The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
Publisher: Park Row
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Suspense/Mystery/Thriller
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

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 twelve-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.

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Nella had thought that the first time she crossed the line from helping into harming that her fate had been set. And then Eliza Fanning comes into her life and her fate is rearranged, but is it for the better? What she – and Eliza – don’t realize is that their chance encounter will also shape the fate and future of someone in the far future. A woman named Caroline Parcewell, a woman dealing with her own demons.

I have to say that, although what I got was not anything like what I was expecting, I thoroughly enjoyed The Lost Apothecary. Stories that alternate timelines are a favorite of mine. It’s fascinating to me how they seem to run parallel right up until that point where they become intermeshed with one another.

Of the three characters, twelve-year-old Eliza is probably my favorite. She’s stuck somewhere between child and young adult in a world where young girls become women overnight. I thought the author portrayed her well. She’s a smart kid with a good work ethic, however she still has her childish fears and ideas as well. Seeing her determination overcome her fears and worries as she helps Nella was one of the best parts of the novel.

Nella is a conflicted character. As much as she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and do no harm, betrayal in her past soured her on men. Especially men who lied, cheated, and betrayed other women. Her internal conflict really drives her and Eliza’s portion of the story. Her reluctant friendship with Eliza was her saving grace, I think.

I felt for Caroline and really loved that she decided to ditch her cheating husband and take their anniversary trip on her own. Honestly, I can’t blame her – she needed that escape. I related to Caroline more than any of the other characters due to her giving up so much for what she thought was good reasons, only to discover later she’d cheated herself out of what she’d wanted. Her drive and desire for answers also resonated with me and I lived for each little discovery she made.

One part contemporary mystery, one part historical fiction, with a dash of magical realism tossed in just for pizzazz, The Lost Apothecary is an interesting, engaging romp through both present-day London and the London of 1791. While I had gone in expecting something more action-packed and intense, the author still delivered an emotionally charged, engrossing story of three women separated by centuries and yet still tied together through time.

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