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The Apothecary Diaries, volume 9

By Natsu Hyuuga 

17 Jan, 2024



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2020’s The Apothecary Diaries: Volume 9 is the ninth light novel in Natsu Hyuuga’s secondary-universe quasi-historical Apothecary Diaries mystery series. The illustrations are by Touko Shino. The 2023 English language edition was translated by Kevin Steinbach.

Series love-interest Jinshi removed himself from Li’s imperial succession by branding himself. Luckily for the badly burned Jinshi, he has Maomao on hand to treat the burn. Less luckily, Maomao is an apothecary, not an actual physician.

The good news: Maomao’s adopted father was a physician and despite his reluctance to train Maomao in certain matters, she is quite knowledgeable. As well, she and her associates Yao and En’en work for the palace medical office. With a bit of effort, they cajole their superiors into providing training.

There is a catch. The three women will not become physicians, because in Li, only men can be physicians. Instead, they will become women with all the skills of trained physicians, but who are nevertheless not physicians but something of lower status. Thus, the social order is maintained1.

A minor crisis looms. The Empress’ niece is entering the rear palace. Usually this means marrying the Emperor or at least becoming a concubine. The Empress is cool on this. Plan B would be to marry her to Jinshi. For various reasons (not least of which is that nobody not already in the know can be allowed to see that brand) such a marriage would be unwise.

A solution presents itself in the form of a mystery. A distant province is overpaying its taxes. Jinshi is dispatched to discover why. Maomao is, of course, ordered to accompany him. It is off to the West for the unofficial couple and their entourage of allies and hangers-on.


One of the issues Maomao faces is that conventional Li medicine has firm taboos about desecrating bodies, which makes gaining knowledge about the internal structure of humans tricky. There are workarounds that rely on everyone involved turning a blind eye to how the would-be physicians gain their knowledge. However, it is entirely possible for unlucky doctors to face serious charges and execution if they are too good at their jobs. I wonder what the average lifespan in Li is?

I regret to report that progress on the Maomao-Jinshi romantic front is glacial. If anything, it is close to a standstill (if not actually regressing). This is entirely due to Maomao being almost as oblivious about people as is her biological father2 and because Li’s culture discourages such bold proclamations of affection as I am not unfond of you” or I dislike you less than others.” Maomao does at least get an inkling that Jinshi might actually care about her feelings when he arranges a double for her adopted father.

I also regret to report that this is less a novel than it is an installment between novels. In the past, the plots have meandered before suddenly accreted into a coherent story. That does not really happen in this volume. There are lots of events, one after the other, but events are not a plot. In a way, this is more like a collection than a novel.

Volume 9 is an inoffensive entry, if not as engaging as previous volumes. One hopes, however, that Volume 10 is a return to form. 

The Apothecary Diaries: Volume 9 is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Kobo). I did not find The Apothecary Diaries: Volume 9 at Chapters-Indigo.

1: Only a cad would point out that in many ways the aspiring women physicians and Maomao in particular are better suited to the position of physician than many of the men who are granted a chance at the role.

2: Maomao loathes her biological father, in large part due to characteristics she cannot see she shares with him.