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.
One of the enjoyable things about the Apothecary Diaries is that, while it will always bee about the relationship between Maomao and Jinshi to a degree, if you’re completely uninterested in that sort of thing there’s still a whole lot to get out of every volume. There are the mysteries, of course, as everyone and their brother wants Maomao to apply her cunning and figure out Who’s Killin’ Who. There is Maomao herself, who has an idea of what social niceties and graces are and has decided to tell them “no thank you”. And there’s an increasingly fun cast, including the amusingly carefree Xiaolan, who spends most of the novel learning to read – and unlike what most books of this sort would do, she proves to be pretty good at it once given proper education. And then there’s Shisui, who is my new Best Girl, and is basically to bugs what Maomao is to poisons. It’s tough to be so eccentric that Maomao is mistaken for you, but this girl can pull it off.
When Maomao is not busy snarking at Jinshi or “the quack doctor”, she is helping Jinshi to try to educate the people min the rear palace, discovers a cat that is quickly named after her (sort of), deals with a caravan that is selling all the ladies fragrant perfumes… some of which are potentially dangerous; trying to solve a recent disappearance that turns into a not-so-recent murder; figures out how a sheltered young woman snuck past her guards and got pregnant; discovers that the issues surrounding Consort Lihua, which is what started this series off, have not vanished; and ends up going on a hunting trip with a disguised Jinshi, which ends up turning far more dangerous than either of them had anticipated.
As I said last time, the series rewards close reading, and having prior volumes on hand. There are several pregnancies in this book, and several chapters dealing with people who are trying their hardest to make sure that those pregnancies are unsuccessful… or are they? It *could* just all be a coincidence. On the lighter side, for those who ARE reading the book for the relationship between Maomao and Jinshi, the last quarter of the book is pure gold. Somethign we had long suspected is finally straight up admitted, and you will never be able to see the words “decently sized amphibian” again without laughing. Maomao herself seems more determined than ever to avoid going anywhere near this – she’s very aware of how Jinshi feels, what it would mean for her future, and how she really does NOT want to deal with it. Even if she does go gaga when he gives her the right present.
So yes, this remains essential reading provided you don’t mind that it’s got the Emperor and his many consorts, or that the heroine (not one of the consorts) can kill a man with her sharp tongue at 500 yards.)