Monday, May 24, 2021

The Lost Apothecary - Sarah Penner

Summary: A female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course. Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.

Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I really liked the premise of this book—a female apothecary in the late 1700’s who has turned her business of helping people with everyday ailments to punishing by poisoning (deserving?) men for their trespasses. The 1700’s were not a time when women had a lot of rights, as you may know, nor a lot of choices, so the idea that our apothecary was taking back the power by poisoning them seems delightful (in theory, of course). This is a time hop book, and our other protagonist is a modern-day woman who is also dealing with a husband of shady dealings and bad behavior, and so it is with this parallel we are led through this story.

This book ended up being a lot more women’s lit than I expected it would. That’s not to say that this doesn’t seem completely obvious given the topic, but I guess I was expecting something a little less in the woman-discovering-herself-through-history-and-coming-to-terms-with-it-all-with-the-help-from-a-new-friend type of sitch. That’s what it was, though. I start to get a little leery once things take a hard right and delve deeply into chic lit, although I do love a good story about women.

Although I enjoyed the story that this book told, I felt like there were quite a few improbabilities that led to it not being as authentic feeling as it should have. The modern day story was especially weird in that regard, and it was like there were so many strange things happening that felt forced and “written” instead of naturally moving the way the story arc might have gone if it had been allowed to be fluid and actually follow its true destiny (whatever that may be). Because of that, I felt the ending, especially, to be unsatisfying, and the modern protagonist to do things (and say things) that I’m not sure felt like should have actually happened. That’s not to say that I couldn’t see where those parts of the story came from, I just didn’t find it to be the most organic route the story would have actually taken. Also, pretty much the apex of the whole “discovery” (I’m being vague here, but you’ll know what I’m talking about if you read it) is super limited and I would have liked for that to happen more or be expanded upon. Instead of that, we were left wallowing in the sad and not-love story of the modern protagonist and her moron of a husband.

The historical protagonist was a much more interesting story, and I think the author should have spent her time here. I would have especially liked some back story to Nella and her mother, as she was pretty much the most interesting person in the whole book. In fact, I am going so far as to say that we didn’t need the modern story at all. I would have just liked a nice and fleshed out version of Nella’s story. It would have worked just fine and in fact would have probably tipped the book from chic lit to just interesting historical fiction about women.

Overall, this was a decent read. The topic was fun, the writing was fine, and it’s not like it was super confusing or anything, which is always a bonus. It was straightforward and a quick read. The topic alone is intriguing, and if that is enough to suck you in, I think you’ll enjoy it just fine.

My Rating: 3 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is talk of poisonings (and some descriptions of how they die), extramarital affairs, but it was actually pretty clean, especially for chic lit.

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