Daughter of a Soldier, Volume 3 is the third volume of the first trilogy in Miya Kazuki’s 27+ volume Ascendance of a Bookworm series.
Having died as an adult bookworm in modern-day Japan, then having been resurrected as a child in a pre-industrial secondary fantasy world, the person now calling themself Myne has used her modern-day knowledge to carve out a potentially lucrative commercial niche. She has done so to survive, yes … but it’s also one step in her quest to re-invent a thriving book trade.
Myne has to deal with four major impediments: her knowledge of bookmaking is fragmentary; her knowledge of her new society is likewise fragmentary; her family occupies the bottom rung of the social ladder; and her host body suffers from the Devouring, an illness likely to be fatal sooner rather than later.
Myne wakes from her latest bout of Devouring, saved thanks to intervention by Frieda of the Othma Company. Young Frieda also suffers from the Devouring and her family still has on hand the means to treat the malady. While Frieda was in part motivated to save Myne by friendship, greed is also a factor. Myne is a cornucopia of valuable ideas. If she can be indebted to the company run by Frieda’s family, all the wealth Myne generates will belong to the company.
Frieda’s cunning scheme fails because Myne’s previous inventions have already earned her a small fortune. Thus, she can pay for the medicines rather than having to pledge the remainder of her life in service.
Having avoided Frieda’s gambit, Myne then gets a pointed lesson in how her new society works, in particular the need for people at the bottom of society to ally with a more powerful patron. This is as true for Frieda as for Myne; the young merchant girl considers herself lucky because her grandfather arranged for her to become the formal mistress of a powerful noble as soon as she comes of age.
Myne’s coming-of-age ceremony reveals to her something of which she was entirely unaware: her adopted world has libraries. They are the domain of the local temple, which Myne has never entered.
Her first attempt to enter the local library reveals an unexpected impediment in the form of a magical barrier. Myne has encountered magic before, but force fields are new to her.
Library access appears to require that she join the church. There is a catch. There always is. Peasant acolytes occupy a niche far, far below noble acolytes. They are worked to the bone, which is why most peasant acolytes are orphans with no better choices . Myne being sickly, she would not survive the lot of a peasant acolyte.
In fact, her position is much, much worse than she knows. The Devouring is a magical ailment caused by uncontrolled mana production. Noble rule because they control magic. A recent civil war has greatly reduced the population of nobles. Someone with excess mana is therefore a very valuable commodity. Myne discovers this too late to conceal her condition…
Magic is a very powerful resource in this setting. Myne has been slow in understanding this because magical ability is also the basis for the social hierarchy. Those with lots of magic became the nobles whereas those without became peasants. Presumably both aptitude and training play a role. It may be that the Devouring is what happens to potential sorcerers who don’t get trained. Or not. With two dozen more volumes in series, there is lots of room for surprises, particularly in the matter of magic.
Myne’s circumstances would be pretty terrifying were it not that she has a huge advantage over most people: having died once, crushed by a pile of her beloved books, death holds no fear for her. Which isn’t to say she does not have hostages (her new family in particular) but simple death threats alone have little hold over her.
There are not a lot of light novel series I’d compare to the venerable The Way Things Work, but this is one of them. For that matter, people who enjoyed Lest Darkness Fall may find this series of interest. Much of the plot involves bridging the gap between knowing that something can be done and knowing how it can be done.
Myne has been dealt a rather dismal hand: she’s a terminally ill peasant who is vulnerable to exploitation by ruthless nobles. In other hands, this would have assured yet another YA dystopia series. Author Kazuki injects enough humour to lighten the gloom. She’s also adept at chronicling both Myne’s projects and her tribulations; the reader is at first rooting for Myne and worried that she will fail, then relieved when Myne manages yet another success. There are enough wins that the overall setting does not oppress.
I might have preferred the first three books to be one long book (although then I might not have finished it, long books being my nemesis these days). As it is, I hope other readers enjoy the series as much as I do, so that more volumes will be translated.
1: One enters a trade through family connections. Orphans often don’t have those.