engrossed in our own bookmaking world. We need a wake-up call, in other words. So when the Knight’s Order summons Myne and the High Priest to deal with a particularly bad trombe infestation, and Myne comes within literal inches of death, it’s quite literally a complete change of pace. I won’t get into all the details, because I’m starting to run out of space, but it’s sufficient to say that tensions are building, and Myne’s future is all but certain.
Lastly, a word about the epilogue. This entails some serious spoilers, so here’s your spoiler shield. Be warned.
In the end, the High Priest deems that Myne’s mana makes her a potential threat to the duchy, and decides to search her memories (with her volition) to find out whether his suspicions are misplaced. What results is a particularly poignant take on Myne’s life before she became Myne. For Myne misses her old world, not only for its luxuries (and libraries!), but also for its missed opportunities and squandered affections. Maybe living all of life with a book in one hand wasn’t so great, after all. And as she recalls all this in a swell of joy and nostalgia and regret, she’s ultimately able to come to terms with her memories and move on. Kazuki’s attention to detail sparkles in this scene; she unpacks Myne’s complex feelings about her past life in a way that stirs me to root for her all over again. It’s definitely one of the highlights of the series.
So where does that leave Ascendance of a Bookworm: Part 2 Volume 2? While it’s not my favorite volume in the series to date—it drags a little too much to earn that title—this volume is still filled with all the particular facets in which the Ascendance series shines: its intricate universe, its intentional writing, its emotional clarity. All the while, the story is moving along. The ascent is once more starting to pick up pace. Things are escalating into what will be an intense climax in Volume 4. But for now, I’m content to enjoy the serene satisfaction of a completed book and a job well done, by both Myne and Kazuki alike.
Ascendance of a Bookworm: Part 2 Vol. 2 can be purchased through J-Novel Club.