Title: Bitter Medicine
Author: Mia Tsai
Genre: Romance, Romantic Fantasy, Contemporary Fantasy
Publication Date: Coming out March 14, 2023
Big thanks to NetGalley and Tachyon for providing me an ARC to review.
Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai is a gorgeously written debut romantic fantasy that takes place at a fairy temp agency. When it comes to Romance I am not normally a fan of office/workplace romance, but Bitter Medicine might just have changed my mind about the whole subgenre. I cannot say enough how much I adored the concept of the Bureau and all the fun and fascinating details of the fae world that Tsai developed around the most heart wrenching story of love, family duty, and self-acceptance I’ve read in a long time.
Ellie is a Chinese immortal, posing as a mediocre magical calligrapher. She’s been sacrificing any chance at joy and hiding her true magical potential in order to protect her eldest brother from their youngest brother who needs them both dead to fill the role of family heir that her eldest brother refused to take up.
Luc is a French half-elven fixer for the controlling head of the bureau whose terrifying reputation and lack of interpersonal skills have cut him off from his colleagues and left him desperately lonely. His only goals are to impress his boss enough to earn leave to pursue a curse breaking personal project whose victims have haunted him for years.
When Elle starts personalizing Luc’s glyph orders and saves his life, he comes requesting a magical commission that might challenge her for the first time in years, but at the same time could reveal her and her eldest brother to the brother hunting them.
The chemistry between these characters is electric from the first moment they’re on page together. I adored how absolutely in love Luc is from the very first page. The adoration between these characters who so clearly and deeply want to be seen and loved and yet whom familial duty and work hold back and force them apart has my whole entire heart.
Elle is such a self-effacing and yet unbelievably badass character. Luc is the unbelievable badass that you will love for how soft he can be for Elle (and also his cooking, nothing sexier than a man who can cook omg the way this book made my mouth water)
The way Tsai writes magic made my heart flutter from page 1. I could not get enough of Elle’s xianxia-inspired magic, and the oh so cool calligraphy/glyph magic. Every new and inventive use felt fresh and fascinating and yet so innately a part of who Elle is as a person. I hope to read so much more fantasy from this author. I could lose myself in her magical world for hours and I absolutely did, binge reading this straight through in 6 hours.
On top of being eminently bingeable Tsai handles an interracial/multicultural romance with so much nuance and grace I was swooning. We love a man who doesn’t tolerate racist microaggressions. The multicultural aspects definitely hit me in all the Asian diaspora feels, of having family and a home impossibly far away that you can never return to because you have been irreparably changed by leaving. Of having expectations and duties heaped upon you and feeling that no matter how much you sacrifice it will never be enough in the eyes of your family and the harrowing journey to self-love and self-acceptance for who you are instead of what you can do for those you love. I actually wept my heart out at multiple points and then had it pieced together masterfully.
Bitter Medicine is hands down my favorite read of 2022 and I already can’t wait to read it again to linger with my new favorite couple.