Bitter Medicine

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Pub Date 14 Mar 2023 | Archive Date 11 Apr 2023

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“There are so many joys in this paranormal. The wealth of languages, mythologies, religions and magicks are a weight that balances the emotional tenderness.”
New York Times Book Review

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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

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.

“There are so many joys in this paranormal. The wealth of languages, mythologies, religions and magicks are a weight that balances the emotional tenderness.”
New York Times Book Review


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

“There are so many joys in this paranormal. The wealth of languages, mythologies, religions and magicks are a weight that balances the emotional tenderness. Healing magic, rather than fighting magic, takes center stage—and without spoiling things too much, it’s also one of the rare paranormals to feature a heroine who loses rather than gains power. Tsai does not flinch from this grief: ‘The overhead lights cast her shadow, faint and watery, across her threshold, and that’s how she imagines she looks: magic-less and broken, a ghostly husk of herself.’ In a subgenre that so often makes supernatural power the answer to problems, how refreshing to find one that says being mortal—being human, and happy, and safe—is purpose enough.”
New York Times Book Review

[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.”
—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.”
—Angela Mi Young Hur, author of Folklorn

Bitter Medicine is a slow-burn romance wrapped in an international spy thriller wrapped in supernatural politics, and it’s tasty as hell.”
—Annalee Newitz, author of The Terraformers and Autonomous

“A half-elf mobster falls for a descendent of the Chinese god of medicine in this lushly romantic urban fantasy that mixes ancient Celtic heroes with svartálfar of Norse folklore and fox spirits from Chinese mythology (there are also epic flying battles). . . . 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

“Tsai delights with this fast-paced, romantic-fantasy debut brimming with ancient xianxia magic, simmering heat, and murderous family feuds that cross time and space.”

“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

“I love a good fantastical, paranormal romance, don’t you? About the only romance novels I go for these days include elves and fairies in slow-burn steam and magical mythology anyway, and Mia Tsai’s debut has plenty of all of it!”
—Ms. Magazine

“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.”
—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

“Contemporary fantasy at its best: sharp, complex but contained and driven by two lovable characters working hard for their Happily Ever After.”
Shelf Awareness

“A love letter to code-switching and its many forms: exchanging phrases in multiple languages, finding loopholes, and thriving under restrictive rules, adapting to different worlds. It is its own power and talent.”
—Mochi Magazine

“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

A magical novel in which two lonely people have to let go of their pasts and forgive themselves for the sake of their romance.”

“This book was just amazing.”
The Smut Report

“If you’re looking for a touching fantasy romance full of tenderness and emotions, Mia Tsai’s debut should be on your list.”

“A recommended debut for all enthusiastic fantasy fans.”

“At [that] intersection of love, community, and choice exists Bitter Medicine. I ended up finishing this book days before I was supposed to because I was captivated by both Luc and Elle.”
—Utopia State of Mind

5/5 stars. “A debut that doesn't read like a debut, a fantasy romance I can recommend even if you usually dabble in only one of those genres. Wonderful stuff."
Always Doing

“If you're a fan of fantasy romance books in general, I highly recommend that you check out this book when it comes out in March!”
—Layton’s Book Reviews

Rating: 10/10. “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

“Tsai writes witty banter like no other. Like we're talking Gilmore Girls level.”
—Yume Writes

“I loved the blend of fantasy and the real world. I thought the world-building was excellent.”
—Booklover’s Boudoir

“There are so many joys in this paranormal. The wealth of languages, mythologies, religions and magicks are a weight that balances the emotional tenderness. Healing magic, rather than fighting magic...

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 209 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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Amazing paranormal saga!

In a world full of fae, where ancient figures are linked to Gods, where organizations have come to depend on the agency Roland & Riddles to solve their problems. The Bureau is the elite arm of the agency, led by the elf Oberon. The Fixers are special agents who report directly to Oberon, the legendary founder of Roland & Riddle.” Oberon has in his thrall a half fae Fixer, Luc Villois. Others don’t know it, but Oberon keeps Luc chained to him by Right of Dominion, a practice outlawed many years after Luc was under Oberon’s control. That control continues. I loathe Oberon!
Think of James Bonds on steroids and you have some idea of Agent Luc Villois’ capabilities.
Luc’s been going to a B Grade Chinese artist Elle Mai for protective Glyphs. She is the only one he’s come to trust.
Elle holds secrets. She hides her true abilities for very good reasons. She’s has the ability of a higher grade artist but she ‘s actually from a family of an ancient medical magic line, descendants from the god of medicine, and it’s complicated! Suffice it to say when one brother tried to kill the other, she saved him. Now he’s in hiding from everyone, including the Bureau. Hiding in plain sight. Her little brother Yìwú is also on the Agency ‘must find’ list.
I love it when Luc gives Elle an ink stick. She’s overwhelmed, “The stick is as hard as stone, the color a deep, pure black, and Elle knows from previous experience that it can last decades without cracking or losing potency. Grinding it verges on the spiritual. Using it in her work can amplify her magic fivefold, and that’s without a blessing.”
We see the true passion Elle has for her work.
A soaring tale of love, betrayal, friendship, families and more. Oh, and Luc has an aunt who’s a sphinx!
I was absolutely glued to every word leaping off the pages. I kept along with them. Mai Tsai is a bright light bursting onto the stage of paranormal fantasy.

A Tachyon ARC via NetGalley.
Many thanks to the author and publisher.
Please note: Quotes taken from an advanced reading copy maybe subject to change

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Thank you to Tachyon Publications for this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai is a lovely romance set in a high-fantasy world. The story revolves around Elle, who works as a magical calligrapher. She has to hide her extraordinary powers and only takes on assignments which require minimal use of her powers. One day, Luc, a half-elf client, discovers that Elle is able to create magical glyphs of a much higher caliber than everyone else. As the two grow closer, secrets are revealed, and their relationship blossoms from strictly professional into full-blown romance.

Here is a magical excerpt from Chapter 1:

"First, the ink.
Elle pours a bit of water on her grinding stone, sets the end of her ink stick in it. She clasps her hands and breathes out slowly, closing her eyes. When she opens them, her magic rouses, filling the pit of her stomach with familiar, joyful warmth.
She takes hold of the stick and pushes it in small, clockwise circles, her thumb pressing against debossed flowers painted in gold. She's been waiting half her shift to escape to her workshop, needing the meditation of calligraphy to decompress. In the stillness of art there are no outstanding orders or rude customers, no worries over her eldest brother, Tony, no limits on what she can do."

Overall, Bitter Medicine is a fantasy romance that will appeal to fans of The Invisible Library or These Violent Delights. One highlight of this book is that is an #ownvoices with a Chinese female lead. I am a huge fan of diversity in the fantasy genre. Another highlight of this book is the banter between the two leads. The romance is top-notch. Lastly, I loved the use of English, Chinese, and French in the book, which I appreciated more after reading author's note about code-switching at the end of the book. If you're intrigued by the excerpt above, or if you're a fan of fantasy romance books in general, I highly recommend that you check out this book when it comes out in March!

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This book is SUCH a good time. I've had my eye on it for months, and I was not disappointed.

Elle is a direct descendent of the God of medicine - but she's been in hiding for years as a contractor for a magic calligraphy shop to protect her older brother from her younger brother...who may love them but wants to kill them both. The story is set in a contemporary America where magic and magical people are everywhere and the rest of us 'mundanes' are oblivious. Elle is capable of big magic, but she's had to stifle it all to keep a low profile. Though she does cheat a little to help Luc, a French half-elf security expert, whom she not so secretly has been crushing on. And then Luc is ordered to kill her younger brother...awkward!

This is a book with lots of fun action, capering, romance, and quirky friends - but it's also a beautiful introspective story about family, sacrifice, and trauma. It's about learning to value yourself beyond your job - even if you love it. The ending, which I won't spoil, felt utterly fresh and unexpected. Oh, and the whole Elle and Luc romance is super cute from start to finish. Despite the whole contract killing, they have a endearing, very nontoxic relationship.

Oh, also, Tsai writes witty banter like no other. Like we're talking Gilmore Girls level.

I can't wait for you all to get your hands on this wonderful, fun, sweet, contemporary fantasy adventure (w/ romance)! It was SO GOOD!

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BITTER MEDICINE is an amazingly fresh and sweet fantasy romance! Elle and Luc both have magic—Elle creates magic glyphs via her Chinese heritage and Luc is a French half elven Agent who struggles with All The Things He’s Done. When we meet them on page, Luc has had something of a crush on Elle for a while, but when a secret from her past crops up, it entwines them together along with his job.

I found the world for this book really fresh and fun in the same way that The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy was so inventive and different! The book has an international feel as characters location-hop, and a large portion of the book deals with Elle’s background and culture, which is very present on the page. But since this is primarily a romance, the book makes very interesting pacing choices when you might expect a high-octane adventure or crisis. It chooses to make the emotionally resonant pivots. There were some plot threads that I wish were tied up a bit more, but I think they could be hooks for future novels if the author so chooses, so who knows! I’d be up for that!!

I enjoyed this so much and I’m definitely going to keep on the lookout for more books by this author! 4.5 stars!

Heat level: 2🌶️. Two on page love scenes but you could scoot past the middle of chapter 11 and latter half of chapter 18 and be fine.

BITTER MEDICINE releases March 14. Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC copy. This is my honest review.

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An urban fantasy weaving together Western and Eastern magic systems, Bitter Medicine is the story of Elle and Luc, a medicinal cultivator and a half-fae agent. They find an easy rapport with each other, but when a shared adversary starts to make his move, some secrets will have to come to light.

Bitter Medicine is more of a character growth book than an action-adventure story. The story can pretty easily be split into two halves, with the first having the heightened stakes of the main plot while the second focuses on the aftermath and the conclusion of Elle and Luc's personal journeys. I really enjoyed the character arcs, but I did find the storytelling choices to be a little awkwardly paced.

Elle and Luc are really cute, though, so I'm not mad. It's nice how they're different yet parallel to each other. There are strong themes of duty and lack of self-worth, thanks to the complicated family dynamics at play.

Kudos to the global world-building and magic system. I appreciated how Mia Tsai put a focus on language and how different cultures shape their magic systems. Her afterword was quite thoughtful and added a nice nuance.

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Bitter Medicine immediately hooked me with the premise of a romance between an elf and immortal. And what begins as this fantasy premise, only evolves. The fantasy elements begin to bloom and we are able to see a world full of talents and dangers. With cute chemistry and plenty of awkward moments - this made me feel very seen - you instantly root for them. But beneath the surface, Bitter Medicine turns into an introspective story about choice.

Who are we? It takes a universal theme and breaks it down for us in a way that manages to resonate with readers. Are we just a sum of all the things we do for people? Our skills, high test scores, and jobs? Or are we just who are family is, where we were raised? Bitter Medicine unexpectedly struck a chord within me.

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A wonderful romance set against the backdrop of a well-built fantasy world. I loved the way the author handled the mingling of different languages and cultures, and developed the way different parts of the world have different ways of using magic. I also felt like the magical world and the real world were integrated well in this book, which is not always the case in an urban fantasy. Although the book was mostly about the romance (which was incredible), the worldbuilding was strong enough that I could imagine many stories being told in the background. I would love to read more books set in this world!

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Wow what a book.

The good:

- We are dropped into the world and left to figure out its rules on our own. This is my favorite kind of worldbuilding - no info dumps, just artfully placed hints as to how things function.

- In the same vein, Tsai trusts the reader to put things together. If you miss the first hint or three it's okay, it all gets explained eventually, but having that 'click!' feeling when a detail falls into place? Golden.

- This is fantasy romance, and fairly evenly split between the two genres. If you're a romance reader that's looking to get into fantasy (or vice versa), this is a fine place to start - enough plot for the fantasy people, enough relationship building for the romance folks.

- Ground is covered, both literally and figuratively, in Luc and Elle's relationship. Things change over time as they go from workplace acquaintances/friends to lovers.

- Both characters are caretakers, but Elle does it at the expense of herself. Luc shows her another way, where she can do what she needs for herself while also being there for those she loves. The dynamic reminds me of Murry and Tyler in Too Hot to Touch by Katy James.

- Speaking of dynamics I'm reminded of, Luc reminds me of Jean Claude from the Anita Blake series in that he takes care of Elle, but is also f'ing scary in a fight. Also, people have secrets for Actually Good Reasons, which calls to mind any Emily Sullivan book (but especially The Rebel and the Rake).

- Several non-English languages grace the pages, written in their original scripts which is so rarely seen. All of the utterances are minor, so there's no translation or gloss into English. Tsai explains her reasons for doing this in an author's note at the back and it is brilliant.

- Chinese culture, in particular, plays a big role in the story and I love the way it's woven into both the magic and Elle's world.

- Elle has some wonderful scenes with her brother, while it's also very clear that family is not an obligation (huzzah!).


- I expected violence, but the fights had more blood than I was prepared for, almost reveling in it. It stuck out to me because I haven't read a book like this in a while, but your mileage will likely vary.

I haven't mentioned the plot because I don't want to give anything away, just know that it's solid and interesting and that I couldn't put the book down - I kept reading "one more chapter" instead of making dinner or going to bed. Bitter Medicine is a debut that doesn't read like a debut, a fantasy romance I can recommend even if you usually dabble in only one of those genres. Wonderful stuff, and I can't wait to see what Tsai comes out with next.

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In this debut novel, Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai, I found the story beautiful with a lovely and complex romance. Part of the reasons lie in how well the characters are written. Neither Luc or Elle or without flaws and both have duties that preclude relationships. Yet, the romance is there, the characters are written with intricate layers and the love story is the most logical and compelling romance I’ve yet seen. 

The magic is written astonishingly well, with nuances and unexpected methods. Nothing is neat or tidy but it is compelling how well it is thought out. And the choices that the characters make with their magic is part of what makes the story so intriguing. The ending is how I would have figured out the solution to the problem the pair have but that does not make it stale but rather the perfect resolution for the story, one full of love and joy despite all the sacrifices both characters make in order to have happy lives. 

If you like stories with a happy ending, with love stories and romance, this novel is for you. It is a fascinating story with an intriguing magical system. The story has a lovely and complex romance with characters I frankly like a lot. If they were real people, I’d want to be friends with them. And I adore the ending.

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Oh how I adore this book!!!

The world, the magic system, the diversity, the romance 🥰😍, the family aspect and the characters in this book, phenomenal 🙌🏻

This story follows Elle who is the middle child of the family and works at a temp agency as a magical calligrapher writing glyphs for agents. Luc, a French half-elf, is a regular and asks her for a very specific commission for a job he has to do. She accepts and as they work together, their chemistry is clearly undeniable, and yet, Elle has a big secret that involves protecting her brothers whom she loves dearly, and Luc has a secret that he literally cannot even voice and they wonder whether they could ever truly be together.

My favorite things about this book were the romance and the family aspect.

I love me a good slow burn that frustrates me and this one covered that well 😂 It’s also a romance that one would dream about having. It’s beautiful, heartbreaking, and just so tender and sweet. The way Luc and Elle always make sure the other is okay before doing anything or touching the other, how careful Luc is around her, compared to how he is at work known as the Killer. My heart just melted and melted and melted as I read their love story! The best thing is the communication between the two of them. Okay, yah, they have their secrets, but what I loved is how Elle listened in a particular moment in this book and I loved her so so much during that scene and I wanted to hug her and Luc so much! But they got each other, they knew each other so well that they could tell there was something more going on, but respected each other’s privacy and were willing to wait for the other to tell them. They are just perfect 👌🏻

I also love how much Elle loves her family and I loved her interactions with her brother Tony. It just made me warm and fuzzy and made think of my family and siblings 🥰 Now, when I say family, I mean her brothers. And her brother Tony loves her so much too and the way they watch out for each other and take care of each other in this book was beautiful to read, especially during some of Elle’s darker moments.

Elle and Luc were very similar and their situations were different, but they each seemed to not think they worth anything, and it was heartbreaking to read that and how they felt about themselves, but lovely to see them grow and learn that they are worth it and are worth something and that people love them for who they are as a person, not what they can do.

This is truly an amazing book! Such a unique concept and the writing is beautiful and witty and I just loved it okay?! So you should go get it and read, it’s worth it I promise 😉

I received a free digital copy to read. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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This was a truly charming debut. Modern and yet magical world with a lovely amount of world-building. There were compelling characters, fun dynamics, and I found myself laughing along the way!

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I loved all the yearning in this book! Mia really did a great job with the world and characters. And wow that cover is gorgeous!

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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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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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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 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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An engaging and well-written fantasy romance--one of the best I've read in the genre. One of my new must-buy authors.

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-Fantasy Romance
-Urban/Contemporary: Raleigh, NYC, Paris, San Fran
-Dual POV (single narrator on audio, but tbh it is very well done)
---Chinese descendent of the god of medicine
---Calligraphy/jade magic
---Living a secret life with her brother because of family drama
---Half elf, half French/German more specifically he speaks French and Alsatian
---Secret agent (unknowingly) tracking down Elle's brother

This is a book about choosing happiness. I loved it so much! The magic was absolutely fascinating and a joy to read about. The world building is lush, the writing is beautiful and descriptive. I really enjoyed the character growth with both Elle and Luc. Luc's journey of dealing with his horrible job/overbearing boss was REAL and I was very emotional over it. Like I will bodily protect Luc til the ends of this earth!

I'm literally not going to shut up about this book til more people read it!

3/5 hot peppers (was not expecting the spice, but it was so good!)

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Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai is contemporary fantasy romance featuring a Chinese near-immortal, Elle, and a half-fae Frenchman, Luc, who both work for a mysterious and powerful supernatural agency. It’s got many Xianxia (Chinese “immortal heroes” fantasy) vibes. After traumatic events with her family, for which Elle feels responsible, she’s in hiding, which means concealing the true extent of her power as a descendant of a god of medicine. Luc is concealing the reasons he continues to work for the domineering head of their agency as a fixer and sometimes assassin. Of course, Elle and Luc fall in love, but their conflicting responsibilities and the true selves they hide from each other add a lot of excellent tension, resulting in difficult but ultimately satisfying decisions. There’s a lot of fun banter and some side characters I’d love to see again. Warning for some instances of magical coercion.

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Elle Mei is a descendant of Shénnóng, the Chinese god of medicine making her a gifted immortal. Due to her family’s past, she has chosen a career of doing magical calligraphy which could had become a lucrative career for her. She chooses to hide her gift to work as an ordinary glyphmaker. It is the only way she knows to protect her family. Elle has a crush on half-elf Luc Villois. He is her favorite customer. When Luc realizes what Elle’s truly capable of, he hires her to create custom glyphs for his upcoming assignment, and, against her better judgment, she agrees though she does make him promise not to tell where his glyphs came from. Luc has a secret and if Elle knew it, she would have nothing to do with him. What is the secret? Their friendship turns into love. When both of their pasts come back to haunt them, will their love save them?

The author has written a blend of mythology, love and magic. It is a magical novel in which two lonely people have to let go of their pasts and forgive themselves to save their relationship. I loved the allure and mystery of the two of them as they go from friendship to love. It is a paranormal adventure that the reader won’t forget!

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Mia Tsai is a brilliant writer. Bitter Medicine flawlessly builds a multicultural city center in a way that so many contemporary fantasy stories are missing out on. Our city centers are luscious and full of life, and Mia Tsai captures that life impressively through a fantastical world. It's genuine, heartfelt, and full of honesty.

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Such a gorgeous book!
This an urban fantasy romance with ancient magic and modern technologies and the swooniest romance.

The book started rather slow and a bit confusing for me. We are thrown right in the middle of the story and there is so much talking and nothing much happening and I was impatient for some action and then boom, a whirlwind of events and emotions. I was completely on board both with the suspense plot (he is a deadly fixer for a shadowy agency; she has ancient healing magic she is trying to hide) and the romance (so much pining, so much "our love is doomed and impossible").

I don't want to reveal much about the plot so I will focus more on the rest - gorgeous writing, fabulous main and supporting characters. They are all so well drawn, standing strong on their own. Elle is a descendant of the Chinese god of healing and her past and her culture is so, so strongly present in the story. Luc is a French half-elf and his European and magical heritage is also very much in the story as well. There are talking sphinxes, and fae-touched being and ordinary humans and it all so seamlessly blended. I loved it!

Their coming together is not easy and it comes at a great personal cost. Slightly spoilerish comments ahead. Something I loved a lot in their relationship is the way he reacted to her being injured and recovering from it. The way he took care but also gave her space when she needed it. Something too much attention and care can be suffocating, can put pressure on the person to pretend to better than they actually are. Here is where Luc completely won me over. He listened to her, he was there for her even when she lashed out at him (for which she apologized later on). And then it was her turn to be there for him and support him in the life-changing, life-threatening decision he made for his future. It was scary but also magical.

The supporting cast was great as well. No relationship was bland or stereotypical, they all felt real - complex and changing. We see family members being absolutely toxic and others being full of love and support. Queer characters (both MCs are bi actually), found families - all effortlessly fitting in this world of magic and mayhem.

This is a debut by Mia Tsai and it's a perfect blend of SFF and romance. It makes me excited to read more by this author in the future.

CW: dark magic, violence, life-threatening injuries, abusive families

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