The Apothecary Diaries, Volume One is the first volume in Natsu Hyuuga’s episodic historical mystery series of light novels. The illustrator is Nekokurage. The 2020 English edition was translated by Kevin Steinbach.
Kidnapped by greedy villagers, Maomao was sold to the hougong, the rear palace. This is a sprawling residence for the emperor’s many wives and consorts, as well as for the eunuchs and servants who tend to them. Steadfastly unsentimental and practical, Maomao set out to keep a low profile until her term of service was up and she could return home. (Home is a red-light district where she lived with her doting apothecary stepfather.)
Maomao would like out for several reasons. She’s homesick, yes, but she’s also afraid for her life. The hougong is a hotbed of vicious rivalry. To be noticed by the powerful is to become a target for jealous and quite possibly homicidal hougong folk. Better to be a mere servant than a figure of interest.
Maomao is too clever by half and becomes a figure of interest.