After Erin read Bitter Medicine, she told me I’d probably like it. And I was feeling like reading something that I’d probably like that wasn’t a bonkers historical romance, so I did.
She was right, I liked it.
I also would have written a completely different review than Erin did, because she said basically nothing about the plot.
So here I am, to talk about the plot. Not spoilers or anything, but to highlight some of the central themes, and also to address the plot structure, which is kind of unusual.
The basic premise is that Elle’s younger brother tried to kill her older brother; in order to stop him, Elle destroyed her older brother’s magic. The two of them have been in hiding for the past twenty years. (Elle, being magic, is about 100 years old, and hasn’t really aged during this time.) Elle feels tremendous guilt for what she did to her brother, as well as a deep responsibility for keeping him safe—as well as sadness for the rupture in her relationship with her younger brother. She hides her abilities so that she won’t be discovered. All in all, she’s living a shadow of her former life, until Luc makes her feel again.
The blurb says that Elle and Luc collaborate, hinting that this collaboration is in hunting down Elle’s younger brother, who has finally tracked her down. This implies that the Big Epic Climax will be the showdown between Elle, Luc, and the wayward evil brother. And while this scene happens, it does so at about the halfway point, leaving Elle irrevocably changed. So be aware: if you’re reading this for a suspense-y fantasy epic showdown, that’s not what this book is doing.
Instead, this book is interested in what happens in the after. What do you do when something horrible—something bitter to swallow, even—happens? How do you come to terms with the fact that sometimes those bad things are ultimately good for us? Since the title of this book is Bitter Medicine, maybe it should have been obvious to me that this was the theme, but the blurb and the opening worldbuilding set up my expectations for something else.
I would also like to note that a central theme of this book is drawing and maintaining boundaries with parents / parental figures. It’s never too late to take the boundaries you need, even if you’re 100 years old! Some readers might fight these scenes difficult; others might feel seen in these moments.
Finally, while I liked this book, I do want to say that there were a lot of loose threads at the end. I was left wondering things like:
- What the heck happened to that fox spirit with the sense of smell? She seemed pretty desperate.
- If Elle is an “agent” in the same organization that employs Luc, why does this agency also think that Elle is deceased? Do fairies not have fingerprints?
- And the biggest question mark of all: At the end of the book, both Elle and Luc have lost huge pieces of themselves. Can they truly be happy without these defining parts of their former identities?
Read on for Erin’s review, which will fill you in on the worldbuilding and the feel of the story.Continue reading “Review Revisited: Holly’s Take on Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai (2023)”