The Apothecary Diaries, Vol. 10

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 a very odd feeling reading this volume at the same time as the anime is adapting the second one. The setting of the first eight books (OK, minus Book 5) is entirely absent, as we’re still doing Maomao and Jinshi’s Excellent Adventure. This is not to say that there is not political wheeling and dealing – in fact, the climax of this volume depends on that fact. But this book is ten volumes in, and we’re not concerned with the ways of courtesans and court ladies anymore, but with potatoes, crops and insects. It would be the perfect book for a certain insect-loving court lady to make her triumphant return, but alas (Maomao does think of her, at least). And while we do get a bit of Maomao’s standard detective schtick, for the most part this book is a race against time against an all-powerful enemy… one that arrives near the end of the book and wipes out nearly everything. This is what Jinshi and Maomao have spent a while trying to avoid.

We’re still out in the West, where Maomao, Tianyu, and the quack doctor are theoretically there to maintain the Moon Prince’s health (because, lest we forget, he gave himself a horrific wound to show off the depth of his love), but in reality they’re there to try to figure out how to stop the impending famine. Arriving at a local village (and joined by Lahan’s older brother, who, since the quack doctor got a name in the last volume, becomes the new running gag), they find that the villagers don’t really care about the crops that much, as whether they’re good or bad the Governor will subsidize them. (Does this sound familiar?) There is one old man who is doing all the right things… because of a tragic backstory, of course. A tragic backstory that becomes very important as Maomao and company realize that the Biblical plague of locusts is coming towards them NOW.

The book is excellent, with a fantastic climax, and a nice twist showing that for all his supposed status Jinshi can still be used by others who are better at dirty politics. But you’ll pardon me if I talk about the romance in this one. For the most part, the romances in this series tend to be either “toxic but also the main draw” (Maomao/Jinshi), or are established couples. But we did see a hint of something purer in Book 6, which sadly could not really develop because Book 6 was a giant nightmare for them. Yes, Lishu is back, and she’s raising ducks in the West. And taking to them like… well, like a duck to water. Frankly, she looks far happier here than she ever was as a Consort. Her reunion with Basen, though it does not lead to an actual commitment (she claims to still be too weak for that, and she has a point), is so sugary it will give you diabetes, but that actually tastes really good next to the toxicity that is Maomao and her Moon Prince.

That said, the character I really want to see after this book is Gyoku-ou, who is being set up to be the next big antagonist. Cannot wait for Book 11.

Oh yes, and Chue is still practically perfect in every way. But you knew that, of course.

The Apothecary Diaries, Vol. 9

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.

I may not mention it often in these reviews, possibly as I’m distracted by all the crime solving, political dealings, and Maomao slowly learning that she can rely on others for things, but The Apothecary Diaries can also be a comedy, and it has some very, very good jokes. This is possibly the funniest volume of all, featuring a new character (we’d seen her a bit before, but she’s in full flower here) who is here solely to be hilarious, and it works. Honestly, some of the humor is fourth wall breaking to an extent, be it Chue pulling little flags of the nations out of her sleeves (I hope we see some doves or rabbits next book) or En’en pulling out fans with “:Go for it, Yao!” written on them to cheer her on when she’s trying to earnestly get her point across. Unfortunately for Yao and En’en, we may not see them for a volume or two, as The Apothecary Diaries is going on a world tour.

After the stunning events of the last volume, Maomao is now being forced to learn surgery on the fly in order to tend to Jinshi’s brand and make sure that it doesn’t get infected. This will require more knowledge than she has, so she’s forced to go to her adopted father, who presents her with an impossible problem to solve… well, it would be impossible for Maomao by herself, as she doesn’t care about things that don’t interest her, but with Yao and En’en also there, she’s able to discover it (and learn more about Luomen’s somewhat tragic past). Now she’s learning how to be a surgeon the hard way, especially since women aren’t allowed to be surgeons, but everyone is politely ignoring it given who her father is, who her adopted father is, and who her not-yet-lover is. All of this is to prepare for a sea voyage, as Jinshi is being sent to the West to see what’s going on with Gyokuyou’s older brother.

It has to be said, a lot of the appeal of this series is “weak-willed men are led around by the nose of strong women”, and if you like that, this is also the volume for you. Basen’s older brother Baryou is so ill and apathetic that Chue basically has to “do all the work” in order to get a child (and she’s being asked for a second one, so asks Maomao not to bother her at night). As for Jinshi, he and Maomao are sort of being cagey around each other after the last book, and it lasts until the end of this one, when Maomao finally snaps and tells Jinshi that if he’s going to be so manipulative that he brands himself to get her to stay with him, the least he can do is actually manipulate her properly, rather than being half-assed about it. Jinshi’s response to this is that he wants her to slap him, which is a bit too masochistic for my tastes, but certainly fits his character.

I didn’t even get to talk about Yao, who is fantastic in this book, though I fear she’s going to be a lot less happy because she lacks Maomao’s connections. In any case, this is a good read, especially if you’re waiting for the anime to debut later this week.

The Apothecary Diaries, Vol. 8

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.

For most of the volume this almost seems like a short story book, with Maomao running around dealing with various things one by one. It’s only when we get near the end that we realize that all the stories we’d seen earlier are all tying together, and all of them are there to show off Maomao and how good she is at what she does, whether that be medicine, or crime-solving, or even just being blunt as hell. She may be annoyed about all of this, but she still does it, mostly for the promise of good food, good medicine, or the chance to avoid people that she’d rather never deal with again, i,e, Lakan, who is slightly less annoying than he normally is in these books, but that’s only because he’s performing the equivalent of a wake. And this all culminates in a final scene that I really don’t want to spoil, which is basically “who gets Maomao?”, and the consequences are larger than you think.

Maomao spends a lot of the book with Yao and En’en by her side, wondering offhandedly if this might be that thing humans call… friendship? She’s just gotten a pile of Go books written by Lakan, presumably as a present, and she’s desperate to sell them, especially when she hears how much people might actually be willing to pay for a book written by a legendary player. But first she has to solve the question of why the consistency of the makeup at a store has changed, the question of which of three identical triplets raped an underage girl, and the question of who stole – or sabotaged – the Empress’ hair stick, perhaps as a threat. All of this culminates in a massive Go tournament, with the rumor being that if anyone can defeat Lakan, he will grant them one wish. The rumor is fake, but that doesn’t stop someone from wondering if this is a way to solve his problems…

After featuring heavily in the first few books, we haven’t seen much of Gyokuyou recently, and this book tries to make up for it. She’s not having a great time right now. Her servants keep leaving (as tends to happen, they mostly leave to get married), and new ones are not coming her way because of her manipulative brother. Fortunately, she has a set of identical triplets (no relation, though they also are caught up in one of the crimes Maomao has to solve) to help her, but her oldest attendant is now over 30 and still not married, which is worrying. She *really* misses Maomao, who is a masterclass at cutting to the heart of everything. Unfortunately, she’s reckoned without the fact that Jinshi is ALSO really missing Maomao, and he’s far more obsessed with her than Gyokuyou is. I will not spoil the final scene, but it’s dynamite, with Maomao for once not being able to do anything as the three most powerful people in the country fight over her.

It does leave the question of where we go from here. The blurb for the 9th novel is suitably vague, so we shall see. Till then, please enjoy another book of this very prickly young woman who absolutely everyone adores.