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.