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.