25 Days of Manga, Day 13 of 25 – The Apothecary Diaries Vol. 1 (Review)

Publisher: Square Enix Books

Story: Natsu Hyuuga

Art: Nekokurage

Compiled by: Itsuki Nanao

Character Design: Touco Shino

Translator: Julie Goniwich

Letterer: Lys Blakeslee

Editor: Tania Biswas

Cover: Andrea Miller

Genre: Historical Fiction

Rating: T (Teen/13+)

Release Date: 12/08/2020

MSRB: US $10.99 / CAN $14.99

Reviewer’s Note: I purchased this copy of The Apothecary Diaries Vol. 1 using my own personal funds. No review copy was proved. All manga reviews are spoiler-free and image-free unless noted in the review. Opinions are my own.

Today’s manga is a recent purchase that dropped just five days ago. It’s also a title I’ve been really, really excited to see get localized. That’s right: I’m talking about The Apothecary Diaries Vol. 1, a historical fiction manga all about Maomao, a girl who really can do it all!

The Apothecary Diaries Vol. 1 follows Maomao, a 17-year-old girl trained in herbal medicine, and her new life in the inner palace. However, this is not a life she chose: she was forced into its perfumed halls and forced into drudgery as a maid. Yet Maomao still has her wits about her, and when she breaks a “curse” on the imperial heirs, her actions catch the attention of Jinshi, who prompts her to attendant food taster. Yet it soon becomes clear that Jinshi has plans for Maomao, and soon she’s back to her herbs… and solving mysteries!

Maomao is a really interesting character to tell this story though. Brought to the Jade Palace by force -really, by being captured and sold to the rear palace by her kidnappers- Maomao represents an outside having to now find a life within the palace. She’s reasonably not thrilled about that: after all, on the outside in the pleasure quarters she once called home, she practiced medicine. Medicine that she had a true passion for. Now… that’s all gone: that is, until the plot kicks off and it isn’t.

Additionally, Maomao is quite a smart lead. She’s also incredibly snarky, ratherrealistic and yet, not completely disillusioned. In fact, a lot of the joy of this story comes from seeing Maomao finally develop in the Jade Palace, which is where the story -thus far- is set. However, despite her attempts to be discreet and fade into the wallpaper, sMaomao’s literacy and abilities with herbs and medicine quickly make her a consistent heroine as she unravels a wide range of cases in the imperial harem and beyond.

Jinshi, her counterpart and the man who discovers her actions -in relation to said “curse” from the summary- is also an interesting character. He initially appears as a beautiful eunuch who simply works within and presides over the Emperor’s harem. He’s a nice foil to Maomao: he’s playful where Maomao is serious, childish where she’s stoic and more straightlaced. They’re a good pair, and honestly, I’m really curious about where their relationship will go. It’s clear that Jinshi has a vested interest in Maomao that may go past her being a skilled apothecary and savior of two consorts and a newborn imperial babe, but as to if that’ll turn romantic… well, time will tell.

Thankfully, they’re not the only fascinating characters either: there’s Lady Gyokuyou, the Emperor’s favorite consort, and Lady Lihua, his second favorite and a well-known beauty in the harem. There’s maids and side characters galore…okay, so basically, what I’m trying to say is that there’s a lot of very liakble characters, and this is only volume one.

Currently, J-Novel club is releasing the original novels on a weekly basis with multiple parts already available on their site. Since I’m a premium member, I used my credit from last month to pre-order to ebook in full so I can have it for Feb. 2021, which is when volume one releases. While I could read it via their chapter-by-chapter releases right now, I tend to prefer having a complete, compiled volume versus chapter by chapter, at least when it comes to prose. Hopefully, J-Novel will be able to do a print edition of this series: I’m already enamoured enough that I can easily see myself picking it up in multiple editions.

All in all, The Apothecary Diaries is a solid first volume that teases Maomao’s new life as an apothecary and food taster under Lady Gyokuyou. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where things go in volume 2 of the manga, and I’m even more eager to see how things progress in the original novels. Definitely pick up this title if you’re in the mood for a bit of historical fiction: I think it’ll satisfy your tastes!

TL;DR: The Apothecary Diaries Vol. 1 is a solid first volume that showcases lead Maomao’s new life as court apothecary and attendant food taster under one Lady Gyokuyou, the Emperor’s favorite consort in the Jade Palace. While this volume contains a lot of set-up, it also gives a lot of insight into Maomao and Jinshi, the two leads for this series. It also showcases some of the “mysteries” Maomao will face as she continues to work with medicine and reside within the imperial harem. All in all, it’s a very enjoyable read that hints at a lot of neat developments as the series continues.

Read If You Like…
* Historical fiction and drama
* Female-led stories
* Fiction set in historic Chinese-inspired lands
* Court intrigue and mysteries
* Stories about potions and poisons

Rating: 🟊🟊🟊🟊 / 4 out of 5 stars

Bingo Card: N/A

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