The Apothecary Diaries, Vol. 4

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.

Ah, nothing like another review where I can’t talk about half of what I want to because it would spoil. I know that half the time my reviews spoil the entire book anyway, but there are very good plot twists here, and I don’t really want to give them away. As such, I will simply say that I am looking back on some comments I made in my review of the third volume and laughing hollowly. Other than that, well, this particular volume is taking care to wrap up all the plotlines that have been dangling since it began. Jinshi’s identity and why he’s hiding it, Maomao’s friendship with Xiaolan and Shisui, and the long-standing question of who will be Empress are all dealt with here, and we even get a few action scenes towards the end and some chilling torture… well, it would be chilling were it not Maomao, who does have the ability to be terrified, but not when the danger is this pathetic.

After the events of the last book Maomao has been studiously avoiding Jinshi and trying not to think about what she found when she accidentally groped him. She’s back with Gyokuyou, who is quite pregnant. That said, the pregnancy may be an issue, as all signs are that the baby wants to come out the wrong way around. This means they need an expert, which brings Maomao’s adopted father to the rear palace. Elsewhere, Maomao may have found her new calling in body hair removal, and Maomao the kitten is busy getting up to no good. However, things take a far more serious turn in the second half of the book when Maomao attempts to sleuth on her own about various lingering mysteries from the previous books… and ends up kidnapped! Can she manage to get back to the rear palace, and if she does will she get punished anyway? And what’s with our favorite bug-loving maid?

As of this review, there are 11 volumes of The Apothecary Diaries out in Japan, so the series isn’t ending. But this certainly feels like a good stopping place. By the end of the book most of the subplots have been resolved, Jinshi has been forced to stop hiding, and, as Maomao herself puts it, with Gyokuyou now being Empress Maomao is out of a job. The romance is not really resolved, but then it’s hard to imagine how it COULD resolve – leaving aside status issues, which can easily be taken care of if Maomao acknowledges who her birth father is, there’s the fact that Maomao is seemingly apathetic about it. I think she has repressed desire for Jinshi, no question, but I think the idea of being a consort, bride, wife, whatever you call it galls her. No doubt it galls the reader too, who would much rather watch Mao wander around playing Murder, She Wrote.

So the question now is, what needs to happen to get Maomao back to the rear palace, because I’m pretty sure the rest of the series is not going to involve her sitting in her apothecary shop in the pleasure district. Can’t wait to find out, because this is one of the best written light novels coming out right now.

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