Book Review: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

The Lost Apothecary  by Sarah Penner Genre:  Literary fiction, historical fiction Synopsis:   Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-centu...

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Genre: Literary fiction, historical fiction

Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.

Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.

Content/Trigger Warnings: Emotional abuse, toxic relationship, death, poisoning, infidelity, infertility, suicidal ideation

Overall rating:  ★★★★☆

Here I am again mentioning that historical fiction isn’t my favorite, but I do enjoy it most when it’s weaved into a story set in present-day. The Lost Apothecary is written so well and seamlessly interweaves the 18th century with the 2020s.

What’s so incredibly wonderful about this book is that the story, though set in two different time periods, feels somehow chronological in its telling. The reader is able to learn, bit by bit, what happened in 1791, while Caroline is gradually learning the same story in 2021. But she’s not miraculously finding all the full truth. Instead, she's learning some tidbits here and there that feel much more realistic. Because when we learn history in real life, we’re never able to truly learn the full story. It’s not possible. And within the pages of this book, Caroline doesn’t learn the *full* story.

What I also really enjoyed was how Nella’s and Caroline’s stories were aligned, but in wildly different ways. And I don’t want to talk on that too much because a lot of it comes into play in the completely unexpected climax of the story. I truly didn’t see it coming, but it made so much sense to me.

"First, there was trust. Then, there was betrayal. You cannot have one without the other. You cannot be betrayed by someone you do not trust."

There were a few parts of the story that irked me, like Caroline’s cellar-discovering adventure, which seemed to work out all too perfectly, the fact that we never see Gaynor’s dad again (who played a pretty significant part in setting up the story), and the almost too-perfect ending. I also found parts of the book to be extremely dull at times. But ultimately, the storytelling itself just really impressed me. Give me more vengeful poisoning of men for their misdeeds.

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