Book Review: Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tachyon Publications (March 14, 2023)

Length: 272 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Fantasy romance isn’t my usual genre, but I will confess to indulging in it whenever the mood strikes! Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai came right at the perfect time when I was looking for something lighter—an urban fantasy inspired by xianxia, a genre of Chinese fantasy literature that often features magic, mythology, and immortals.

In this book, love is also a dominant theme. The story follows Elle, a powerful glyph maker descended from a Chinese medicine god. However, she lives a rather lowkey life in Raleigh, North Carolina, working at an unassuming charms shop which caters to the local population of supernatural denizens. The reason she’s keeping a low profile is because she is in hiding with her older brother, Tony, whom she had vowed to keep safe from those hunting him. Unfortunately, when one of those hunters is also your murderous younger brother, that means having to keep your location secret from the rest of your family too.

So, Elle spends her days creating magical calligraphy for her clients, many of whom work for the faerie agency that owns the shop. Their top security expert, a French half-elf named Luc, has become one of her regulars, coming in frequently for healing magic and protective glyphs. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s handsome and charming, and before long, Elle has developed quite a crush. But Luc has his own secrets, and as much as he is drawn to Elle, he’s reluctant to let himself get too close. He’s done some things he’s not proud of in his line of work and is still trying to atone for them, even if it means being completely beholden to his tyrannical boss. Luc has no say over which missions he is sent on, and whatever tenuous relationship he has with Elle might be done for when he finds out that his next job will involve tracking down her younger brother.

At its heart, Bitter Medicine is a tale about two immortals who fall in love and find their way to each other despite the numerous obstacles in their path. What both surprised and impressed me was how all these elements were balanced so well, focusing mainly on the romance between Elle and Luc without sacrificing the quality of the story and other aspects like world-building. The characters were also wonderfully developed. Both Elle and Luc have sacrificed so much for the people they care about, and while their backstories make it easy to understand why they do what they do, all the secrets between them also mean they are both reluctant to dive into a relationship. As a result, we get a slow-burn but sweet romance that is also a story about finding your true self as well as the courage and trust it takes to open up to someone else and share that knowledge with them.

Granted, when things heat up, the love scenes can burn pretty hot. Like, scorching hot! But also, in the tradition of most contemporary fantasy romances, the story can be unbearably cheesy at times, with corny rom-com dialogue and awkward cliches. And it’s true that Elle’s “quirkiness” can sometime borders on grating, while Luc maybe plays the role of fraught and tortured immortal a little too well. But considering how the author was also partly inspired by C-dramas, I guess mission accomplished?

There’s some fantastic world-building here as well. Even if the details and explanation into Elle’s role are somewhat glossed over, I think Tsai makes up for it with the amazing integration of Chinese legends and mythology into this modern setting and fantasy world that includes other mythological creatures like fae, elves, and even harpies, redcaps, sphinxes, and the Jersey Devil.

If you can imagine the drama of a Chinese soap opera mixed with the action and magic of a gritty urban fantasy, that pretty much describes Bitter Medicine. Overall, it ended up being a very enjoyable, heartwarming read that perfectly hit the spot. If you’re looking for a touching fantasy romance full of tenderness and emotions, Mia Tsai’s debut should be on your list.

15 Comments on “Book Review: Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai”

  1. Though I don’t see myself seeking this out I can appreciate having those genres that might not be a main reading pleasure but are still ones to look forward to when the mood strikes. And I absolutely love finding a book that hits at just the right time, filling some need of the moment.


    • I agree, I don’t read romance fiction in general but I will always have some romance fantasy in my tbr in case I am ever in the mood to pick one up. Sometimes they are the perfect remedy to a string of darker reads getting me down, and besides, variety is the spice of life 😀


  2. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup 03/26/23: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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