The Lost Apothecary is a book shrouded in mystery; with excerpts from 1791 and the present day, debut author Sarah Penner has definitely woven an infinitely unique tale.
Penner’s debut novel will be translated into 11 languages worldwide. She and her husband reside in St. Petersburg, Florida, along with their adorable miniature dachshund, Zoe.
A hidden apothecary shop, deep within the alleys of London, 1791. Nella runs this shop and has done for over 20 years since her mother’s passing. Her shop is one like any other, however, as it doesn’t just sell remedies to calm nerves or heal a rash; Nella’s shop also sells deadly poisons.
Her shop of toxins has but two rules; the poisons must never be used to harm a woman, and every name of the victim and buyer must be recorded in the shop’s ledger.
As someone rather unexpected enters her deadly and deceiving shop, Nella’s concealed life begins to change, and not all for the better.
In the present day we follow Caroline, a woman who has come to London alone, despite planning to spend her time there with her husband, James.
After a shocking and disgraceful secret is exposed, Caroline finds herself unexpectedly glad to be alone. In her loneliness, she joins a group of people looking for treasures and other things along the banks of the River Thames.
There, she finds something so tiny yet so important, that it causes her to go down a path she hasn’t ventured down in 10 years… will this lead her to the 18th century apothecary?
So, what did I think?
This book was both clever and intriguing, and I found myself glued to the pages most of the time. Penner has gone above and beyond to make this unlike any story I’ve ever read in the past, and it was a joy to behold.
I loved the fact that this book was written by and included three wonderful female characters. For me, it made it all the more relatable (especially Caroline’s pages) and I adored each character in different ways.
Nella, the owner of the shop of poisons, was a character who on the surface may seem ordinary but of course, she has a huge secret and burden to carry with her. Her kind spirit is being stripped away by the nature of her job, but is softened by the unexpected arrival of Eliza.
Eliza is a younger character and is also in the 18th century along with Nella. Both characters taught one another and it was a lovely relationship between old Nella and the eager and juvenile Eliza.
Caroline was my favourite, however. Her lost tenacity made me feel for her, as she’d always put her husband in front of herself; so much so that she found herself with an unused history degree and working on a farm. Her discovery in London really made her see things in a new light.
As for the story; the first few pages didn’t grip me to begin with. I had to read a good few pages in to begin to enjoy this book. However, it was not long before I was fully immersed in the two tales.
What makes this book so brilliant is the writing style, or rather the changes within it. Penner goes from elegant and old-fashioned writing for Nella and Eliza, to more modern and relatable when Caroline speaks; to me it was so impressive and made the book stand right out.
Throughout the novel, I had different hopes for each character. I hoped that Nella’s shop would remain hidden; I hoped that Eliza was able to return to her life unscathed; and most of all I hopes that Caroline dug up the part of her that adored old stories and the joy of research. Whether any of that happens, you’ll have to read for yourself!
Despite the somewhat slow start and the one or two pages that dragged just a little, this book is charming, clever and cunning. The way the stories connect is so crafty and the fact that you could not have one part of the story without the others shows true talent for storytelling.
The Lost Apothecary was a tale of sadness, realisation and investigation as all three characters stood tall and created one wonderful tale.
Written by Melissa, who you can follow on Twitter @melissajournal
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