Author: Sarah Penner
Audiobook Length: 10 hours 18 minutes
A forgotten history. A secret network of women. A legacy of poison and revenge. Welcome to The Lost Apothecary….
Hidden in the depths 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. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious 12-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.
Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate – and not everyone will survive.
With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.
The Lost Apothecary is the perfect example of why duel timeline stories can be hard to love at times. By no means was this novel bad as I greatly enjoyed it, but I found myself having higher interest in one timeline and not really caring as much about the other. This made my overall enjoyment difficult as I found myself counting the pages to change from one to the other. As a whole this novel was an excellent debut and an excellent read that I would recommend everyone to try. Some readers may love the same timeline as me and not like the other, some may be the opposite, some may love both, and the rare few may dislike it all.
The novel begins in the timeline I was most excited to read about in 1791. It opens with Nella Clavinger, a single, childless, apothecary. She learned about being an apothecary from her mother, who passed away 20 years prior. The goal of the shop is help women with anything they need, such as health issues. After some tragic events in Nella’s past, she “upgraded” her shop to include poisons for women to use against the men that have done some wrong in their lives. She was a very intriguing morally grey character as you can see why she does certain things, but also have sympathy for her.
Nella’s life changes when a 12-year-old girl named Eliza Fanning enters her shop. She is sent to retrieve a potion for her mistress Mrs. Amwell, where Eliza gets her first experience of Nella’s shop. Eliza returns to Nella’s shop and ends up as an apprentice, while her former now-widowed mistress partakes in travel. Nella and Eliza form a mix of friendship and a mother-daughter-like relationship. They work together and become closer without becoming too entangled, so it fit the narrative of the time period.
We jump forward to present day with Caroline Parcewell, an American from Cincinnati, Ohio, who is about to partake on a trip to London. Unfortunately, the tenth anniversary trip is off to a rough start before it even begins when Caroline discovers that her husband has cheated on her. Instead of canceling, Caroline decides to take the journey alone. At first, it is difficult to predict how Caroline’s story will relate to Nella and Eliza, but it does reveal itself overtime. In London, she partakes on a mud larking adventure (a pastime I have never heard of before, but now want to give it a try). It is here that she finds an apothecary vial that sets off her need to discover more about the mysteries of the past while dealing with the current events and what to do in the future.
The story features chapters from the points of view of the three main characters, Nella, Eliza, and Caroline. As I listened to the audiobook, I felt each of the three narrators fit their characters well and their voices were extremely unique so it was extremely easy to keep all the information in order. An additional character that was fun was Gaynor, who works in the present day at The British Library and assists Caroline on her search for discovery. Their friendship was interesting, but it was difficult to believe how close the two became to develop a real friendship outside of their love of history. It was not impossible, though, as some people do become fast friends, so it did not take away from the story, but instead I just wished it was given a little more depth.
I understand Caroline’s need to be included in the story as she is the one on the search for the “lost apothecary,” but I felt that her chapters could have been reduced in favor of more time to explore the “actual” historical events. As the pages of the story are shared between multiple characters, it was difficult to become invested in Caroline’s life and her journey to deal with a cheating husband and some lost career dreams of her own. Usually, I enjoy these types of stories, but I felt that in this story, it was expecting a lot of me as a reader when a little more than a third was dedicated to her. Instead, I would rather have redirected some of Caroline’s chapters to Eliza as she is the one that the story in motion.
Overall, this was a very unique story that was an enjoyable experience. It is a great read about self-discovery as each of the three characters experience growth in their own ways. I wish there was more connecting the two stories together. It felt that the two timelines went together only on the surface, but it was very difficult to see why Caroline would almost become obsessed with finding out the story of the apothecary. I understand her love of history, but I felt that the trigger of her wanting to find out more about the initial vial needed more depth to fully bring the reader in to this awakening in Caroline. I feel that if I found a vial and had an urge to find out more, there would be at least a thought process occurring, so I wish that the reader got to experience Caroline’s.