Clouds of Mystery
The Apothecary Diaries, volume 2
By Natsu Hyuuga (Translated by Kevin Steinbach)
The Apothecary Diaries: Volume 2 is the second volume in Natsu Hyuuga’s illustrated light novel series, The Apothecary Diaries. Illustrations are by Touko Shino. The English translation is by Kevin Steinbach.
Court eunuch1 Jinshi made an allusive comment that was misinterpreted; it cost his protégé Maomao her job in the Rear Palace, where the emperor’s wives and concubines live. He attempted to repair his error by recruiting her to the Outer Court.
The eunuch’s cunning plan to rehire Maomao hit a snag when she failed the entrance exam. She hadn’t had a conventional education, as she was raised in a red-light district. That gives her skills that are extremely valuable to Jinshi, but not appreciated by bureaucrats. Jinshi then hired Maomao as his personal maid, with the understanding that she’s going to be brains rather than brawn.
As Jinshi expected, he is soon confronted by problems that Maomao and only Maomao can solve. What bureaucrat could recognize a dust explosion when they see one? deduce how and to what purpose a gourmet aristocrat was poisoned? or understand how a criminal audaciously escaped just punishment? What bureaucrat could figure out that someone is attempting to injure or kill Jinshi?
Maomao also has an eventful personal life.
A) Back in the red-light district, courtesan Pairin (whom Maomao regards as a mother) is considering retiring from the life and marrying Lihaku. Would he make a suitable husband? And how could Maomao tell?
B) Lakan is a talented general, but he’s socially clumsy and creepy. He’s pestering Jinshi, but Jinshi isn’t his real target. It’s Maomao. Why? Lakan is her biological father and in his pushy, vaguely menacing way, Lakan is determined to claim his neglected offspring as his own …
The illustrations are perfectly serviceable. Pairing illustrations with text means that the e‑book file is almost 20 megabytes. If you have the much room on your e‑reader, fine (I don’t). If you don’t, you’ll have to read this on a laptop or a desktop.
The translation is a bit odd from time to time. Quasi-historical novels should avoid phrases like “it didn’t compute for her.”
Many of Lakan’s odder behaviors are due to an unusual cognitive disability, one which may have been useful in his professional life but which complicates his social life considerably. (I’m not going to tell you what it is; that would be a mega spoiler.) He doesn’t intend be to threatening (he has armed soldiers for that!). He’s just very good at giving the impression he’s up to something unpleasant and untoward.
There is little hope of reconciliation between Lakan and his daughter. Lakan didn’t raise her2; her adoptive father did. Still, knowing that she’s the child of a canny general and an even more brilliant courtesan, a child then raised by a brilliant apothecary, explains why she’s as talented as she is and why her perspective is so curiously distorted.
The work gives the initial impression of a collection of loosely related mysteries. This is not the case. Ultimately, these come together delightfully. It’s nicely done, which ensures I will acquire future volumes of The Apothecary Diaries.
The Apothecary Diaries, Volume 2 is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Chapters-Indigo).
I did not find The Apothecary Diaries, Volume 2 at Book Depository.
1: Jinshi is a eunuch who has been chemically rather than surgically castrated. The procedure is reversible! I assume that this will be relevant to the plot of future volumes. The author is strewing tantalizing plot hooks right and left, like caltrops on a path.
2: Lakan had an affair with a courtesan and tried to buy out her contract; he attempted to do so with what he thought was a brilliant gambit.
Things went very wrong for reasons outside his control. Since no senior functionary would ever state facts when they could simply hint suggestively, Lakan’s comments on the matter leave the impression that he committed some unspeakable crime to bring down the cost of his true love’s contract, which, as it turns out, is not the case.