2016’s Apprentice Shrine Maiden Volume 2 is the second volume in the second arc of Miya Kazuki’s Ascendance of a Bookworm series. Illustrations are by You Shiina. The 2020 English language translation is by Quof.
Since her reincarnation in a new world, bookworm Myne has been working to recreate books, publishing, and libraries. The culmination of her long efforts appears to be at hand. Perhaps. What Myne doesn’t know about her new society (and doesn’t care to learn) is going to present difficulties.
This is not the first time Myne has run up against this problem. Too bad she is a slow learner.
Her mother’s pregnancy provides Myne with an excuse to create her new world’s very first children’s book. There are many compelling reasons why nobody has invented children’s books to date. For one thing, the lower classes are largely illiterate. For another, even with Myne’s innovations, books are very expensive1. However, Myne is not the sort of person to let obvious impracticality stop her.
OK, book created. But in other news, Myne is facing difficulties in her career as shrine maiden. She has reinterpreted many of her shrine maiden duties to suit the sensibilities of her modern Japanese bookworm self, but she cannot deal with all of them in such fashion. Consequences loom.
Myne is drafted into efforts to contain a rampaging trombe, a rambling plant-monster that Myne had heretofore regarded only a possible source of raw material for paper manufacturing. Why, she even considered deliberately cultivating them. It turns out that most people care a lot more about the fact that trombe are dangerous monsters that feast on precious mana. It is almost as though the world is not ordered for her convenience, no matter how much Myne behaves as though it were.
The incident provides another pointed lesson in the degree to which the aristocracy are invested in a rigid social hierarchy and how much they disapprove of social mobility. Myne’s new body is that of a peasant. The role of shrine maiden is generally reserved for aristocrats. Short on aristocrats due to a purge, the powers that be grudgingly recruited mana-rich Myne for duties inappropriate to her social class. This so offends one of her assigned guards during the trombe hunt that he first bullies, then attacks Myne.
This episode is very upsetting. Potentially worse, however, is that the High Priest has been considering Myne’s past and her proven gifts. It is impossible a young peasant child should be so literate and numerate. Myne’s habit of citing people like Dewey and her familiarity with concepts and languages alien to this world also raise concerns. The High Priest sets out to discover who and what Myne actually is.
During the fight against the trombe monsters, one character uses what seems to be Runequest’s multimissile spell, which makes me wonder if this is an independent creation on the author’s part … or if the author is a roleplayer.
One could almost conclude one moral of this story is that one should not become so monomaniacal about books as to become blind to the world around one. However, as this cannot be true, there must be some other meaning here. One which I cannot parse.
Myne’s very existence is an affront to the values of her new society. Rather than take this into account, she shuts her ears to inconvenient facts. Not only that … she’s quite vocal about what she thinks about aristocracy, hierarchy, etc. I suspect that if this series of light novels were more realistic, Myne would have long ago been executed as an enemy of the state. But she’s the protagonist, so she has plot immunity.
However, the series is realistic in that the author takes care to let readers know just how everything works. Not only that; this secondary world is carefully crafted and all too plausible.
Myne is a willfully oblivious protagonist, so much so that she’s irritating. Readers may find they want to smack the highlights out of Myne’s hair. It’s a testament to Kazuki’s talents as an author that readers nevertheless want to know what happens next … and keep buying her books.
1: Books are expensive even by noble standards. One discussion between the High Priest and Myne underscores this: Myne values books as repositories of information. The High Priest sees each precious book as a valuable artifact. The idea of mass market paperbacks, cheap and disposable, is alien to him. In his defense, cheap mass market paperbacks are impossible given this culture’s economic and technological realities.