Bitter Medicine – Just What The Doctor Ordered

Bitter Medicine CoverBitter Medicine by Mia Tsai is a delightful fantasy/paranormal romance that sparks with magic and a little bit of drama. It has two endearing protagonists and a love story set in a unique world that I would have loved to stay in longer. The problems that Elle and Luc encounter are real, fantastical, and totally complicated which combined make for a great light summer read. 

Elle is happy with her under-the-radar life drawing easy runes and is absolutely not sitting on a wealth of power that would turn all eyes her way. Even though her potential to be a powerful playmaker in the magical world has been squashed, Elle lets a little bit of that power leak out when she creates runes for Luc, the handsome half-elf agent that frequents her shop. Luc is smitten with her but has no time to spare due to his job working for the owner of Roland & Riddle. His work is top secret because well, violence is the name of the game when you’re “the fixer” for a powerful organization. However, the pull between Elle and Luc can’t be ignored for long, and their connection will begin to unearth the hidden secrets that the two have worked hard to keep buried.

Contemporary romances, even the fantastical ones, are not really my thing. I struggle with romance because they often have immature relationships, inflated drama, and ridiculous misunderstandings that could be solved in an instant with good old-fashioned communication. I am happy to report that Bitter Medicine has none of these clichés. In fact, I enjoyed the story so much because the relationship felt mature and authentic, except with, y’know, the magic and stuff. Elle and Luc have a ton of baggage, but they are desperate for some connection in the midst of toxic invocations and estranged family members with a penchant for murder. Whatever is between them isn’t perfect and sometimes awkward, but I love how they navigate everything with understanding, compassion, and lots of humor. 

Bitter Medicine’s protagonists are solid, but they make the supporting characters look like ephemeral ghosts, and that’s not because one of them actually is an ephemeral ghost. Elle’s best friend Lira is a hybrid ghost (which sounds incredibly cool) but she rarely haunts the situation and we learn almost nothing about her. Luc has a chaotic group of coworkers known as the Wrecking Crew that is great for creating damage and not much else. The Wrecking Crew is made up of different mystical races and a variety of unique powers and skills but holy hell they barely scratch the story’s surface. Their introduction is so chaotic and sporadic that I can’t even remember their names. Tsai has created an interesting world for our characters to interact with, but the story keeps its focus on Elle and Luc. The little teases we get of the supporting characters and the larger magical world left me wanting, but I understand the decision to keep the story on the protagonists and their development. 

Throughout the book, the reader will encounter a variety of mythological creatures, cultures, magic, and most importantly, languages. As expected, English is the dominant language, but Elle and her brother also speak Chinese and Luc speaks French. There are several instances where the characters will switch to a different language and no translation is provided. I stumbled when I first encountered this and went back to re-read the sentences several times over, thinking I missed the explanation behind the characters and words I was not familiar with. However, it was not until the afterword that Tsai explains how purposeful this choice was. Tsai wanted readers to experience the language shift or the “shutting of a door” as she calls it, so they could feel the discomfort of being left out. Tsai wanted the reader to feel shut out of the conversation while providing commentary on the West’s dependency on English and its desire to disrupt cultures with its desperate need to know everything. I found this extremely powerful and reflected on how isolated I felt in those moments when I didn’t know what the characters were saying. I also appreciate how the characters handled these situations. They respected the instances when the language changed, and they never demanded to know what was being said. They let the world continue without them at that moment and joined back in when the door was opened to include them. 

Mia Tsai has crafted a perfect remedy to enhance your summer reading, and I prescribe Bitter Medicine to anyone looking for a little romance and a touch of magic. 

Rating: Bitter Medicine – 7.0/10


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