Title: The Lost Apothecary
Author: Sarah Penner
Genre: Historical Fiction
Page Count: 304
Published by: Park Row Books
Date Published: March 2, 2021
You can find it here: Bookshop.org
In a dark alley in London, 1791, an apothecary brews her latest poison. Nella was once a respected apothecary helping women to heal, but now uses her knowledge to concoct poisons used by desperate women set on killing the men who’ve wronged them.
Eliza is her newest customer. Sent by her mistress to Nella’s shop, Eliza has been tasked with carrying out the dark deed of administering the poison to her evil master. But Eliza becomes fascinated with this older woman and her hidden shop of potions.
In modern day London, Caroline has escaped on what would’ve been her ten year anniversary trip alone. Grappling with her husband’s infidelity, she seeks to distract herself by joining a mudlarking tour group, where they comb the banks of the Thames at low tide. Here, she will discover a vial from long ago that will launch her on a search into the past to discover the secrets behind the unsolved case of the murderous apothecary.
A delicious premise – a vigilante, murderous apothecary who seeks revenge on men who’ve wronged women – told through multi-person narrative and multiple timeline perspective that ultimately left me frustrated and wanting more. While I enjoyed the chapters and stories with each of the women – aged apothecary Nella, the 12-year-old apprentice Eliza, and modern day Caroline – I found it very difficult to hear a distinctive voice amongst them. I kept waiting for the story to crack open and these voices to solidify, but as the pace/plot thickened, the characters still failed to diversify from one another. I was frustrated by the central notion to this plot that “all men are evil and deserve to die for their transgressions”. Definitely some of the men were abhorrently evil and I had less qualms with their murder, but many were simply murdered for being unfaithful. Is this enough of a reason for murder? Further, what a missed opportunity to discuss that morality, discuss this conflict … without it, the story felt hollow, unbalanced and singular. I was drawn to the premise of The Lost Apothecary and was entertained by the fast paced plot, but the lack of character distinction and depth of discussion was disappointing.
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