The Apothecary Diaries, Vol. 6

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.

It’s time for another volume of everyone’s favorite mystery series, Murder, She Grumped. We pick up where we left off, with Maomao and Jinshi at the Western Capital (and with Maomao decidedly avoiding an extremely horny Jinshi, who is so horny he’s willing to try it on with his bodyguard), but we soon get a suicide that is not what it seems. After this they finally go home (separately, Jinshi still has to wrap up investigations) and Maomao is tricked/lured by Lahan into dealing with “family business”, something that makes her very unhappy, even as we learn about how glorious potatoes can be. That said, I think the main draw of this book is not going to be Maomao but Lishu, a girl who is trapped in a series whose base qualities are set up to destroy her, and when she gets tangled up in the ongoing plot, she is very nearly destroyed. For once, I found the non-Maomao segments in the book very interesting indeed.

A chunk of this book revolves around the cultural disconnect between East and West, as one of the plot points is that the “love letter” that Lishu had been writing, which gets her in big trouble, is actually her transcribing a translated version of Romeo and Juliet, which has taken the rear palace by storm. The funniest part of the book may be when both Maomao and Jinshi find the plot of the play incredibly annoying, pointing out how miscommunication is not tragic, just frustrating, and all the sobbing young women who say they just don’t get it. Maomao is her usual excellent self here, pretending to have an uncaring, logical mind while constantly helping everyone around her. She’s still not back at the palace yet… but honestly, Jinshi visits her constantly, so that’s fine.

And poor Lishu. The concept of the “weak” Consort being bullied by everyone around her, including her own servants, is not unique to this series, but that doesn’t mean that the emotional impact is lessened. Lishu goes through a lot in this book and the previous one, from almost getting killed by a lion, to being accused of infidelity to the Emperor and locked in a tower, to (perhaps worst of all, and the lead-up even gets an illustration) having Maomao need to “verify” for the official record that she’s still a virgin. She’s not a candidate for the Emperor’s bed, and honestly, I don’t think she’s the sort to eventually win over those around her by being sweet and kind… she’s simply too ineffectual even to achieve that. Her ending here is probably the best one we can possibly expect, and I hope that she has a far better life going forward than she’s had to date.

That said, we do now have a vacant Consort position. While I briefly considered the idea of it going to Maomao, and howled with laughter (till I realized she would probably castrate me if she heard me), I suspect it will be part of the plot of future books. The part that is not about Maomao investigating crimes like the most sullen Angela Lansbury ever.

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