The Apothecary Diaries review – a new historical manga

New this month from Square Enix Manga is the manga adaptation The Apothecary Diaries – a bestselling series of historical mystery light novels. Maomao, a young woman trained in the art of herbal medicine, is forced to work as a lowly servant in the inner palace. Though she yearns for life outside its perfumed halls, she isn’t long for a life of drudgery! Using her wits to break a “curse” afflicting the imperial heirs, Maomao attracts the attentions of the handsome eunuch Jinshi and is promoted to attendant food taster. But Jinshi has other plans for the erstwhile apothecary, and soon Maomao is back to brewing potions and… solving mysteries?!

This is a great opening volume that introduces a fun take on the feudal genre and is carried by some intriguing characters. Maomao is a combination of weary cynic and mad scientist who is a breath of fresh air from usual protagonists in this genre. Resentful of her abduction and forced life of servitude, she remains as sharp as a tack and doesn’t let her new promotion blind her from her potentially dangerous job of testing the royal consort’s meals for poisons. It is an intriguing balance achieved between Maomao’s glee at getting open access to all the ingredients that she used to experiment with in her apothecary days, whilst remaining cold and suspicious of high-ranking eunuch Jinshi. Jinshhi himself is an entertaining character, who whilst fitting the archetypal smooth and overly confident good-looking manga male has some deeper layers and ulterior motives, in particular his peculiar request for Maomao to make an aphrodisiac.

Volume one also produces an authentic feudal Japan packed with detailed buildings and clothing. Artist Nekokurage more than does justice to Touco Shino’s original illustrations and character designs from the light novels whilst using the manga format to delve more into the historical details of the time. In addition to the artistic detail, we get an in depth look at the royal hierarchy at the time along with the role of concubines and the pressures women faced in this time-period. All whilst providing an entertaining mystery that will hook readers.

Fans of historical manga should definitely give this series a look, as it has got off to more than a good start.

The Apothecary Diaries is out now from Square Enix Manga (9781646090709, p/b, £9.99)

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