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.