Based on a novel series by Natsu Hyuuga, The Apothecary Diaries, a seinen manga by Nekokurage and Itsuki Nanao, piqued my interest the moment I read the title and saw the lovely cover image. A period drama about a pharmacist? Sounds good to me!
When Maomao is kidnapped and sold to the Imperial palace to work as a laundry maid, she becomes determined to keep her head down and serve out her time quietly until she can get out and return to her father, who works as an apothecary. But when Maomao hears about a curse that supposedly kills all of the Emperor’s heirs during their infancy and notices how sickly some of the concubines and their babies are becoming, she can’t help but put her training to use and try to deduce the cause of their ailments. Her efforts inevitably draw attention to her and suddenly Maomao is more entangled with the politics of the inner court then she ever wished to be.
Part medical mystery series, part historical drama, The Apothecary Diaries is full of intrigue and political maneuvering, as the ladies of the inner court vie for the Emperor’s attention and Maomao does her best to stay out of trouble. But Maomao has an inquisitive nature and a passion for pharmaceutical research, so, in the end, no matter how sensible and cautious she wants to be, she can’t resist sticking her nose into other people’s business and trying to help them.
Maomao’s meddling earns her the gratitude of Consort Gyokuyo, a beautiful and intelligent concubine who is a current favourite of the Emperor, and it also attracts the interest of Jinshi, a clever and calculating man who’s exact position at court remains unclear, but who seems to have the Emperor’s ear. Jinshi is someone who is able to match wits with Maomao and keep her on her toes. He’s also handsome and knows how to use that to his advantage. While Maomao has remained, mostly, immune to his charms, thus far, I can see the beginnings of romantic interest starting to spark between them and I’m looking forward to seeing how their relationship develops.
I found Consort Gyokuyo to be a very interesting character – she’s in a rather precarious position, but knows how to play her cards right. Her wit and charm have won her the attentions of the Emperor, but this favour has also earned her a lot of enemies, some of whom want her dead. As such, she’s careful about who she lets close to her and has selected her ladies-in-waiting with care, meaning that they are all good people who are loyal to her. Now she’s welcomed Maomao into her inner-circle, something that was done in an attempt to reward her, but also because Gyokuyo is shrewd and Maomao’s skills make her very useful. Gyokuyo is also something of a sad figure – she might be the current favourite, but she could be discarded at any moment on a whim. The Emperor enjoys her company for the time being, but he’s know to be capricious and she’s all too aware of that fact. Despite this, Gyokuyo maintains a lively and pleasant demeanor, making her a good foil to the more cynical Maomao. I really hope things work out well for Gyokuyo, as she seems like a genuinely kind person, but I guess I’ll have to wait and see how things play out.
This was an entertaining first volume and I’m hooked and ready for more. I found the mysteries and the historical details to be fascinating and I love manga series with smart and practical female leads, a description that fits Maomao perfectly, though she can be a little over-zealous when it comes to research – I mean, testing poisons on yourself is taking things a bit too far!
Final Score: 8 out of 10
What did you think of this manga? Has anyone read the novels this is based on? Let me know in the comments.
You can find more information on this manga, visit Square Enix Manga’s website.
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