This is one of those series that everyone else seems to adore and that I only like. I have to be in the mood for the series' slower pace and general wordiness. Also, while a heroine that isn't really interested in romance is a nice change, I can't help but be somewhat disappointed that the story has mostly left the romance aspects behind. I think part of the problem is the “mostly” bit – Shurei is ready to be a government official and has never really had thoughts of romance, while Ryuki still wishes she could be his consort. If he could just get over her, I think I'd feel better about the whole thing, but, as it is, I'm a little worried that he'll either continue to pine for her and never marry (meaning “no heir”), or that he'll marry someone else but never fully love that person (how incredibly depressing). I'm at least glad that he's a good enough person to let Shurei go. He could easily have let his own emotions override Shurei's desires and opted to hobble her career in order to keep her close.
Once again: my synopses include some spoilers. Read on at your own risk.
The Story of Saiunkoku (manga, vol. 7) art by Kairi Yura, story by Sai Yukino, translated by Su Mon Han – A government official starts rumors that Shurei didn't pass the exam on her own merit. Her sponsor, Reishin (her uncle), is arrested (although mostly he puts himself under house arrest), and Shurei is held captive at Kocho's pleasure house. If Shurei can't make it to her trial, she'll be found guilty. Yogetsu (drunk Eigetsu's alter-ego) saves her. A side story at the end shows how Seiran was found and named by Shurei's parents, who both knew quite well who he was.
I read this a bit too long after reading volume 6 – it took me some time to remember the characters and political situation. The most important things to understand were that 1) the Hong clan is very powerful, 2) Reishin is head of the Hong clan, and 3) Reishin loves his niece very much. Ryuki may be the emperor, but Reishin demonstrates quite well the necessity of keeping the Hong clan happy after Shurei is falsely accused.
I appreciated how honest Eigetsu was about his reasons for becoming a civil servant. He flat-out says he wants to be rich and powerful. He grew up poor, so he knows how much money can help those who have nothing. His basic goal is to help people, but he understands that just wanting to do something isn't always enough - you have to have enough funds to make things happen.
One thing in this volume that shocked me: I can't for the life of me remember if this was brought up in a previous volume, but at one point someone mentioned that Shurei and Koyu are eventually supposed to get married. Shurei's dad didn't seem particularly surprised, but I somehow doubt that Shurei, Koyu, and Ryuki know. Or maybe they do, but figure they can keep it from happening?
The Story of Saiunkoku (manga, vol. 8) art by Kairi Yura, story by Sai Yukino, translated by Su Mon Han – Prior to Shurei's arrival at the trial, the official responsible for starting the rumors is verbally shredded with all the evidence against him. Reishin joins in, and then Shurei arrives. Shurei easily passes the public exam that's meant to prove she's truly capable of being a civil servant. Later, Shurei and Eigetsu learn that they're to be joint governors of the Sa Province, with Ensei and Seiran around to help them. Ryuki is sad about sending Shurei away, but knows that it's the work she wants to do and is good at. A side story shows several of the series' men participating in a cross-dressing contest. Kijin Ko (aka, the government official who normally wears a mask) is the winner.
Those still reading this series for the romance are going to be sorely disappointed. Because I'd seen the anime, I knew it was coming. I honestly have no idea if we'll get to come back to the romance at the end of the series, or if Ryuki will just give up at some point. I think Shurei will be fine – it's Ryuki I'm worried about.
The efforts to defend Shurei were nice. I'm still trying to decide how I feel about Official Ro bullying Shurei and Eigetsu because he felt they had the most promise out of all the new civil servants. However, it was kind of sweet that he was the one leaving snacks for them. I had thought maybe Shurei's dad was arranging all of that.
The politics in this volume was nice and a little twisty, although the stuff about the ring and Sa Province confused me a little.
The Story of Saiunkoku (manga, vol. 9) art by Kairi Yura, story by Sai Yukino, translated by Su Mon Han – This volume starts off with a flashback to young Shoka Hong, who asks his great aunt to kill herself in order to spare the clan from being destroyed by the emperor. Reishin remembers this, but Kuro doesn't. Then, we learn more about Ryuren Ran, the most recent exam's most eccentric examinee. Shurei and Eigetsu become friends with him and deal with the mess his too-successful gambling creates. Ryuren seems like he'd be a hard person for Ryuki to make use of, but Ryuki comes up with something – he asks Ryuren to journey through Sa Province, acting as his spy. Oh, and also, Reishin had eerily life-like masks of Shoka's face made.
This is basically a “fluff” volume, although it's not bad – a nice transition from the recent threat to Shurei's dreams to Shurei and Eigetsu beginning their time as joint governors of Sa Province.
The stuff with Ryuren was mostly silly. I don't know that I like him much, but Yukino's attempts to paint him as more than just “that irresponsible weirdo” were interesting. The stuff with Reishin's Shoka masks was just...creepy. I get that Reishin loves his brother, but he needs to scale it back some.
My favorite part of the volume was probably the flashback at the beginning. I enjoyed getting to see young Shoka, who apparently has had to do and see horrible things from a very young age. As creepy as Reishin can sometimes be, I found it kind of touching that he still adores and supports his older brother, even knowing what Shoka has had to do in order to protect the family.