The Lost Apothecary
by Sarah Penner
In historic London, a secret apothecary who sells poisons faces the consequences of a mistake. In present day, a woman visits London for her wedding anniversary alone where she attempts to uncover the fate of that apothecary.
There is something about multiple timeline stories connected only by an object that have never appealed to me. Paired with my usual disappointment in historical fiction, I was hesitant about this book. Still, I figured I give this a try, and I’m so glad I did. It’s like reading a gripping historical fiction and a reflective contemporary simultaneously. Also, the cover is stunning.
One half of the story centers on Nella, the owner of an apothecary who secretly sells poisons to women in situations where it may protect them. Although an immoral business, she does this in the hopes that she can save women who would otherwise be suffering, and never sells anything that may do harm to another woman. A murderer with virtue. After receiving help from a young client named Eliza, a mistake is made that may jeopardize both Nella’s business and life. It builds in suspense as the danger rises and Nella and Eliza try to keep the business a secret.
The other half of the story follows Caroline, a woman celebrating her 10th anniversary alone on a trip to London after learning her husband has not been faithful. This was her dream trip and, although she never planned to go alone, she uses the time to figure out who she is without her husband. In the process, she finds an old apothecary bottle that leads her to uncovering what little information she can about where it may have come from. Eventually we meet her husband, who is the worst. At first glance his role in the story seems a little extra, but there’s no doubt in my mind that there are people as crazy as he is out in the world.
I enjoyed both halves of the story. They were different enough to be interesting on their own, and the eventual parallels between the women’s lives were not something I expected. These parallels helped tie the stories together more and also progress things, particularly on Caroline’s end. It’s a book about women helping women and doing their best, even when the only way to save one another means doing something wrong. There is an addition of a map, notes on specific toxins, and a small collection of non-toxic recipes that I thought were cute extras as well.
With the mix of historical atmosphere and modern-day drama, I enjoyed exploring the lives of the women in this book and would recommend.