Rules of The Lost Apothecary:
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.
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I have been so excited to get my hands on The Lost Apothecary, a debut by author Sarah Penner. I found myself ripping open the parcel the moment it came and staring at the beautiful cover (because it is stunning!) Immediately, I was whisked to London, my eyes not coming up from the pages until I finished it.
Hidden in the quiet corners 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. All of this is quickly thrown into disarray after a mistake is made and everything Nella has built could be taken. A string of consequences leading us to meet Caroline, in present-day London. While she is attempting to put distance between herself and her marital woes, history begs to be uncovered.
I struggled to put this book down once I’d begun it. These tantalising, well-developed stories let you live in three women’s life. And, not one feeling any less loved than the others. All three women get their moments to shine, with both their pasts and presents explored.
We meet Nella, who lives her life hidden behind a fake wall and her potions. She’s bitter, hurt, and empty. Nella has become used to being alone; especially she lost her mother. She doesn’t want any company, happy to continue making her potions. This is until she meets twelve-year-old Eliza.
Her mistress has sent Elizaect a poison from Nella that Eliza will be required to use on her mistresses’ husband. This chance encounter eventually leads to Eliza aiding Nella in her apothecary.
At the same time, Caroline’s life has combusted in modern-day London. A once excitable-historian is due to go on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday to London for her tenth wedding anniversary. However, she travels alone, needing to gain perspective and space from her unfaithful husband. She eventually finds herself mudlarking in the Thames, discovering a vial with a small bear on the side.
From the moment you begin reading this book, you will feel transported. You can almost smell the potions Nella makes and imagine the bustling streets of eighteenth-century London. This book showcases the fascinating lives of women and the issues they experience. It highlights both past and present, showing the ways women deal with their places within society. It tells the story of choice and navigating, living through those choices.
The mix of time, the city of London, and the relationships are what makes this story. It keeps you hooked as you watch the partnerships grow between Nella and Eliza and Caroline, and the British Librarian worker Gaynor. You begin to feel protective of Nella as the story goes on and a need to care for Eliza as the story goes on.
When Caroline’s story begins to take a turn, her unfaithful husband showing up, you immediately get the feeling things aren’t going to get any easier for her. And even as you think she slowly realises how unhappy she has been, you feel like shouting at the pages for her to move to London permanently.
Near the end, when things come to a head, the story has one last laugh in the past and one last punch in the present. You feel happy with where the characters end up and glad to have had the chance to be with them. These strong women are a force off the page, and while some could argue the plot isn’t as heavy as other books, it really is the women’s tales that make this book what it is.
Each one is unique, with their own problems and agendas, and they neatly blend together.
It’s a slow, quiet read, but one that is beautiful and tantalising, with soft edges and a hardened heart. It has darkness ebbing at the corners but remains a must-read by all.
It’s a wonderful historical fiction book, has you visualising and smelling the world around you; I was transported, and forever feelings desperate to return to each of the women’s lives.
If you’re someone looking for an escape, and loves history, then you will really enjoy The Lost Apothecary.
I cannot wait to read again. Happily awarding this book five-stars. I have happily welcomed to my own wooden shelves.