Bitter Medicine

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Pub Date 14 Mar 2023 | Archive Date Not set

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Buzzfeed New Fantasy and Science Fiction Books You've Got To Read
s Highly-Anticipated Books Hitting Shelves in 2023

In this inspired contemporary fantasy, a Chinese immortal and a French elf navigate romance, family loyalty, and workplace demands. In her debut novel, Mia Tsai has created a paranormal adventure that is full of humor, passion, and depth.

[STARRED REVIEW] “Sparks fly in Tsai’s refreshing and enchanting paranormal debut.
—Publishers Weekly

“Overflowing with effervescent charm and sly humor, Bitter Medicine intoxicates.”
—Angela Mi Young Hur, author of

As a descendant of the Chinese god of medicine, ignored middle child Elle was destined to be a doctor. Instead, she is underemployed as a mediocre magical calligrapher at the fairy temp agency, paranoid that her murderous younger brother will find her and their elder brother.

Using her full abilities will expose Elle’s location. Nevertheless, she challenges herself by covertly outfitting Luc, her client and crush, with high-powered glyphs.

Half-elf Luc, the agency’s top security expert, has his own secret: he’s responsible for a curse laid on two children from an old assignment. To heal them, he’ll need to perform his job duties with unrelenting excellence and earn time off from his tyrannical boss.

When Elle saves Luc’s life on a mission, he brings her a gift and a request for stronger magic to ensure success on the next job—except the next job is hunting down Elle’s younger brother.

As Luc and Elle collaborate, their chemistry blooms. Happiness, for once, is an option for them both. But Elle is loyal to her family, and Luc is bound by his true name. To win freedom from duty, they must make unexpected sacrifices.

Buzzfeed New Fantasy and Science Fiction Books You've Got To Read
s Highly-Anticipated Books Hitting Shelves in 2023

In this inspired contemporary fantasy, a Chinese immortal and a French elf...

A Note From the Publisher

Mia Tsai is a Taiwanese American author of speculative fiction. She lives in Atlanta with her family and, when not writing, is a hype woman for her orchids and a devoted cat gopher. Her favorite things include music of all kinds (really, truly) and taking long trips with nothing but the open road and a saucy rhythm section. She has been quoted in Glamour once. In her other lives, she is a professional editor, photographer, and musician. Mia is on Twitter at @itsamia and on Instagram at @mia.tsai.books.

Mia Tsai is a Taiwanese American author of speculative fiction. She lives in Atlanta with her family and, when not writing, is a hype woman for her orchids and a devoted cat gopher. Her favorite...

Advance Praise

Publishers Weekly Spring Announcements—Top 10 SF, Fantasy & Horror Titles
Book Riot 12 SFF & Horror Debuts To Watch For In 2023
Buzzfeed New Fantasy and Science Fiction Books You've Got To Read

[STARRED REVIEW] “Sparks fly in Tsai’s refreshing and enchanting paranormal debut. A sordid family past has driven gifted immortal Elle Mei, a descendant of Shénnóng, the Chinese god of medicine, into leading a quiet, unassuming life. Though Elle’s exceptional talent at magical calligraphy could easily earn her a lucrative career, she chooses to cover up the extent of her gift, hiding in plain sight as an “ordinary” glyphmaker in Raleigh, N.C. It’s the only way she knows how to protect her family, as using too much power would surely draw attention. But the temptation to use her full abilities becomes too much to resist when it comes to her favorite customer (and crush), the dashing half-elf security expert Luc Villois. When Luc realizes what Elle’s truly capable of, he commissions her to create custom glyphs for an upcoming assignment, and, against her better judgment, she agrees. Meanwhile, Luc has a secret of his own, and he knows that Elle would never choose to spend more time with him if she knew who he truly was. Despite their mutual reservations, their friendship deepens into love—but will their trust in each other be enough to save them when their twisted pasts come back to haunt them? With brilliantly developed, multifaceted characters; a clever magic system; and witty prose, the pages of this fantasy fly. This marks Tsai as a writer to watch.”
Publishers Weekly

“An intoxicating blend of mythology, family love and betrayal, and magic, Tsai’s debut is an absolute stunner! Mix together one fiercely talented calligrapher, one swoony French half-elf, and a magical world filled with danger and mystery, and you get a breathlessly compelling contemporary fantasy. Bitter Medicine is as elegant and potent as one of Elle’s spells.”
—Sierra Simone, USA Today bestselling author of The Fae Queen’s Captive

“Overflowing with effervescent charm and sly humor, Bitter Medicine intoxicates with its steamy romance, globe-trotting adventure, family drama mystery, and a fabulously inventive world of magic inspired by cross-cultural lore. The delights are plenty—especially potent are gorgeous descriptions of magic inspired by Chinese calligraphy and brushwork along with a tender, sweeping love story crafted so thoughtfully from the characters’ individual journeys of self-knowledge and redemption.”
—Angela Mi Young Hur, author of Folklorn

“I could not put this book down. Bitter Medicine is a slow-burn romance wrapped in an international spy thriller wrapped in supernatural politics, and it’s tasty as hell. The deeper I got into Tsai’s deeply-imagined world, the more I wanted more of her funny, sexy characters with so many feelings—and such intriguing powers. Bitter Medicine will sweep you off your feet and leave you deeply satisfied.”
—Annalee Newitz, author of The Terraformers and Autonomous

“As a contemporary fantasy debut, Mia Tsai’s Bitter Medicine is an extraordinary and distinct blend of agent thriller, the supernatural, and romance.”
Asia Pacific Arts

“VERDICT: Urban fantasy readers will appreciate the well-crafted hidden world, and lovers of bad boy or Mafia romances will see Luc as their darkly delicious type, all while Elle’s long sacrifice will break readers’ hearts. Fans of Sarah J. Maas’s epic paranormal fantasies will also find much to savor in Tsai’s debut.”
—Library Journal

“The modern Chinese diaspora fantasy that I’ve yearned for—fresh, exciting, with characters who leap off the page.”
—Courtney Milan, author of The Devil Comes Courting

“A romp of a supernatural action-romance, Bitter Medicine is a sparkling mix of angsty yearning, cool magic, family drama, and intriguing side characters, with a garnish of wonderful use of language!”
—Malka Older, author of Infomocracy

“Magical, sexy, and snarky, Bitter Medicine is perfect for grown up fans of Artemis Fowl looking to scratch that fairy heist itch.”
—Lara Elena Donnelly, author of the Amberlough Dossier and Base Notes

“Bitter Medicine goes down like a spoonful of sugar with a dash of spice: a dazzling and adventurous romantic fantasy with tons of heart. I can't wait to see what Mai Tsai does next!”
—Hugo Award-winning editor Diana M. Pho

“A lovely, absorbing read with wonderful characters, a perfect romance, and an action-packed plot.”

“Creative, tense, and extremely swoonworthy, Mia Tsai’s Bitter Medicine brings together cultures, mythical creatures, and genres for an unforgettable mash-up debut that will appeal to fans of Fonda Lee and paranormal romance enthusiasts.”
—Mike Chen, New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Brotherhood

Rating: 10/10. “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."
Buba's Book Review

“The romance between Luc and Elle was steamier than expected, but for the most part it was incredibly sweet and fluffy, peppered with yearning and the occasional angst. Their chemistry was lovely to witness and there were moments that made me audibly gasp because they were just so cute! I liked that this book tackled ideas of familial duty through Elle and workplace stress through Luc—these are highly relevant issues that I’m sure many readers can relate to.”
Min’s Archives

Publishers Weekly Spring Announcements—Top 10 SF, Fantasy & Horror Titles
Book Riot 12 SFF & Horror Debuts To Watch For In 2023
Buzzfeed New Fantasy and Science Fiction Books You've Got To Read


Marketing Plan

Marketing and publicity
•    Featured cover reveal on Buzzfeed
•    Print ARCs sent to leading fiction, fantasy, and romance outlets
•    Digital ARCs provided via NetGalley and Edelweiss+
•    Blog features to include The Big Idea; My Favorite Bit; and other venues
•    Instagram influencer tour via Storygram Tours
•    National book launch event and author tour dates TBD

Marketing and publicity
•    Featured cover reveal on Buzzfeed
•    Print ARCs sent to leading fiction, fantasy, and romance outlets
•    Digital ARCs provided via NetGalley and Edelweiss+
• Blog...

Available Editions

EDITION Paperback
ISBN 9781616963842
PRICE $17.95 (USD)

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (EPUB)
Send to Kindle (EPUB)
Download (EPUB)

Average rating from 77 members

Featured Reviews

Summary: In this paranormal contemporary fantasy we follow a Chinese immortal and a French elf in their journey of romance, humor, and adventure. Elle, the descendant of the Chinese god of medicine, is destined to be a talented doctor. Unfortunately, she is otherwise employed as a magical calligrapher at a fairy temp agency. Luc, a half elf, is the temp agency's top security expert. Luc must lay low due to a curse he cast on two people from a previous mission.

Review: Wow!! This was a very unexpected and fun journey. It was a unique experience that took alot of risk but made it all work together in a beautiful way. I adored this book and the characters in every way. This is my third 5 star read for this year and I am hoping the trend continues. My overall rating for this book (obviously) is a strong 5/5.

Extended Breakdown:
Story: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
Magic System: 5/5

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Elle and Luc are two duty bound characters in a beautiful magical world. Elle is fighting to protect her family by making her self smaller to hide, Luc is the mysterious half-elf agent of Roland & Riddle who has forgotten who he is outside of his obligations to his job.

I loved this book. It was beautifully written and well-executed with such a unique world and perspective. I loved the different use of so many languages and how they were presented in the book. It was such a unique way of incorporating different cultures in languages that I haven’t seen before.

I really appreciated the realistic nature of the characters. They were assertive but able to listen, brave but not reckless, and supportive of eachother in some of the huge revelations in the book. I also really enjoyed how the romance was such a slow and realistic build. I also just really loved how Elle was a strong assertive woman who still cried, loved her family and learned to stand up for herself, and learned to not see herself as less than everyone around her.

Overall, I really loved this book and I will definitely be telling my friends about it!

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Thank you to Netgalley and Tachyon for the digital ARC of BITTER MEDICINE.

This is a fun, contemporary fantasy with a lot of heart. Elle works a dull job at a fairy temp agency providing goods to different agents ranging from those haunting cemeteries to one of the agency's top security experts. Over the last year, she's struck up an unlikely friendship with Luc, a very hot agent whose work for the agency is mostly classified. That's fine with Elle, she doesn't ask him a lot of questions about his background, and he doesn't ask her much about hers. When he asks for a personalized commission, Elle and Luc begin to spend more time together and find that it's very hard to keep their secrets from each other. Work complications and family drama ensue, both working to keep them apart.

The world-building and magic system in BITTER MEDICINE is as delightful as it is intriguing, and Tsai has carefully crafted a world rich with linguistic diversity. Elle and Luc's relationship dynamic is really lovely, and you root for them through the whole book because they make each other so much better.

I was especially struck by Elle's journey through the book. Elle is a character that gives of her whole self, sacrificing her own happiness and dreams to ensure that those she loves are taken care of. She is convinced that no one wants a relationship with her unless she can offer something in return. At one heartbreaking point, she asks her mother, "Did I not do enough?" For someone who has already sacrificed so much for her family, Elle's question is heartbreaking but begins a journey where Elle rebuilds her life and rediscovers art.

This is a book as much about the love between these two characters as it is about finding yourself, being a little more selfish, and living your life without regrets. It is a powerful reminder that redemption is always possible and that it's never too late to reach for what you want.

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There is so much that is great about this story but I don't want to spoil anything!! Just to give you an idea I can say that is set in very interesting time and and has fascinating characters. I would recommend this book to anyone!.

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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.

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What an amazing book!
The book is super exciting and would love to read more from the author!

Thankyou netgalley for the ARC

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An interesting paranormal romance. Luc is the top enforcer at Roland & Riddle, the premier fae organization. Elle is a low level practitioner making glyphs for Roland & Riddle employees and other fae. Both are hiding dark secrets and paying for previous mistakes. But the French half-elf and the Chinese descendant of a god of medicine seem drawn to each other. Each seems to fill a void in the other's life. But just as things are heating up, their secrets intersect and they have to quickly decide what is most important - happiness together or misery apart? And what will be the price paid this time? Mia Tsai has created a world inhabited by quirky characters that resonate with the reader. Hopefully, Mia will write more tales in this universe! This was the romance I needed now.

Thanks Netgally and Tachyon Publications for the chance to read this tale!

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This was my first book by Mia Tsai and I'm glad I was able to read this. It was such a well done story and had a unique take on a fantasy romance novel. The characters were what I was hoping for and they were interesting people, I wanted to know more about them. I enjoyed the story and getting to read it from beginning to end, I look forward to reading more from Mia Tsai.

"That’s Ēnlián’s way of insinuating Elle doesn’t belong in San Francisco. Neither does she belong in Shénnóngjià. She’s been through too much. “I see it when I look at my paintings. Maybe one day I’ll go back, but I’m busy with things here.”

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Great characters, a fascinating setting, some excellent erotica, and a solid plot about magic, familial responsibility, and dealing with personal sacrifice all come together perfectly in this fantasy novel. I enjoyed everything from the various forms of magic to the fantastical transportation systems to the seedy side of corporate magic. A fun read. More please, and with more about the ghosts?

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As a descendant of the Chinese god of medicine, Elle was destined to be a powerful healer, but after a conflict with her two brothers left her and her brother Tony assumed dead, she has hidden her power while creating average-level protection glyphs as a magical calligrapher. She saves her best and most powerful work for one special and secretive client: Luc, a half-elven security agent for the mysterious Bureau. Their mutual pining fails to progress to anything overt because both carry painful secrets that make them feel unworthy. But when Luc is assigned to track down Elle's brother Yiwu, their worlds and secrets begin to weave together in ways that prove irresistible.

I was initially captivated by the idea of "magical calligraphy" and didn't really pay too much attention to the rest of the book's summary, so I started reading with no clear idea as to what I might find. This fantasy romance set in the modern world with immortal creatures and a wide variety of magical skills hooked me from the first mesmerizing lines and never let me go. Elle and Luc might be immortal, but their struggles and yearnings are wholly relatable and humanizing. Other characters are intriguing from the first as well: Elle's co-worker Lira and brother Tony hold their own on the page, and Luc's friction with his team members highlights the various personalities among them.

The story flowed smoothly, gradually ratcheting up the tension with multiple conflicts (Elle and Luc's budding relationship, Luc's mission, etc.) all the way to a powerful ending that really worked for me.

I'll also point out that the author's note at the end explained her purpose in using phrases in multiple languages (without translation) throughout the book as a deliberate way of making space for other cultures in a reading world heavily slanted towards the dominance of English. Well done.

Thank you, Tachyon Publications and NetGalley, for providing an eARC of this book. Opinions expressed here are solely my own.

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As a descendant of the Chinese god of medicine, ignored middle child Elle was destined to be a doctor. Instead, she is underemployed as a mediocre magical calligrapher at the fairy temp agency, paranoid that her murderous younger brother will find her and their elder brother.

Using her full abilities will expose Elle’s location. Nevertheless, she challenges herself by covertly outfitting Luc, her client and crush, with high-powered glyphs.

Half-elf Luc, the agency’s top security expert, has his own secret: he’s responsible for a curse laid on two children from an old assignment. To heal them, he’ll need to perform his job duties with unrelenting excellence and earn time off from his tyrannical boss.

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Romance sits front and center in this urban fantasy with two smart and likable adult leads.

Elle is a low-level employee at Roland & Riddle, making simple magical glyphs for members of the agency. Luc is the agency's top security expert, favored by Oberon himself. When Luc starts coming to Elle for glyphs for his mission, feelings blossom on both sides. But both sides also carry a lot of secrets - Elle's hiding the true extent of her power, and Luc's still living with the fallout of an old assignment gone wrong. There's also the small matter of Elle's murderous younger brother, and Luc's latest assignment to hunt him down...

Congratulations to fans of pining, this one's for you. The pining is incredibly strong here, with both characters quietly and powerfully into each other before the first page, and a lot of longing thoughts even after their mid-book hookup. I typically read fantasy books with romance in them, but this is most certainly a romance book with fantasy in it. Our lead couple's relationship is firmly fixed as the focus of the book, which is a surprising thing to say about a piece that also includes family drama amongst descendants of gods, and a fight against the fae king Oberon. And yet, it works. In some ways, it feels as if we're getting a slice of insight into our two leads - all the things that mattered before do not matter quite so much in the presence of a loved one.

Elle's arc learning to love herself first before she allows herself to love Luc was incredibly painful in a very real and relatable way (I was not expecting to feel so attacked by this book, but here we are). I love that she's already extremely smart and capable, and she knows it. I also love that a plot twist in the middle could have turned into my least favorite trope - bad communication - and Elle navigated it incredibly well and made no assumptions. I genuinely cheered.

Luc is a likable lead as well, although we get significantly less insight into his story. The narration did a good job of highlighting who he is at work vs who he is with Elle, and his own struggle with who he wants to be always. Also, I will never not be excited about an elf who also cooks.

I think my only "complaint" about the book is that it's written in third person present tense, which is for some reason really hard for me to get into. It took a couple false starts from me before I could actually finish this, but I'm glad I did.

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This was such a charming, charming book with two extremely likeable lead characters. It follows romance beats - I would say this reads like a romance novel that has urban fantasy elements, but I loved it because I also love romance!

For me, Mia is an extremely relatable character. I am also a middle child of East Asian descent so really identified with her inner world, her struggles, and all the complex family dynamics! As a love interest, Luc was swoon worthy - I'm a massive fan of the 'I'm only nice to you' trope and this delivered in a big way! I really enjoyed reading about his struggles to balance his work and personal life, and felt his character arc was satisfying to see. His challenges feel very relevant to the current world.

All in all, I was totally swept away by the world Mia Tsai created, and finished the book within two days.

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What a delightful read and definitely exceeded my expectations! Surprisingly, it’s very well-written for a debut novel.

I’m diving into this book first because the blurb was interesting. It mentioned Elle, an immortal and descendant of Chinese god of medicine having a crush with Luc, a French half-elf and top secret agent. I think this combo is quite rare and exceptional. And yes, it turns out that this book has not failed to satisfy me.

I admit that the world-building and the character’s background story was weak in the first half, but the romance goes strong from the start. I love their dynamics and I can easily connect with the main characters from the start. Good point for a start. After the first half, the plot is going better, the secrets about each character are revealed and all started to make sense, and at that moment, it only makes me love them more. I also love the writing style, so feathery but also deep in some points. The banters are brilliant, with good timing and not too cheesy.

Formerly, I had issues with the author who didn’t provide translation for some foreign language used: mandarin, french, and some latin (I guess?). But then she explained it on the author notes, so I make a peace with it. Lol.

Fun fact: I usually not a fan of insta-love due to my inability to connect with the MCs, but this one I can approve dearly. Hands down for the fun and flowy narrative, so it helps me to connect with the characters easily.

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Holy hell, this book was SO FREAKING GOOD?! I remember first hearing about Bitter Medicine from Mia Tsai's socials and being super intrigued by the premise of the novel. I'm so glad I picked up this book because within the first few pages, I was immediately captivated by the world and magic system. In particular, the world that Mia Tsai has created in Bitter Medicine, filled with lush mythology and magic from a variety of cultures—not just Chinese—is so alluring. I'm only familiar with a some aspects of Chinese lore from reading other xianxia-inspired fantasies, but the level of intricacy Mia Tsai included with her magic system in this novel was soooo well done. The action sequences in this book are top-notch and truly feel like something straight out of a movie.

I also adored these characters so much!! Elle is such a relatable main character, and gives such "eldest daughter in an Asian household" energy. I empathized with her so much as she navigated protecting Tony from her family while trying to atone for her past actions, grieve over the loss of her family, find a deeper connection with her magic and art, and navigate her relationship with her crush, Luc, our other main character. I really enjoyed reading Luc's arc, too, and watching him struggle with his growing relationship with Elle while being forced to make incredibly hard and morally unjust decisions at work, most of the time against his will. The additional side characters, including Tony, Lira, and the Wrecking Crew provided such charming comedic relief that perfectly balanced the more serious parts of the plot. Watching these characters grow closer throughout the novel was definitely my top highlight of the story.

This is definitely one of the best contemporary fantasies I've ever read, and I would honestly love to read more stories from this world, because it's genuinely so cool! I really look forward to Mia Tsai's future works, but in the meantime, go pre-order Bitter Medicine!!!

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Mia has brought us an addictive romance fantasy that captivates us with the world building and really sucks you in with the characters.

The different languages and culture weaved throughout really is the perfect toppings on the pizza.

The epilogue was just what I needed to tie this masterpiece together, I really hope we get to visit this world again.
Tony would make a very interesting read.

John Wick meets Fantasy.

Special thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and the author for a free, electronic ARC of this novel received in exchange for an honest review

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It's a very well-written paranormal fantasy that takes you to a world of intrigue and romance. The beginning is a little slower for my taste but I think it's perfect in this case because it gives you a chance to get into the story. I especially loved how it combines so many cultures and languages. It's one of the best books I have read with diverse characters.
Elle is more powerful than she admits to anyone, most of all to herself. In the past, she did something that is haunting her and she thinks happiness isn't for her. That is until Luc comes into her life and proves her wrong.
Lucien is working for a man he can't respect doing a job he hates. There is no way out, though. That is until he has a reason to try harder. Now, he is determined to change his circumstances and help Elle regain her happiness.
I'm a fan of Asian Fantasy and the premise of this book is what piqued my interest first. Then I read more about it and knew I would love it and I wasn't wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and loved every character.

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This book made me grin madly, then ugly cry out of sadness, and then made me cry again out of happiness. Thanks, I needed that cry, really needed this feel-good. 😭😭🥰🥰

I really loved the book; the plot, the characters, and the romance. It started off sweet and cute; just two immortals finding they can't be apart from each other. Their chemistry is super cute and I could almost taste the sugar on my tongue whenever I read about them. As their relationship progresses, their secrets and pasts catch up with their present, leaving them no choice but to have courage and make hard choices.

But this story is also about finding our worth in a world that just loves to under-appreciate and take people for granted. Elle and Luc have to give and give so much without taking, and as noble as they have been, it is not a healthy way to live. They learn this throughout the story; they learn to stand up to those who only seek them to use them, who treat them as tools. They learn to fight for the people they love, but also to fight for themselves out of self-love and self-respect.

Thank you, I needed this. 😭😭 (okay, I'm crying again)

The world-building reminded me of Men in Black with a complex hidden system on top of the mundane world. I like that the author explained the setting as the story progresses so it didn't appear as an info dump.

The storytelling is great; I love the pacing and the poetic prose, yet it is still easy to read that I could have finished this in a day if I didn't have an exam to go to. Another thing I love is how the angst was building ever so slowly but surely and then it climaxed beautifully (it hurts 😭, it made me cry 😭, but damn it, it's awesome! 🥰🥰) However, I find it a bit inconvenient to have to search through some of the foreign words; mandarin and french. Some of the foreign words were not translated, either directly or indirectly, and I was lazy to have to open up the dictionary every time.

If you like a feel-good story, that would take you on a journey of self-discovery down to the darkest moment and then rising up to fight for what you care about despite the heavy costs, with a caramel-sweet romance, and a heartwarming found family, please pick up this book. 🙌🙌🙌

You might need this book as I did.

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Mia Tsai's debut contemporary fantasy, Bitter Medicine, has it all: cinematic xianxia-inspired action scenes, thoroughly developed characters, romance and a diverse, fascinating magical world. When Chinese magical calligrapher Elle's younger brother attempted to murder his older siblings, Elle and her older brother faked their deaths and went into hiding. Twenty-six years later, she's selling simple glyphs for a fairy temp agency and never using the jade laes that connects her to her ancestors. French half-elf security agent Luc has been coming to Elle for years, both of them wishing for more than their brief exchanges but holding back because they don't want to endanger each other. Just as their personal relationship starts to deepen, Luc's latest assignment puts them both directly in the path of Elle's murderous brother.
Bitter Medicine is steeped in yearning. Luc has spent decades suppressing his personal feelings and desires, building a wall between himself and the world in order to tolerate the awful things he is magically compelled to do as his boss's Fixer. Elle has disconnected from her ancestors, including the Chinese god of medicine, in able to protect her brother and they've moved frequently so she has no social life.
Elle and Luc have both done things they believe unforgivable, but they're good people and easy to root for. In creating two mature, deeply empathetic characters, Tsai also avoids one of the most common plot devices: the big misunderstanding. It's a testament to Tsai's skill that even with characters who communicate with each other, she's able to keep the tension going until the very end.
Tsai sets the tone for Bitter Medicine by beginning in media res and building the setting and characters as she goes. The narrative is immersive and fast-paced, told in third person present and two points of view. Tsai takes a high-stakes adventure plot and layers it with humor, tension and the everyday moments that build the foundation of a compelling romantic relationship. Her well-developed network of coworkers and family members creates ample opportunity for sequels and readers will be clamoring for more of Mia Tsai's fresh, captivating voice.
Bitter Medicine is contemporary fantasy at its best: sharp, complex but contained and driven by two lovable characters working hard for their Happily Ever After.

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Set in our would where there is magic and magical beings but hidden from humans. Elle is hiding her talents for magic and art by working creating glyphs for employees of the magical company she works for. A regular customer that she has a connection with asks her to do something that is more in her power range and even as she protests she can’t she does agree to do it because she has a crush on this half elf in hiding. Everyone things Luc is a full elf, but Elle knows the difference by using her family magic of medicine to tune the glyphs to him. Elle is an immortal descendant of a Chinese god of medicine and is hiding to protect her older brother who had his magic stripped from him during a fight with their younger brother. Luc is a highly ranked agent at the agency that does missions for the head of company no matter how much he may not like the mission. His boss has magical control over him and had had him do things he loathes. Luc figures out that Elle is hiding something more than just her power level and even as they slowly become closer things secrets are going to come out on both sides and Elle will have to face what happened in her past with her family.
I really liked this book, the setting felt fresh and didn’t bog itself down with tons of worldbuilding. Just enough to get the story told and leave lots of room for more tales in this setting with either these characters or new people.

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I’m not sure where to start. Bitter Medicine is already a top book of 2023 for me, it is really that good. Somehow Mia Tsai looked inside my mind, looked at the tropes and character archetypes I’d love, and made me a damn near perfect book.

First, the worldbuilding. Somehow the author perfectly merged a modern world with multicultural magic systems - we’re talking Xianxia-style Chinese magic systems and combat alongside European-style fae lore, and smidges of other mythologies. It was like the urban fantasy of my dreams, down to the pertinent social commentary about San Francisco cost of living.

And then there are the characters: protagonist Elle is an absolute delight throughout her arc, a perky, high-level magic worker from Hubei province whose main medium is calligraphy, wherein different qualities of ink give her more power, and it was so cool. Taking brush to paper is both magic craft and love language for Elle. The opening passage of her lovingly crafting a glyph, which I think is equivalent to a talisman, was incredibly vivid in my mind’s eye. She's very fun and relatable, too - there is a very entertaining scene involving her and a morphine drip. Half-elf Luc is The Whole Package, tall, angsty and stoic, with a killer accent and even better combat moves. He is very damaged after years of traumatic work with the elite forces of the supernatural agency that runs the magic half of their world, and being abused by the man who was supposed to be guardian and mentor. This brings in how great the side characters are; Oberon’s bigotry and sheer awfulness drives home what a cinnamon roll Luc is. Tony, Elle’s brother, was one of the most enjoyable characters I’ve read in a while, a queer icon with snark and wit to spare.

And the [chef’s kiss] ROMANCE. I loved that the main pairing was introduced as an already-established will they or won’t they friendship, and that both characters had not-quite immortality, but supernaturally-lengthened lifespans and were both over a century old. There was no “mortal high school girl meets ancient being” vibes and the power dynamics in their relationship were fantastic. Elle gets Luc to open up, Luc gets Elle to acknowledge she is not only her powers and what she can do for others. Their steamy love scenes - oh my gosh, you guys. Incredibly sensual and emotional passages, and in one a very sexy use of meridian energy channel reading as foreplay. Another thing - I found the dramatic misunderstandings that other books or shows apply liberally were neatly avoided by these characters talking it out in this story. Cannot stress how much I appreciate the realism of characters that care enough to hear each other out and not believe the worst immediately.

I found the trifecta in this story: lovable characters, a really cool world, and great writing, from dialogue choices to outfit descriptions. And there was a fourth secret ingredient - language. Tsai has a lengthy afterword describing why she chose to leave dialogue lines in authentic Chinese characters, phrases in French, and more. As a linguistics nerd, I loved this so much.

Yes, there are a couple weaknesses; the main conflict is not really at all what is described in the summary, and some characters are kind of just…Tidied away? For plot wrap-up convenience. The book has a not-quite finished feeling, and while I can see why it wouldn’t be a series, the end didn’t feel like an end.

That said, I binged this like fanfic, ravenously, thanks to brisk pacing, oodles of romantic lines and yearning, and characters who were all seeking atonement of different kinds. This gets five exuberant stars from me and I will be immediately snapping up a physical copy when it comes out in March 2023.

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Guys guys guys guys guys! You don’t understand this is amazing! It is totally art as magic and really well done. I love stories that incorporate craft and art and skill into power but man it’s really cool how this story incorporates art as a form of meditation and as magic. It’s so cool.

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