Published: March 2nd, 2021
Publisher: Legend Press
Format: Hardcover, Kindle
Genre: Historical Fiction
Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this breathtaking debut. Thank you to Lucy at Legend Press for the invitation to take part and the gifted copy of the book.
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.
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.
“But the possibility of the apothecary’s existence, the mystery of it, drew me deeper.”
The Lost Apothecary is an enthralling and bewitching story of women, self-discovery and the secrets hidden in the shadows.
In dual timelines we follow the stories of three women: Nella, Eliza and Caroline. The story opens in London in 1791. Nella runs the apothecary shop that once belonged to her mother. But this apothecary isn’t just a place of healing, it is also a place for women who seek something much darker: vengeance and murder. Twelve-year-old Eliza has been sent to the apothecary by her mistress. When Eliza begs for refuge, Nessa reluctantly allows her to stay in the hidden shelter of the apothecary and even begins to teach her some of her secrets. But when a mysterious woman makes a request that goes against everything Nessa stands for, it sparks a chain of events that will threaten everything she has; including her life.
In present day London Caroline is on what should have been her 10th anniversary trip alone after discovering her husband’s betrayal. When she finds a small vial while mudlarking she becomes fascinated by the item and determined to learn the item’s history and comes across a clue connecting the vial to a string of unsolved murders over two hundred years ago.
Past and present collide in this mesmerising tale creating a heady mix of mystery, contemporary and historical fiction that sizzles with suspense. It was a combination I found irresistible and I devoured the book quickly. Deftly written, evocative and clearly well researched, the author spirited me away to the dank, filthy streets of 18th century London where the apothecary is all smoke and mirrors; invisible to the untrained eye but visible for those in need. Shifting between dual timelines the author slowly unveils the secrets hidden in the pages, seamlessly weaving together the women’s stories in exciting and unexpected ways. I was hooked, on the edge of my seat as I desperately waited for her to reveal Nessa and Eliza’s fate.
Nessa, Eliza and Caroline are a trio of unique voices that come together to create the perfect harmony in the narration of this tale. And while I enjoyed them all, I was definitely most drawn to Nessa and Eliza both as characters and in terms of the story. For me, Nessa was the character at the centre of it all. A solitary soul who is committed to her work, she believes she is empowering women in an era where they were at the mercy of men and their whims or desires. She has clear rules and standards: only men will ever meet death at the hand of her poisons, never women. Whatever they may have done. This dark side of her apothecary is a legacy of the betrayal she suffered at the hands of her lover many years ago, an incident that echoes in every facet of her life and is the reason she casts such a lonely shadow to this day.
Eliza is a young and fairly innocent girl whose desire to learn and please is both her weakness and her strength. She is fascinated by what Nessa does and refuses to heed the older woman’s warnings about not shouldering the same burden she has all these years. Like Nessa I found myself feeling very maternal towards Eliza and had a real soft spot for her.
What I liked most about Caroline was the journey of self discovery she took. When we first meet her she’s lost, feeling like her world has been turned upside down, and has no idea what she wants or what her future holds. After discovering the vial her passion for history is reignited and she finally allows her inner historian to resurface after suppressing her for all those years. She begins to see how stifled she has been and wonders if it might be time for a new dream and direction in life. That passion and her determination to solve the mystery of the vial was intoxicating and I enjoyed the friendship it kindled between her and Gaynor.
Atmospheric, haunting, immersive and brimming with menace, this is a remarkable debut that I highly recommend. I am excited to see what comes next from this talented author and will be first in line to read it upon its release.
MEET THE AUTHOR:
Sarah Penner is the debut author of THE LOST APOTHECARY (March 2021, Park Row Books/HarperCollins), available in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and translated into more than fifteen languages. Sarah and her husband live in St. Petersburg, Florida with their miniature dachshund, Zoe.
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Please check out the reviews from the other fantastic bloggers taking part in the tour.
Thank you for reading Bibliophiles. Until next time, Emma xxx