2015’s Daughter of a Soldier Volume 1 is the first of three Daughter of a Soldier instalments, which in turn form the first arc of Miya Kazuki’s Ascendance of a Bookworm. Ascendance of a Bookworm is an Isekai young-adult light novel series. Illustrations are by You Shiina. Daughter of a Soldier Volume 1 was translated into English by quof,
Urano Motosu loves books above all other things. Pallid skin, social isolation, parental disappointment, all are small prices to pay for a life spent glorying in books.
Alas, Urano is so focused on her books that she steps into traffic without looking. Hello, Truck-Kun! Only the timely intervention by a friend saves Urano from decorating Truck-Kun’s grill.
Saved from an untimely demise, Urano returns home where she is killed by falling books during a minor earthquake.
Urano wakes in an unfamiliar setting. For reasons unclear, she now occupies the body and memories of a young girl named Myne. Chronic illness has left Myne a stunted child, seemingly just three instead of the five years old she actually is.
Urano quickly discovers her new world is quite unlike modern Japan. Where or whenever she is, it is technologically backward. While the nobility may enjoy lives of ease, Myne’s family are not nobles. Life for them is unending labour. Most children are not spared. Myne has been lucky; she is too sickly to join the labour force.
Most alarmingly of all, this is a pre-literate society1. Never mind the filth and primitive living conditions of this land’s peasantry, the un-Japanese cuisine, or the ubiquitous absence of antibiotics. There is not a book to be found in the house. In fact, the very term “book” does not exist in Myne’s vocabulary.
This will not stand. Armed with the know-how gathered from a life spent buried in books (also from her mother’s endless hobbies), Urano sets out to invent book publishing from the ground up. Step one: paper!
Knowing something can be done and knowing how something can be done are two very different things…
Isekai novels have fairly well-established conventions, which the author has fun subverting. For example, death-by-truck is the traditional method by which protagonists are transported from world to world; Urano sufferers a more ignominious but thematically appropriate death. As well, while many Isekai protagonists land in bodies suitable for heroism, Urano’s new body is terminally ill.
As it happens, Urano is focused on books to the extent that she hasn’t yet realized that she has landed in a world with working magic. As the text makes clear to the reader, Myne has a magical disorder, the “Devouring” (easily treated — if one is an aristocrat). Myne’s body may have a new occupant but it still has the disorder, which means Urano probably shouldn’t make long-term plans.
Where did Myne go? Did she get pushed into a different universe? Did she die, leaving her body for a stranger to occupy? The novel doesn’t answer this question. IMHO, given how unhealthy she was, I’d bet that Myne “died, and might well have had her soul consumed by her disorder.”
Much of the book explores the difference between pure and applied knowledge, Urano being long on the first and very short on the second. That said, she has some skills that are everyday in modern Japan and extraordinary here, skills like literacy, a knack for mastering diverse writing systems , and the ability to do mental mathematics. There are services she can perform for which people will pay her. Just not inventing publishing, at least not in this volume.
- The prose is a bit stiff, something I’ve noticed in other Japanese translations.
- A protagonist so interested in books that they neglect all other aspects of life is of course the sort of protagonist with whom all readers will sympathize.
- The book cannot go full infodump because it is a light YA novel, put out by a publisher with standards. It’s an introduction to a new world and Urano’s place in it. Presumably parts 2 and 3 will tell us more.
Daughter of a Soldier, Volume 1 is brief but enjoyable. It was good enough to convince this reader to get the next two volumes, if only find out how Urano/Myne’s new life works out. Although the fact there are twenty-five volumes in the series suggests that she does at least survive her initial adventures2.
1: Or more precisely, literacy is a skill very few people possess.
2: Mind you, dying was how she got into this mess so dying may not get her out of it.