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When They’re Starving

The Apothecary Diaries, volume 10

By Natsu Hyuuga (Translated by Kevin Steinbach)

8 May, 2024


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2021’s The Apothecary Diaries: Volume 10 is the tenth installment of Natsu Hyuuga’s ongoing Apothecary Diaries secondary-universe light-novel series. Illustrations are by Touko Shino. The 2024 English translation is by Kevin Steinbach.

Apothecary/gray-market physician Maomao joins an imperial mission to the capital of the empire’s western province of I‑Sei. Mysteries await, some obvious and some very obscure.

One mystery in which Maomao is not directly involved concerns provincial bookkeeping. For some reason, the western province seems to have been overreporting its crops. Underreporting would be nothing new: simply an attempt to dodge taxes. It falls to the emperor’s brother (and Maomao’s boss/future husband) to determine why a province would lie and pay more than their fair share.

Maomao and her colleagues have long been aware that some provinces are subject to periodic catastrophes in the form of vast swarms of grasshoppers. Why these happen when they do is unclear. The current signs point to an impending swarm. While alternate crops potentially less vulnerable to the swarms have been introduced, famine is still likely.

Maomao discovers that at one time the Windreader tribe conducted periodic rituals that appear to have blunted, even prevented the swarms. The swarms only took their modern form when the Windreaders were obliterated by a raiding clan. Without the ritual (whatever it was) the grasshoppers became a periodic catastrophe.

Reconstructing the ritual with only a fragmentary account from a now-elderly repentant raider seems almost impossible. But were the Windreaders truly exterminated or does some remnant survive? Either way, Maomao needs time to deal with the problem… time which has just run out.


Admission of failure: I don’t understand why I‑Sei overreported their crops. I must be missing something.

Having dangled the possibility of another catastrophic insect swarm for many books, the author has now pulled the trigger. Future volumes will explore the consequences of major crop losses, and whether or not the empire’s coping mechanisms will prove sufficient. Maomao has a foot in both aristocratic and lower-class camps; she will no doubt grasp the scale of the catastrophe better than will the cozened aristocrats of the capital1.

That said, the current imperial dynasty is, to put it mildly, troubled, facing external enemies as well as internal decline. A catastrophic famine is just the sort of event that ends dynasties. No doubt the imperial family is aware of this.

Unlike the swarm plot, the Jinshi/Maomao romance has slowed to pace even slower than glacial. Is the problem politics? Is the problem just Maomao and Jinshi? I’ve given up hoping for progress on that subplot. The emperor might have to personally intervene to fix whatever is stalling things.

A recurring theme in these novels is that current generations must deal with the repercussions of previous generations’ political machinations. In this novel, we learn that it suited one faction’s short-term goals to encourage the belief that all of the Windreaders had been killed by raiders. This bold gambit not only attracted the empire’s belated but comprehensive anger2, it triggered a cycle of ecological disasters. Thank goodness that readers live in real world nations where short-term concerns never outweigh the long-term. No reader need worry that there may be parallels between the events of the series and those of the reader’s impending future.

The Apothecary Diaries: Volume 10 is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Kobo). I did not find Volume 10 at either Chapters-Indigo or Words Worth Books.

1: Maomao will grasp the scale of the looming catastrophe, but she is more likely to focus on practical measures rather than fret at the immense human tragedy. Which is just as well.

2: The empire follows the venerable policy of executing anyone even faintly connected to transgressors. Presumably, this is to prevent a cycle of revenge. It’s also the sort of policy that can inspire an otherwise loyal subject with poor taste in relatives to rebel on the grounds that they might as well, given that their second cousin three times removed has already doomed them to execution. So far in this series, that has not happened. So far.