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.

The Apothecary Diaries, Vol. 7

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.

As I was reading this volume, I was reminded of that meme that went around a while back from the Buzzfeed Unsolved show. “I did meet some of the most insufferable people in the world, BUT they also met me.” Maomao may spend a great deal of time bemoaning the folks she has to deal with, but there’s no denying that she’s even more of a pain in the neck on a regular basis. “Please ignore that man, one of the most powerful in the country, who keeps stalking me and says I’m his daughter. Please ignore that I am good friends with the Empress and Consort #2. Please ignore that I apparently love to ingest poison for fun. I am just a normal woman and want to quietly go about my day… oh look, another murder attempt.” Honestly, some readers might feel less exhausted if this were the adventures of Maomao the cat, back at her apothecary house, avoiding snuggles and yawning, rather than the prickly Maomao the human.

Maomao is forced to take the Civil Service exam once more, and is told that She. Will. Pass. She reluctantly passes, and is now back in the palace, one of five new medical students. Erm, three medical students, as two get culled for essentially being extra baggage. The other two are Yao, who seems like a bullying ojousama at first but turns out to merely be a sheltered and earnest girl, and En’en, her friend and attendant who enjoys watching everything that Yao does. As the three of them learn their trade, we also pick up with events from previous books, as the Shrine Maiden of neighboring Shaoh is now ensconsed in a remote part of the palace, and there seems to be something wrong with her. Is she hiding something? Is she really who she seems? And is she going to be publicly assassinated in a way that might lead to war?

First of all, the best part of this book, by far, are the two new characters. Yao is wonderful, and frankly I was very, very worried that she was going to be killed off for tragedy. (It’s a near thing, and the book lampshades that she’s avoiding the very real consequences of what should have happened to her.) En’en allows us to see a smart, crafty woman who doesn’t have Maomao’s natural bitterness and eccentricity. She’s also in love with Yao, something that is mostly used for comedy here (Jinshi picks her as his attendant as he knows she won’t be there just to hit on him), but which I’m hoping might be taken more seriously later on. And while Apothecary Diaries is not a foodie book like Culinary Chronicles of the Court Flower, a lot of this volume relied on food knowledge and what it can do to the human body. It’ll make you hungry, but good luck eating what’s in here.

All this plus zero sexual assaults! A strong volume, and I hope that Yao and En’en become regulars going forward.