Helen: Since the last volume of this manga adaptation came out, J-Novel Club has been chugging away releasing the original light novels and it’s been an interesting experience to compare the two. This volume is still covering events from the first light novel but, based on the cover for volume four, I believe that volume four will finally wrap up the first light novel, although it might be a tight fit with at least one more short arc to cover.
This particular volume isn’t a breather volume per-say but it’s certainly a bit more detached than the previous two; Maomao has learned that she can leverage the hair pins she received at the garden party in volume 2 by calling them in as favors from the giver, aka Maomao realizes that this is her chance to actually visit home for a few days. So Maomao selects her victim, I mean patron, the young court official who was giving them out willy-nilly, solely based upon the fact that this man, Li Haku, was most likely to be interested in what Maomao can offer: access to the most highly sought-after courtesans in the city. After all, that brothel is where Maomao was raised so she has some connections, and knows the courtesan’s own tastes when it comes to clients. Jinshi is livid that Maomao went to someone else for this favor, since he gave her a hair pin as well, but as Maomao reasons, not only would it be rude to invite a eunuch to a brothel in the first place but with Jinshi’s legendary beauty he would risk driving all the girls mad in vying for his affections. Best not to go down that route.
Once home for a few days, Maomao ends up solving her most mystery-like case yet, although it’s not actually an event that anyone asked her to solve or get involved in — she was simply curious if the case of poisoning she treats was actually an attempted suicide, murder, or something else. For all that she grumbles about solving mysteries in the Rear Palace, it’s clear that Maomao does enjoy unraveling things to satisfy her own curiosity as well, especially once it’s clear that her adopted father has already figured out what was going on.
It was a short trip home for Maomao but a full now, and now she returns to the world of courtesans and courtiers finish out the rest of her contract and get back to doing work on her own terms!
Helen’s rating: 3 out of 5
Krystallina: Maomao gets a brief vacation from the inner palace to return home. But don’t expect any emotional reunions, as Maomao finds herself dealing with yet another case of poisoning.
The mystery of what caused a courtesan and her customer to collapse is a part of Maomao’s homecoming arc, which makes up the bulk of The Apothecary Diaries volume 3. Our heroine continues to show off her incredible deduction skills, but we also see she still has some room to sharpen her analytical thinking. We already knew Maomao had some room to grow considering she hasn’t picked up that Jinshi is obviously not some eunuch, but this time it’s tied to her beloved poisons. Maomao’s father seems to have figured out what caused a courtesan and her customer to collapse, but she is a step or two behind him. Maomao’s father also hints there’s some connection between Maomao and/or their family and the inner palace, so it’s likely that even after Maomao’s tenure ends, she won’t be leaving that easily.
Of course, Jinshi will likely play a large role in that. He’s stunned to hear Maomao left on a trip, and he takes emotional damage when he misunderstands how and why she turned to Li Haku, a random officer she met while working, to sponsor her trip rather than him. Considering his surprise and the way he summoned Maomao when she returned, I was expecting a bigger scene from him. Instead, it’s just typical comedic misunderstandings that are cleared up right away because Gyokuyo and others were listening at the door.
While that truth comes to light quickly, Maomao is still reluctant to identify culprits in the poisoning cases. She says to herself she doesn’t want to be the reason someone is punished. She really is a fascinating character, as her doctor self rushes to assist a patient but the investigator side of her is passive. I just can’t help but look forward to her adventures.
That being said, I felt like it was the parts connected to her personality and background I enjoyed more than the actual mysteries. When returning to the brothel she worked at, the madam immediately sucker punched her, a common occurrence evidently due to Maomao’s ingesting poison. And the whole “father knows” part of the second case. At the inner palace, Maomao has a blind spot about Jinshi’s identity, but otherwise, she quickly becomes the object of admiration thanks to her smarts. So it was nice to see her more fallible with the people she’s known all her life. I’m also looking forward to discovering what Maomao’s father knows about medicine and other things.
So while spiked drink cases continue to run rampant around Maomao, for me, volume 3’s strength lies in Maomao. That’s always been a good reason to pick up The Apothecary Diaries, but especially so here.
Krystallina’s rating: 3.5 out of 5