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A Series of Cunning Plans

The Apothecary Diaries, volume 8

By Natsu Hyuuga (Translated by Kevin Steinbach)

30 Aug, 2023



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2019’s The Apothecary Diaries: Volume 8 is the eighth light novel in Natsu Hyuuga’s Apothecary Diaries series. The illustrations are by Touko Shino. The 2023 English language edition was translated by Kevin Steinbach.

In which our heroes (one of whom is apothecary and occasional consulting detective Maomao) explore the exciting world of unintended consequences of clear-eyed, sensible public policy.

In a previous volume, some women’s health issues were traced back to the use of lead-based makeup. The kingdom of Li subsequently banned the makeup. This presented merchants with a challenge: how to use up a stock of an ingredient they were now forbidden to sell for its original purpose? While some simply adulterated legitimate face powder with their illicit product, others embraced a bolder strategy.

A fad for western wine is sweeping Li. The journey from the west being long, the wine often arrives having taken the first steps towards vinegar. Several solutions present themselves. One could convince customers that western wine is supposed to taste sour. Alternatively, one can simply use the stocks of banned lead-based powder to sweeten the wine, thus rendering the wine palatable while using up stocks of powder. The second option is win-win, except for the people who die of lead poisoning.

One public health problem can lead to another.

Another problem faces Maomao. Her biological father Lakan — the Freak” to Maomao — arrives at a characteristically eccentric way to deal with his grief for his late lover, Maomao’s mother. Lakan is an unparalleled Go player, matched only by the Emperor’s Go coach and by Maomao’s mother. To commemorate his late love, Lakan publishes a book containing the games he played with Maomao’s mother.

This gesture being insufficient, Lakan orchestrates a grand Go tourney. Players who play particularly well may earn a match with Lakan himself. This intrigues the emperor’s younger brother Jinshi. Defeating Lakan could place Jinshi closer to his goals. However, Jinshi is an unremarkable Go player. He cannot win on skill alone. That leaves underhanded tricks.…


Readers may wonder what happened to the famine foreshadowed in previous volumes. It’s still being foreshadowed: swarms of egg-bearing locusts denude villages of anything edible.

Li prefers to discourage would-be criminals1 with draconian punishments. Given the behavior of merchants in this volume, energetically poisoning wine to render it more palatable, one can understand Li’s inclination in this matter. Too bad this approach is so often counter-productive.

Whereas Maomao appears content to deal with puzzle after puzzle, Jinshi is focused on two goals. The first is to avoid ever being saddled with the job of emperor. Tricky, given that emperors are sometimes short-lived and this particular imperial family has a desperate shortage of living heirs2.

Jinshi’s second goal is to marry Maomao. Given Jinshi is wealthy, of high social status, incredibly good looking, charming, and just as intelligent as Maomao, it would seem an irresistible match for the apothecary. However, Maomao is her father’s daughter3 and naturally uncooperative. All the arguments in favour of marriage only inspire her to consider the matter with great suspicion. All I will say about the romance is that Jinshi’s actions bring his romantic campaign within measurable distance of its end.

This volume was entertaining but perhaps a bit less so than previous volumes. This can be attributed to the author’s disinclination to pull the trigger on various ongoing plots: at some point Jinshi and Maomao have to either marry or not marry. At some point the famine will arrive, at which point readers will learn if preparations are effective or not. What happens will not be found in this book. Nevertheless, the individual mysteries and the social maneuvering kept my interest.

The Apothecary Diaries: Volume 8 is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), and here (Barnes & Noble). I did not find it at Chapters-Indigo, despite the fact the book is available here (Kobo).

1: Li takes an expansive view of criminal behavior. Sometimes, simply being related to the wrong person is sufficient.

2: The royal family would have more heirs if women were allowed to rule.

3: Maomao would be tremendously offended if anyone suggested she and her biological father were in any way similar.