The Apothecary Diaries, Vol. 2

By Natsu Hyuuga and Touko Shino. Released in Japan as “Kusuriya no Hitorigoto” by Hero Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Kevin Steinbach.

The second volume in the series serves to give readers who loved the first book more of what they loved. Maomao solves some mysteries, glares at her not-love interest, kvells over any poison she can possibly ingest, and manages to upend the entirety of the Emperor’s palace. And this doesn’t even count her new job she gains in this volume, which is teaching very specific subjects to the four high consorts. Or scoping out a soldier’s chances at winning over a woman he likes as if he was a stud horse. Or helping to resolve the issue of an inheritance… an inheritance that also finds itself coming up over and over again throughout the book. Folks have compared this to Ascendance of a Bookworm, and they share one big thing in common, which is that they reward a reader who pays close attention to things and remembers prior events. You get the feeling that Maomao will be going places over the course of this series, though I suspect she may go to these places kicking and screaming.

After the events at the end of the last book, Maomao is now back at the palace, working for Jinshi officially by cleaning his rooms and such, and unofficially by solving crimes, though she always has to be bribed or goaded into doing so. Sometimes she doesn’t even need to be dragged – when a fire with a supposed unknown cause is mentioned, she’s quick to bolt over to the site looking for clues. And sometimes she absolutely refuses, such as when it’s anything to do with Lakan, the eccentric military man who’s been hanging around Jinshi lately and who seems to want to meet Maomao come rain or come shine. Who he is is easily guessed, but the relationship between them proves surprisingly nuanced, and even Maomao, whose glare can kill tigers at 400 yards, can occasionally display a soft side.

This series is not meant to be a comedy… except it’s frequently absolutely hilarious. We don’t get the specifics of Maomao’s “education” class for the consorts, but their reactions show what it must have been like, and the fact that she occasionally provides them the equivalent of Amanda Quick novels as bribes later on is even better. Then there’s the goofy soldier Lihaku, who Maomao tends to think of as a dog, and who has a crush on one of the three princesses at the establishment Maomao grew up around, and asks what it might take to buy her out of there (presumably so he can marry her). Maomao, knowing that princess and her proclivities, evaluates him solely on strength and stamina, with a wonderful punchline. That said, there’s also good drama here, such as when Maomao tries to stop a murder meant to look like an “accident”, as well as Lakan’s backstory.

As with the first volume, I can’t recommend this enough. For everyone who say yet another isekai licensed and wondered when we’d get a light novel series for adults – this! This is it!

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