In the 1790s, bitter Nella runs a secret apothecary shop where she dispenses poisons to women who wish to rid themselves of cruel men. Young Eliza, a precocious 12 year old maid, picks up just such a prescription on behalf of her mistress and shoehorns herself into the inner workings of Nella’s shop. 200+ years later, Caroline, taking an anniversary trip minus one unfaithful husband, finds a mysterious blue vial half buried in the riverbed. Through diligent (and distracting) research, Caroline peels back the years to uncover the mystery of the murderous apothecary lost to time.
And I just loved it. Yes, this is a story about a super-sneaky serial killer, but it is not dark at all. This is a story about womanhood and what it means to be strong. These budding feminists, all at different points in their lives and with very different stories to tell, shake off societal expectations and reject the patriarchy in their own ways.
The Lost Apothecary is a totally satisfying double timeline story — a rarity! Both timelines are given equal love and all three perspectives are fully engaging. It’s especially worth noting that the breaking points between chapters are well-timed. There are no cliffhangers, but the reader is left with enough big questions that the story pushes forward. Too often multiple-perspective stories break at the wrong places and frustrate the reader. Not this one. The writing style/voices changed appropriately with the time periods as well. No modern slang in the 1700s and nobody wears a corset in the 2020s. There’s a fantastic sense of continuity, parallel, and adherence to the original stories without mixing.
I listened to the audiobook version and had mixed feelings about the narration. One character grew a little flat as the book went on and one was much louder than the other two. I found myself adjusting the volume and speed between chapters.
Eliza’s obsession with Nella and the apothecary shop seemed a bit unlikely, to be honest, even with her desperation to find a potion to rid herself of a vengeful ghost. I was afraid that this book would become a fantasy with real magic and witches’ brews, but that’s not the case at all. Yes there’s a bit of magic, but not THAT kind of magic. More like what people in the 1700s actually believed with a little twist of “well… maybe.”
The Lost Apothecary is a balm. It’s equal parts escapist fiction and inspiration. Three women with vastly different life experiences decide to dictate their own lives, even if that means the lives they expected to lead are lost to history.
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner (Narrated by Lorna Bennett, Lauren Anthony, and Lauren Irwin) is expected to be released March 2nd, 2021.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.