I'm a librarian who loves anime, manga, and reading a wide variety of genres.
From the look of things, the further I get into this world/series, the more I enjoy it. I find that to be very reassuring, considering that I have several more works in the series I haven't yet read.
This story takes place sometime prior to Herb-Witch – before Iathor's father's death, but after the creation of the newer dramsman's draught. Iathor is trying to save his city from a strange plague that doesn't seem to respond to any treatments he thinks up. Some people respond to his brews better than others, but not a single person is fully cured. As the city's food supplies run low and members of Iathor's own household fall ill, all hope seems lost.
It's been months since I read Herb-Witch and Herb-Wife, but I was able to recognize enough of the character names to have a general idea of which of Iathor's dramsmen would survive. Therefore, I wasn't so much worried about individual characters as I was curious about what the cure would be, and how Iathor would discover it.
One of the things I really liked about this story was that it incorporated so much of what I came to love about Iathor in Herb-Wife. He was deeply aware of his responsibilities, and he always kept in mind the effect that his words could have on his dramsmen, whose bond to him required that they follow any orders he gave. Iathor is wonderful for anyone who needs an “honorable character” fix.
Right up until the end of the story, I'd have said that newbies to this series could probably follow along well enough. However, the cure for the plague came up very suddenly, and those who don't already have a decent understanding of how this world works might be a bit bewildered. For my part, I wondered how people weak from hunger and the plague could survive the effects of the cure. The story didn't go into that at all, although I knew from the Lord Alchemist duology that it had to be at least somewhat of an issue.
The beginning of this story was a little choppy, but it soon smoothed out, and I was reminded of how much I liked Iathor. It was also interesting (and somewhat sad) to see something I don't think was included in the original duology: a dramsman bound with the newer draught who was married to someone who hadn't taken the draught.
(Original review, with read-alikes and watch-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)