Apothecarius Argentum, Volume 1
written by Tomomi Yamashita
Princess Primula of Beazol loves a good meal and a good sword fight, and she doesn’t feel particularly bound by convention. This pleasant story pairs her up with Argent, her former food taster, who is immune to most poisons because he was fed progressively larger doses when he was a child. The twist: His system is so filled with poison that his touch can injure a person and his blood can kill.
The sweet, faux-medieval setting and Tomomi Yamashita’s open, simple art style belie the complicated emotions and intrigues that lie in the heart of this book. Primula’s father, the crafty king of Beazol, purchased Argent as a slave to be Primula’s food taster, knowing that he could be useful in other ways as well. Because of the deadliness of his touch, Argent was forbidden to lay a hand on the princess, on pain of execution. To state that something is forbidden in a book like this is, of course, to ensure that it will happen. Seeing Argent in excruciating pain from an attempted poisoning, Primula impulsively sets him free and then kisses him, making herself ill. Instead of fleeing, Argent stays on, concocts an antidote, and then goes out to live quietly in the woods near the castle, learning herbal medicine and practicing it on the locals.
This is all back story. The first volume opens several years later, when an unwitting servant calls Argent in to treat Primula’s stomachache. Both Primula and Argent know that she is really being poisoned, and after Argent foils the attempted murder, she insists that he become the palace apothecary. A simpler-minded manga would have stretched this out for three or four volumes, but here, all that is settled by the halfway point. That leaves the second half of the book free for some good old-fashioned plotting with Primula’s father, who is one of those delightfully ambiguous characters who might be totally evil or really not such a bad guy—it’s honestly hard to say.
Apothecarius Argentum is an enjoyable light read, but it also brings in some deeper themes. The romance between Argent and Primula, which is barely explored, is doubly problematic because of their class difference (he is still technically a slave) and the fact that they cannot touch. Both Argent and Primula are strong-willed, basically moral characters who face a variety of interesting dilemmas. Primula must overcome her fear of appearing in public in order to fulfill her responsibility to her subjects; Argent, having rejected his destiny as an assassin, must consider whether to kill a single innocent in order to possibly save hundreds of lives. Even the herbs and chemicals he gathers function both as poisons and as medicines, depending on how they are used. (Yamashita, a former pharmacist, includes some notes on specific medicines at the end of the book.)
With its intriguing plot and complex characters, Apothecarius Argentum breathes new life into the classic tale of the princess and the commoner, and the challenges they face promise more excitement in subsequent volumes.-- Brigid Alverson