Krystallina: The end-of-volume notes let the audience know The Apothecary Diaries volume 4 wraps up volume 1 of the light novel. But you don’t need to read that to know the story is moving on to a new phase.
Jinshi “asks” Maomao to help out at the (read: go investigate) Garnet Palace, so we formally meet the fourth main consort. The Lady Aduo is an androgynous beauty, and readers will likely see similarities to Jinshi well before Maomao does. Unlike Lady Lishu’s estate, Aduo’s is mostly a pleasant and peaceful one, led by the hardworking and caring Fengming. As always, Maomao is reluctant to be treated like Jinshi’s personal spy, but she can’t help but figuring out the truth about the garden poisoning incident. Not that Jinshi and readers didn’t know whodunnit, as the answer is on the first page of the book!
With still about a third of the book to go, the story stops killing off characters to instead kill off Jinshi’s motivation. Because Maomao ends up leaving the palace!
It’s this arc, with Jinshi acting more affectionate and his moping around, that clearly signals the end of the story as it is until now. It will come as no shock to readers Maomao returns to the palace, as she didn’t want to leave in the first place. I’m sure volume 5 will return the story to more palace machinations and people near or beyond death’s door, but the dynamics will be slightly different the next time around. Plus, a new consort is on the horizon, and who knows what kind of role she will take in the story.
I remember not really connecting with Jinshi in volume 1, but if you had only met him in volume 4, you would think he’s been trying to get Maomao to fall in love with him for years. Jinshi doesn’t narrate any part of the story, so we don’t get an indication as to where exactly he’s at on the love scale other than his assistant mentally promoting Maomao from “Jinshi’s toy”. Jinshi clings to her, agonizes over what to do about her, and turns into a shell of himself until they’re reunited — a huge change from when he seemed to view Maomao as primarily a tool for whatever job he has. In-universe, it’s been months since they’ve met, but if their path toward a relationship has been made up of bread crumbs, suddenly there’s a jumbo cupcake pitstop. Just a bit out-of-place in my opinion since Maomao is still a ways from figuring out that Jinshi isn’t a eunuch.
While it was a bit too suddenly sweet for my tastebuds, Jinshi fans will be excited to see him yearning to be closer to Maomao. Otherwise, since The Apothecary Diaries volume 4 draws the first light novel to a close, it’s neither heavy on Maomao nor palace intrigue like the previous ones have been and suffers a bit as a result.
Krystallina’s rating: 3 out of 5
Helen: Back in the Inner Palace after her brief vacation back home, it seems like Maomao just can’t stay away from the seedier side of the Inner Palace even if she wants to. With the mystery about the attempted poisoning at the Garden Banquet still swirling around, Jinshi has continued looking into the incident and it seems like he has a good idea of who was behind it, but not how or why. And so, at Jinshi’s behest (it’s not as if she can refuse his orders after all), Maomao finds herself helping out at the residence of the Pure Consort, Aduo, the oldest of the four consorts and the one in the shakiest position, where several things will come to light and multiple events will reveal themselves to be linked.
With this fourth volume of the manga, we wrap up the contents of the first light novel and even knowing what was coming next I still found Nekokurage’s depiction of events to be engaging and quite fun. In fact, I’m curious if Nekokurage had had the time to read ahead in the light novels or not, since there were a few details in the background that seemed like clever foreshadowing for future volumes, details that I don’t think were specifically in the text of the first volume. Of course, the art remains adorable and it’s very fun to see Nekokurage lean into the idea that Maomao has some cat-like features besides her name and depicting her very grumpy, cat-like reactions to nearly everything Jinshi does, like a tsundere house cat.
I remember being pleasantly surprised when reading the original light novel at how things came together at the end of the volume; I had thought that Maomao’s adventures were entirely episodic and hadn’t realized that there were some underlying forces linking events together, a theme that reappears in the series. By the end of this volume Maomao has found herself in a different position than previously and one she’s actively chosen to be in, a first for her. Only time will tell if she will still continue to refuse to become entangled in the schemes she discovers (at Jinshi’s behest) or if she’ll voice not only the facts but her suspicions as well. After all, how else will Maomao know if “That’s probably the wildest idea I’ve ever come up with” is so wild after all?
Helen’s rating: 4 out of 5