Palace intrigue - and Shurei's temper - really flare up in The Story of Saiunkoku Volume 2.
Note: The Story of Saiunkoku Volume 2 is, of course, the sequel to The Story of Saiunkoku Volume 1. The review of The Story of Saiunkoku Volume 1 is here. Otherwise, read on!
Shurei has been growing accustomed to life in the Imperial Palace, and her lessons with the emperor are going even better than she had hoped. Admittedly, he has a few quirks that she hadn't planned on, like being afraid of the dark and wandering off to avoid his Imperial responsibilities, but she can work with that.
That is, if these pesky assassination attempts don't succeed first.
Living in the Imperial Palace, servants and advisers are in and out of the Imperial Family's chambers all day. Moreover, little token presents like hairpins and sachets are exchanged as a matter of course. But as a son of the former emperor, Ryukki has been trained since he was small how to detect poisons and keep himself safe from at least the less talented assassins. So as Shurei starts getting presents laced with poisons, he takes it as a personal affront and does what he can to stop it.
Because, you see, the Emperor is starting to care for Shurei. He's always kept people at arm's length before now, especially women. Not only does that make it hard to hurt him, but it keeps the like of succession clear in case his beloved brother ever came back. But love causes people to do silly things, and when Ryukku decides to come clean and tell Shurei that perhaps he's not the fool he's pretended to be, well, tempers flare again.
The palace intrigue plotline comes to a head in this volume, and we begin to find out where all these trusted advisers of the last emperor disappeared to, as well as the true backstories of a few of the more elusive characters. This is what helps The Story of Saiunkoku rise abouve just another shojo love story and shine with the politics and subplots of a well-rounded series.
Highs: Even though Ryukku's genuinely confused sometimes, especially by Shurei, it's great to see that intelligence flash and watch him solve things for himself
Lows: Since Shurei was raised by a nobleman, shouldn't she have been taught to keep herself alive a bit better?
Verdict: The series is starting to find its stride, and the more it concentrates on the drama of the Palace, the better.
Further Reading: The Earl and the Fairy, Rin-Ne