Sunday, 4 April 2021

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner Book Review!

Hi Readers! Yesterday I finished The Lost Apothecary, in a single day again. I sure am proud of myself. I hadn't decided which book to read so had a few options to choose from. But then I remembered how much I was intrigued about this book after reading its blurb. I just had to read it because the curiosity around it was built too high. I am so glad I decided to pick it up. Because once I started reading it, I physically could not stop reading it till it finished. There was never a dull moment & this is perhaps one of the recent books which I have loved this much! 



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. 



The best thing about The Lost Apothecary is that we have 3 women leads in the story. In the 1791 story line, there's Nella, who is the apothecary. And soon she is joined by a twelve-year-old Eliza Fanning. Nella helps women to fix their maladies & also offers poison to kill men who hurt them. In present day London, we have a tourist named Caroline Parcewell who finds a vial which leads to her search of the apothecary Nella who lived 200 years earlier. 

The story is over a span of only a week to 10 days, but it feels like more. Given the differences between the characters, it is commendable how brilliantly the author gets into those characters to write an age-appropriate & era-appropriate story. The specifics of these characters are noteworthy in the sense that the reader is able to imagine them, form a strong connection with them & actually deeply care about what happens to them. I rarely feel these emotions, but when I do, I end up loving the book. So, yes, naturally I loved the characters. 

I couldn’t help but want Nella to successfully keep giving toxic men her poison so that women get their freedom. I couldn’t help but want Eliza to be Nella’s junior assistant & want her to adopt her & train her because Nella never could have a child of her own. I couldn’t help but want Caroline to unfurl the mystery of the apothecary by going on adventures & finding herself along the way. Such is the magick of these characters! 



If I hadn’t known that this was Sarah Penner’s debut novel, I never would have guessed it. The professional touch to the entire story leaving no loose ends, keeping it interesting all along the way with remarkable characters & a dual story is not at all a simple task. Just yesterday I read Sarah Pearse’s ‘The Sanatorium’, which is also a debut novel but it showed. This one feels like it’s written by a historical fantasy mystery fiction expert. 

Since there are two story lines, there is a lot of scope to experiment. I loved the similar parallels between the characters of Nella & Caroline. The men they loved were unfaithful to them & neither of them could have a baby. Nella made poisons to kill men, while Caroline’s husband ingested toxic oil himself. These similarities are subtle, unconnected, but I liked their existence. These similarities complemented each other in a good way. 

Further into the story, there is a lot of climax & drama. You are rooting for both Nella & Caroline but the irony is that if you root for Caroline it means a bad outcome for Nella & if you root for Nella it means no more clues for Caroline. The sheer brilliance of it is extraordinarily evil putting readers into a gut-wrenching phenomenal dilemma. 

Different parts of the story bring out different kinds of writing which leads to different kinds of emotions during the reading. In parts of it, you come across the how imaginative the author is. In some parts, we can literally read the author’s brilliance dripping over the pages. In some parts, we see the raw emotions of these characters. Some parts are mystery, some are fantasy, some are thriller & entirely it comes in the beautiful package of historical fiction. What’s not to love!?? 


“I pondered how utterly unbelievable the entire thing was, how utterly spectacular the whole thing was.” 



I was sure that someone would die at the end. I mean, of course, in Caroline’s era, both Nella & Eliza would be dead, which was a bit unfathomable & sad in itself. But I mean I thought Nella or Eliza might die in their own eras. It would have made the book even more worthy of praise, but this time, I was incredibly glad that no one died. I loved how amazingly well the author has tied up everything in the end, without rushing into it while still keeping the suspense alive. 


The Lost Apothecary is a historical fiction with a touch of undeniable mystery & fantasy to it. Once you dive into it, you won’t be able to get out. This is the perfect read for when you want to forget your life & vanish into a fantasy world of powerful women. I have rated The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner at 4.5/5 stars! 


Until next time,


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