I would have finished this audiobook much sooner, but I couldn’t resist starting my reread of a certain newly published book. Why I decided to do this when I have, you know, like a million unread books, I don’t know. But back to the subject at hand, this was a really entertaining story!
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner takes place in late eighteenth-century London. There, a secret apothecary shop serves only women, particularly women who, for one reason or another, need poison. But when Nella, the owner of the shop, finds her new client to be a twelve-year-old girl named Eliza, things change. This encounter is the first event in a rapid sequence that spells trouble for the shop. Meanwhile, in present-day London, a woman named Caroline finds herself alone on her anniversary trip. When she accidentally finds a clue to the lost apothecary, she becomes fascinated. And the more she investigates, the more her life starts to collide with the story of the past.
This was a pretty interesting story structure. I like how the plots unfolded and interacted, which they did at a great pace. Caroline is a good character, very bright and determined, though not without her flaws. Nella is a tough lady, but has a softer side that she feels she has to bury, while Eliza is naive yet stubborn. They’re each strong protagonists.
The other characters, like James and Gaynor, are also wonderful. Each feels well rounded, and the dialogue is excellent. The relationships are what make this book work, and the complex bond between Caroline and James is especially fascinating.
I also really enjoyed the mystery of what happened to the apothecary. Even flipping back and forth between the past and the present and revealing more and more with each page, Penner does a great job keeping the suspense taut. It’s a well structured revelation, with some twists and turns I didn’t really expect.
In the end, especially for a debut novel, The Lost Apothecary is an impressive book. Three excellent main characters’ journeys intertwine in clever ways. The two time periods feel vivid and real, and the entire setting feels lived in, even when viewed through ancient maps and scraps of old newspapers. This is a rather dark tale, laced with murder and betrayal, but it’s powerful. It’s a book about secrets, revenge, and the power of unearthing untold stories. More than that, it’s a celebration of women’s history, especially those of unknown or average women whose stories have been discarded. It’s a celebration of the ways women can help each other, even across the years. If you enjoy historical fiction, mysteries, or just a great atmospheric novel, give this a try!
Also, I listened to the audiobook, and it was fantastic. The three narrators—Lorna Bennett, Lauren Anthony, and Lauren Irwin—fully embodied the characters, and I ended up flying through this story. (If we ignore the times I got distracted by reading too many books at once…)
Overall rating: 8.7/10
Content warning: There are some scenes that deal with suicidal ideation, emotional manipulation, and infidelity, as well as a non-graphic miscarriage.