Cover Image: Bitter Medicine

Bitter Medicine

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Member Reviews

This was so good! When it first started I was unsure but soon the pacing sped up and it took off!

This is a perfectly enjoyable magical realism type story. The lore involved in this is so interesting and I have no complaints. It felt “real” for a fantasy type story and it was easy to keep up with the characters once the story got going. The build to get there was a bit much but in the end, this is definitely a novel worth your time!

Thanks to NetGalley for the copy!
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This was such an easy read, and I mean that in the best way possible. The writing, the world, the characters, and the relationships, all had me flying through this book. I felt invested in the connection between Elle and Luc and the way their relationship steadily developed from friends to more. I also really liked the way the author slowly exposed the secrets that both characters carry with them. Rather than a big bang, she sprinkled hints here and there, before letting the entire story reveal itself. Both Elle's and Luc's backgrounds were really compelling to me. The friendships and family dynamics were well done too, especially Elle's relationship with her older brother, Tony, which we get a decent amount of. Their interactions were fantastic, and the way they spoke to each other and fought felt the way families often do: complicated.

The worldbuilding was a bit more confusing at times. It's easy enough to overlook, but some more explanation about the agency and how it functions within the world would have helped. Instead, a lot of things get mentioned (like Elle being descended from a Chinese god of medicine, for example), but nothing gets explored in-depth.

While I liked the progression of the romance and the way that part of the story resolved, I think other aspects weren't handled in a satisfactory manner. There are a couple of threads that are left dangling, even though we are told that they are of the utmost importance to our main characters, and the "bad guy" doesn't really get dealt with in a way that feels like closure.
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An urban fantasy romance that is entrancingly character-driven, Bitter Medicine lays bare the humanity at the core of its genre. Elle works in a magical supply shop, creating glyphs with her calligraphy for agents of a magical temp agency, despite being exponentially more powerful than she seems. Lucien works as a fixer for CEO Oberon and is exhausted by the bloody nature of his work. As their friendship grows, they begin to break down their own walls and try to trust each other, though family circumstances and work pressures conspire to keep them apart. The romance between Elle and Luc is rich and deep, with sex scenes that are hot and emotionally charged. Rather than obsess about looks, the lovers care about the feelings and personality of their partner and think deeply about their pleasure. The characters are exceptionally well-developed, with Elle especially being introverted and self -effacing, and yet not in the least passive or submissive. The violence of Luc's work is not dismissed, but the emotions and growth of the characters is more of a focus than the wuxia tinged fight scenes. Themes of family, depression, disability, and love. Highly anticipated and well worth the wait, Bitter Medicine is a must-read.
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The cover makes you think fantasy/romance but this really should be classified as an urban fantasy/romance which caught me very off guard. I loved the variety of influences for this - the fae vs. traditional Chinese medicine gods and the variety of power in this was fairly expansive. The pacing was a little off for my taste - but I'm likely to put that on the ARC rather than the finished product. This novel has a little bit of everything - friends-to-lovers, generational trauma, abuse of power, some pretty darn good spicey scenes, and even what I would call a Romeo & Juliet inspired ending. 

I keep trying to think of how to explain this title because it feels at once familiar and so fresh - almost like how Becky Chambers would write urban fantasy because it so character driven but I loved being able to sink into the magic systems at play. I would like a series or something like a cycle that would follow different characters and storylines within this world because there is soooo much room to play within the world that Mai Tsai created. As a debut? This was great.
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Heat Factor: the eroticism is more in the emotional than the physical descriptions

Character Chemistry: slow-building and respectful

Plot: ancient history returns to the present, threatening the tenuous and secretive connection that Luc and Elle have been flirting with

Overall: WOW

This book is really something. I think my favorite aspect of the book was that it incorporates a global view of supernatural beings, which really makes sense when we (and the characters) live in a global world, but which almost never happens in books. And I’m not just talking about Elle’s ancestor being a Chinese god and Luc’s half fae parentage; all of the characters are connected to the mythology of their heritage. It was SO FUN. 

Both Elle’s and Luc’s history is complicated and slowly revealed. At first, all we know is that Elle is hiding her true self but she really loves it when Agent Luc Villois comes in to purchase glyphs and stays to chat. And then we know that Luc has a crush on Elle, but his own reputation is shady and his career is…also shady. Then things get complicated when Elle’s past clashes with Luc’s present assignment, and from there the story goes spinning off in many directions as the world is built and Luc and Elle are further revealed. Both are complicated characters with complicated histories from which they cannot fully extricate themselves, and both are also dealing with intense problems in the now. 

According to the internets, this book (in paperback) is fewer than 300 pages, but it reads more like a 400-page story; between the world building and everything else it’s not a fast read. This one’s also not for the readers who are unwilling to Google; between different mythologies and different languages, there’s a lot to take in. Tsai included a note about language, which is another interesting aspect of this book that I liked, but that I like even more now that I’ve read the author’s note and fully understand what she was doing and why. Oh, and it’s in 3rd present. 

Between the story and the structure and the inclusion of ideas and how the problems were solved, this book was just amazing.

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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An immersive fantasy romance that drops you into its world without any preamble — but sometimes I love getting to just start in a random place and have details dropped to me as I go. Elle and Luc had such a great dynamic, with all of their various ups and downs, but I think I would’ve almost enjoyed a little more of a window into their future rather than an epilogue that takes place not too long after the big events. What’s the fallout with Oberon? What about the fate of the children? Suddenly the book sort of just ended — unless those are plot threads that will be tied up in a potential sequel?

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Tsai has written such an interesting and easily read fantasy-romance of which I want more. The lives and experiences of Elle and her family, Luc and his history were so very good, that I wish we had delved more into each of their backstories. We do get to know a little about each of them through recollections and conversations, but that only scratched the surface.

The world-building was a bit light for and even though it took place in modern day, there were the magical and fantastical aspects and beings that I felt could have been explored and developed more. Again this only made me want more.

The build-up to Elle and Luc's relationship was done really well, the ways in which both felt they could not pursue a relationship, but were constantly drawn towards each other, the yearning thatbwas finally rewarded with such a great sex scene where consent and learning each other's bodies played a major role, I could not get enough. I was also glad that she did not fall into the overused miscommunication trope. Both of these characters have been alive for centuries between them and so approach their communication with a level of maturity that I enjoyed. Even though at times Elle could be quite hard and devaluing to herself, I loved that she had people who were willing to impress upon her the importance of her finally coming to acknowledge her worth. Again there were small plotholes and more development that I would have loved to see, but this was a good read.
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Bitter Medicine is the rare fantasy romance that actually goes beyond the often sketchy world building found in many of the books in this subgenre and instead creates a fully realized multicultural world that includes both the more familiar European elements of elves, fae, swords, etc but also incorporates Chinese magic and combat techniques. 

Alongside this is a beautiful romance between Elle and Luc, both natural caretakers who look after everyone except themselves, so much so that they can't even articulate what would make them happy. What they do figure out over the course of the book is that what they really need is each other. They go from friendly business associates to friends to strong attraction to love. Their romantic journey feels organic and unforced. They come from different worlds but are well-matched in magical strength and in force of will. There is never a sense that one of them can or would dominate the other and most refreshingly, when conflict does come up, they use their words and work together rather than pulling separately. 

I can't say enough good things about the book. It was a bit on the longer side, but I never felt that it dragged, and I didn't want it to end. There were a few first novel hiccups, some dangling plot threads that were never resolved or that were resolved a little too easily, but overall, the plot was well thought out and executed. I'm pretty sure this is a stand-alone, not the start of a series, so I'm not sure what Mia Tsai is planning to write next, but I'll definitely be on the lookout for it. My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an advance copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions in this review are my own.
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This book was a lot of fun. However, I find that the world building wasn't developed enough, so I didn't always understand what was going on. I also felt like the romance moved a little too fast to be believable. Overall, this was an enjoyable, fun read.
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'Bitter Medicine' by Mia Tsai is absolutely delightful and a must read. A bit of an urban fantasy romp, there's plenty of loveable characters, excellent villains, and a swoony romance! Funny and heartfelt in equal measure, with so many different cultures and languages and excellent storytelling. An excellent debut, I'm looking forward to more from Mia Tsai and I've got to get my hands on a physical copy as soon as I can! 

Thank you to NetGalley and Tachyon Publications for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.
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The more I think about this book, the more I love it! There's so many little details baked into these pages that really bring the story to life. I felt like I was watching an entire romantic saga unfold before me with xianxia magic from the East, faery lore from the West, family drama, action-packed fights and chases, and reflective moments of growth.

I loved so many elements of this story - the code-switching (English, Chinese, and French), the themes of consent and freedom, the quiet but surprisingly steamy romance, the steadfast loyalty through to the end. Elle and Luc have my entire heart and I adore them. They show such loyalty, even when beaten down, which is both their strength and weakness. The story shows them letting go of past mindsets and instead focuses on their growth together towards happiness. It's such a fantastic book, but it's really the intricacy of the storytelling that really helps to immerse you in their world and in the story.

There were two explicit scenes that surprised me. I know it's an adult book, and the MCs are over 100 years old, and yet it felt sudden that there were explicit scenes between them and I don't know why it surprised me so much. That being said, these scenes were so sweet and so full of love that it wasn't even like sexy, it was romantic and cute, and I love them. But still. They took me by surprise haha. 

As a whole, I definitely recommend Bitter Medicine if you're looking for some light fantasy with a bit of drama and warm, fuzzy moments!

TW: racism, misogyny, sexual content, injury detail, blood, murder, toxic family, burnout; mentions war, death

eARC gifted via NetGalley by Tachyon Publications in exchange for an honest review.
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First I would like to thank Netgalley and Tachyon Publishers for sending me this e-arc in return for an honest review. 

First I would like to say that I had my first impressions that this was a fantasy book with romance, and not strictly considered a romance genre book set in fantasy world with fantasy subplot drama. That did not bode well for me, as I am someone who loves fantasy or any book with subplot romance. Right from the beginning I could tell this was a romance book, as each character described when seeing each other that they yearned for the other, but were trying to deny it. It overshadowed the parts I loved.

The parts I loved where one, the depth the author went into about Elle's powers, the healing of glyphs, the historical aspects, the magic, family dynamics, and the world were all beautifully written, and for that it gets 3 stars or else it would be a lot less.
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I heard about this book when I was doing my research on 2023 releases, I saw it was about an immortal woman who is a descendent of a Chinese goddess and a French half-elf spy and I was already hooked.

It did not let me down! It was such a fun read with focus on romance and with a great backdrop of a well-fleshed out fantastical paranormal world.

🌍 The world building… it is done so well. I loved the magic system, the history, the company, the characters’ histories and everything else about it. There are also many cool mythological creatures: selkies, sphinxes, harpies, elves and more! It felt like a fully realized world. I could totally imagine many other books stemming from the same setting.
🧝‍♂️ The love interest, Luc... ladies, gays and theys, we all deserve a man who would put someone on a hit list for being racist, then cook delicious food for us. Don't settle for less.
💖 The romance... What a beautiful, delicate and mostly angst-less romance that was. Plus all the various ways they cover consent in the book is superb, not just for physical boundaries but emotional ones as well.
💬 I also loved all the languages and cultures in the book. Especially when it talks about how more eastern cultures are sometimes ignored. There's also a great note from the author about the languages, don’t miss it.
👯 There were some fantastic side characters too, I’d love more books with perspectives by them. The brother, the friend, even the crew… I wanna know their back stories, and see them with a happy ending.
🏳️‍🌈 The representation was fantastic. Beyond the Chinese culture, the French food and American capitalism, there are also many queer characters in the book (maybe almost all?), both the MCs are bi, all of it is very casually mentioned, not a big part of the plot.
😨 I was on the edge of my seat for a good chunk of the book. The stakes were high and I was very invested. I especially loved a fight scene that happened about halfway through, it was so imaginative.

- The middle of the book does kind of feel like the end, and for a little bit after the MC gets kind of insufferable. But as the author herself has mentioned, this is a book in two acts.
- I would have liked to see Elle’s magic even more. I was so intrigued by her abilities, it would have been nice to see her fully unleash for longer.
- The romance does kind of go from 0 to 100 quite quickly but I thought it made sense with what was happening with Elle at the time.

Thank you to Tachyon Publications and NetGalley for the eARC!
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What an enchanting read from start to finish. There are so many layers to dissect here — I think one of the most defining factors about "Bitter Medicine" is that as much as it is about romance, it's very much so also about family, what it means to be obligated to family, duty, boundary setting, and self case. It was a blast learning more about Chinese culture and medicine/healing/wellness practices. The characters in this book were so well written and fleshed out that I could have sworn I was reading the dialogue of real people speaking. 

The world that Mia Tsai has built is rooted in customs and traditions that lend themselves to the real world; it's very obvious that Tsai has done a great deal of planning and research to bring the magic of "Bitter Medicine" onto the page. The dialogue was fresh, witty, and dynamic. The writing itself is also beautifully written and well crafted, which well suits the beauty of this story.

Elle and Luc's romance is not a fast whirlwind romance. Instead, it's carefully crafted over a series of chapters. As readers, we get to learn more about who these characters are as individuals, which makes for a very satisfying read as their romance blossoms. Their relationship has weight and gravity that goes beyond anything superficial.

While the main climax of the book did feel a bit rushed/incomplete, the final chapters and conclusion felt whole, and the ending was very fitting for this novel. Extremely well done!
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An Urban Fantasy Dreamscape, blending beautifully, xianxia elements with that of fae lore and other world myths. A romance debut with protagonists that you’ll ache to see attached and a cast of characters that add a lovely lightness to this story that doesn’t shrink away from deeper themes of belonging, abuse and the expectations of family. Tsai is an author to watch! 

Romantasy girlies will eat this up! 

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for this arc in exchange for an honest review .
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Bitter Medicine is the story of Elle, a temp doing calligraphy at a fairy agency, and Luc, a half-elf sworn to free two children from a curse he put on them. Unfortunately, Luc's boss is the literal worst, rarely allowing Luc any time off to do anything. When Elle and Luc end up working together, they soon find out they want to do more than work.

So my bad for thinking this is a YA book. I mean the cover makes it look YA and the blurb kind of lends itself to older YA. I will say here and now that this is definitely not YA. That's not a bad thing as I read all kinds of books. I was just really surprised when it got super spicy. Aside from that, this was a decent book. I didn't love it nor did I hate it. For me I felt a bit of a distance to the characters, more like I was watching their story from the sidelines rather than completely immersed in it.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this ARC.
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When reading fantasy I look for two things specifically; a) that the plot is character driven, because I like to understand their motivations, their goals and their personalities, and b) the world building. This aspect of the plot doesn’t have to be detailed to the last speck of dust, but there has to be some degree of it. While “Bitter Medicine” excels on the characterization of the heroine and the hero, there is almost no world building, no setting… so I was kind of lost for most of the book. I understood that there were several species of rational beings and that some had magic. I understood that Elle was some sort of witch with powers that could help people and that this magic worked by painting glyphs or runes, I understood that Luc was half elf half human, that he passes for a human being and that he needs his other half to be secret. But I felt like I was introduced to this world without anything to hold on to, like playing a role play videogame without being given the rules or how it works and why.

It seems that it is a mixture between the real world and fantasy, for some locations have their mirrors in real life; New York, France, China, Vietnam (Elle is Chinese). Other than that, there was nothing recognizable. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t find anything enjoyable in the plot. While the fantasy side of it doesn’t work for me, the love story is very good, so good that I could isolate everything else and just enjoy the (love) ride. I believe that Luc and Elle had fallen in love before the book even starts so we don’t know if it’s love at first sight, but none of them knows about the other’s feelings and now that they need to be together and that they know each other’s most dangerous secrets, the forced proximity and the friendship between them leads to so much more. And they are both so silly in a good way, although the book is written in the third person, we get to see both their perspectives, and it’s so funny that they can’t identify the signs on each other.

Elle’s magic system is very well crafted, it is quite complex and powerful, so powerful that she can be smelt by other creatures. My hypothesis is that Mia Tsai thought the magic system first and then she created Elle and Luc and everything around them from there. She explains how it works and the impact and side effects it has on Elle when she’s writing her glyphs and spells. This is yet another feature that I loved from this book, but it isn’t enough to make up for the chaotic setting, and by setting I mean everything save for Luc, Elle, the love story, and the magic.

There’s a spy story subplot and a spirit looking for Elle subplot as well. There’s tele transportation, which comes in handy when they are in danger, there’s racism (and speciesism?), there’s inclusivity but also denial of inclusion, no clear agenda whatsoever, both issues seem to be thrown into the story casually.
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Elle is a descendant of the Chinese god of medicine, underemployed as a mediocre magical calligrapher at the fairy temp agency. She challenges herself by covertly outfitting half-elf Luc with high-powered glyphs. Luc is the agency's top security expert but had been responsible for a curse laid. He must perform all duties perfectly to earn time off, so the two begin a dangerous collaboration. Elle is loyal to her family, and Luc is bound by his true name. To be free and find happiness, they'll have to take dangerous chances.

Inspired by xianxia, Chinese mythology, and Western lore, this novel involves a lot of inventive magic. It's also a supernatural friends-to-lovers story, with both Elle and Luc harboring crushes on each other that they don't really act on until halfway through the book. Each carries secrets regarding their past: Elle holds back on her magic to stay off the radar and remain in hiding, and Luc is relentless at his job because he essentially has a geas laid on him. The scenes involving his job are wonderfully written, and I hope we get a screen adaptation so I can see them! There are mythical creatures from many different traditions, which I also really enjoyed seeing.
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Bitter Medicine is a standalone story that merges Xianxia-inspired Chinese magic systems and mythology with European-inspired mythology. There is a nice author’s note that goes into some background for the story and helps the reader understand her reasoning for certain elements. Elle is a descendant of the Chinese god of medicine and is on alert along with her older brother as her murderous younger brother is on the loose. Luc is a French half-elf who is a security agent and frequents Elle’s work. Their two journeys come together through the Agency the two characters work for, at different levels, and events involving Elle’s brother.

As Elle and Luc know each other before the story begins, the reader plays “catch up” with their relationship in a way. As the two spend time together, there is a lot of back and forth with their connection. One moment they are more familiar and the next they are more awkward. I think a little additional foundation for their dynamic in the beginning of the novel would have helped this element. The romance that develops between Luc and Elle was believable and I enjoyed their chemistry. It does develop quickly, so I do wish there were some transitional moments added to the story. I feel this would have helped readers, me included, connect to the developing romance more.

The pacing is not even throughout the novel or a standard progression to a climax and instead has fast and slow moments throughout. There is a lot of detail in the world and magic systems, yet I wish there was a little more for the characters. Their motivations are clear, and the goal of the novel is apparent, but I feel there are not enough details listed for the characters themselves, such as their backgrounds and general traits. As-is some pieces of the story feels underdeveloped, but I think the general foundation is there. Overall, this was an engaging novel with a lot of potential.

**I give a special thank you to Netgalley and the publisher, Tachyon Publications, for the opportunity to read this entertaining novel. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**
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Bitter Medicine - Release Day Review
"Who are you when you aren't with me?"
QUICK LOOK: Urban Fantasy, Chinese Mythology & Medicine, Elves, Intelligence Agency, Playful Banter, Unique Magic System, Portal Jumping, Romance
SYNOPSIS: Elle and Luc both work for the same intelligence agency in different departments. Elle often makes special spells of protection or ability spells for Luc to use on his missions in the field. But, as these agents begin to get to know each other, they begin to discover neither are simply who they first seemed to be.
-Well-built Urban Fantasy World
-Intelligence Agency Aspect was really unique
-Gorgeous Character Growth for both leads
-So Playful. Great banter. Lots of humor.
-Luc calling Elle "my heart"
-The author's note about why she used multiple languages in the book was fascinating 
-Taiwanese-American Author
-Some transitions to new scenes or settings felt a bit unclear
-Some of "how" the magic worked felt a bit unclear
Thank you @netgalley for my eARC copy. I was given this eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
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