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.

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.

The Apothecary Diaries, Vol. 5

y 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 the most part, this is something of a transitional volume of The Apothecary Diaries, at least until the end. While Maomao is no longer at the palace, she’s still very much involved in everyday life, and now she has a little boy to look after (who proves to be quite an artist). There are several interlinking plots, one of which is likely to stick around – there’s a potential famine on the way, which was figured out by the fact that there are more grasshoppers than locusts around, something I absolutely did not know, so kudos there. Maomao even finds time to attend the theater, where we see a magic act that looks pretty impressive, but which is fairly easily explained by a combination of tricks and drugging the audience. The second half of the book, though, is more interesting, as Maomao is taken by Jinshi to a banquet in the western part of the country, and all hell breaks loose, both figuratively and literally.

Let’s leave Maomao and Jinshi for later and talk about the other parts of this book. I really enjoyed seeing Maomao back in her hometown and fitting in very well… she even takes on an apprentice, who has a very good memory, something required in an apothecary. The apprentice will no doubt be necessary soon, as there’s no way Maomao stays here long. Indeed, the second half of the book is a big field trip, first where she goes to the quack doctor’s hometown and meets his family (who she refuses to name, continuing this book’s longest running gag). I must admit Maomao challenging a bunch of assholes to a drinking contest may be the best part of the book, especially when she worries she’ll lose not by getting too drunk but by having to pee. I also really liked her relationship with Lishu, who is a trembling bird of a woman who turns out to be bullied at home and at the palace. That said, maybe she’s found a guy… which is more than can be said for Maomao.

The final scene should technically be romantic, but is instead deeply uncomfortable to me. I have never seen someone so blatantly determined not to fall in love as Maomao is in this series. The Emperor is pushing Jinshi to get married, and things are not going well, mostly as Jinshi only wants Maomao. For once there isn’t really a class or status problem here – *if* Maomao were to admit to her birth parentage, which she really really does not want to do. She desperately wants Jinshi to marry anyone else mostly to try to get rid of the undeniable tension between them. The final scene features Jinshi, in a bit of a rage at Maomao’s attempts to brush him off, literally almost choke her to death, and it’s horrifying. As is Maomao’s response to this, which amounts to “gotta do this, I guess”. It’s a good thing that this series is a large number of volumes, as if Jinshi and Maomao got together now as they both are, bad things would happen.

This remains one of the best light novel series out there, an absolutely riveting read. If you’re reading it for the romance, though, I’m so sorry. Also, I forgot to mention the lion. There is a lion.