The circle widens, the intrigue deepens.
Having easily won over the consort Gyokuyo and the Jade Palace in the first volume, Maomao’s got her work cut out for her when the Emperor sends her to look after Consort Lihua of the Crystal Palace. Consort Lihua has not recovered in the wake of the death of her baby son in the first volume, wasting away despite the apparent efforts of her own servants, servants who scorn Maomao’s own attempts as being so much peasant junk. If she’s to keep her own head (literally), she’s got to overcome the ill-treatment and suspicion, as well as Lihua’s own lack of interest in staying alive. And, if that weren’t enough to deal with, an outdoor banquet leads to the discovery that someone is likely after the life of the very youthful Consort Lishu… and that not all the Honored Consorts have the benefit of loyal servants.
My feelings toward this second volume are much as mine were toward the first, which is to say that I largely enjoyed it while there being a few things that nagged at me. I suspect most of the latter would bother other readers less, such as my eyerolling over the fact that Lihua is practically skin and bones early in the volume yet still has gigantic, gravity-defying breasts. The revelation that Maomao paints her freckles on to discourage male attention also jars a bit given that she was so dismissive about courtesans and prostitutes using make-up that was detrimental to their health last volume; c’mon, you’re smart enough to make the connection, Maomao!
Having said that, it’s overall a solid volume, introducing some of the additional players of palace life, which in turn means some more layers of politicking and plotting, which is exactly why I’m here. But, unfortunately for this manga, subsequent to this volume’s release, the first volume of the light novel from which it’s adapted was published in English, and I much prefer it to the manga. It has significantly more detail to its narrative, which isn’t surprising, as that is often the case. Alas, the visuals of the manga don’t make up for the gap in narrative depth between the two, so this will be the final volume I read of the manga.
For folks who prefer manga over LNs generally, this is still a decent read, especially so for fans of palace intrigues or more broadly of political stories, as this absolutely is that. The broadening of scope here is much appreciated, both in terms of the newer characters but also in terms of the light their stories cast on the Emperor, who remains mostly a distant figure. Folks who enjoy the first volume will enjoy this one as well. Glad that Square Enix Manga & Books took a chance on it.