About the Author.
Sarah Penner is the debut author of The Lost Apothecary, to be translated in eleven languages worldwide. She works full-time in finance and is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She and her husband live in St. Petersburg, Florida, with their miniature dachshund, Zoe. To learn more, visit slpenner.com.
Author website: https://www.sarahpenner.com/
About the Book
In this addictive and spectacularly imagined debut, a female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course. Pitched as Kate Morton meets The Miniaturist, The Lost Apothecary is a bold work of historical fiction with a rebellious twist that heralds the coming of an explosive new talent.
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.
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.
The Lost Apothecary is a story filled with relatable characters, brilliantly written female friendships, a mystery that spans centuries, and I loved every single second of it. Nella is an Apothecary, one who deals with a very specific clientele… Women who want to kill the men who have wronged them. After being mistreated herself she decides to turn her mothers old Apothecary into a safe haven for women who need help, she has no qualms about what she does and her business is running well until one day a 12 year old girl turns up asking for a Poison for her mistress and Nella’s world us turned upside down. Caroline is running, running from her cheating husband and the claustrophobic life she has been living. She decides to take their Anniversary trip to London alone, needing space to sort out her feelings. On her first day she gets roped into a spontaneous trip Mudlarking and finds a mysterious bottle with a bear engraved on it. Delving into the bottle takes Caroline on a Journey she could never have expected, one spanning centuries that leads to an unknown Apothecary killer. Neither Caroline or Nella could have guessed how an Apothecary from the 1900’s could bleed into modern life centuries later, but as Caroline looks deeper into the mystery she may come across more than she bargained for.
The Lost Apothecary flits between three main perspectives; Nella, the Apothecary owner. She leads a solitary life after being abandoned by the man she loved, and spends her days making Poisons for women who have also been spurned. She is ageing and struggling with Arthritis, though no one knows what that is at the time, and when something happens that puts her, the Apothecary, and all the women she has made poisons for in danger, she thinks it may be time to repent for her sins.
Eliza is a 12 year old who works as a servant. She is carefree and happy to spend her days writing for her mistress who suffers from terrible shakes. But when her mistress asks her to visit the apothecary, her life gets entwined with Nella’s, no matter how much she tries to stop it from happening. One mistake is all it takes to send both their lives down an unknown path, one that there is no returning from.
Caroline is broken-hearted and a little pissed off to find out her husband of 10 years has been cheating on her. She needs space, and decides to take herself to London on their Anniversary trip alone. She needs this time away, because before long she realises all she has given up for a life that she can never have. She longs to go back to her routes of History so when she finds the little Apothecary bottle it seems like fate has intervened. Whilst looking into the bottle Caroline forges both friendships and ties to this place, ties that she will find hard to cut.
I really enjoyed how much this book focused on female relationships. We have an almost mother/daughter relationships between Nella and Eliza, as well as the friendship that blooms between Caroline and Gaynor, the person who researches the bottle alongside Caroline. You can’t know until you read this how vital these relationships are. How much the jaded Nella needs Eliza in her life, the young girl with a constant spring in her step and positive outlook on life. Nella was more than ready to pack it all in, but spending time with Eliza showed her that there was still good in this world. Gaynor helped Caroline dig into the Apothecary, and through that gave her a look at how her life might be if she followed her dreams instead of the expectations of others. Her willingness to listen and eagerness to learn more about the bottle brings out a passion in Caroline she thought long forgotten, a passion that rivals that of her ruined marriage.
The authors writing style and how she weaved the two story lines together gave a flow to the story that had me flying through the pages. Nearly each chapter ends on some sort of cliffhanger, so you are also eager to get back to that particular POV. With some multiple POV style stories you find yourself drawn to a specific character, have a favourite you’re more eager to hear from, but I bonded with all three of the MC’s equally. They are all so different, and yet the ties that bind them make them so similar. They have all been wronged by men in their life, be it being cheated on, being abandoned, or being touched against your will. It’s rare to have a book that is both historical and contemporary fiction that blends the two together so well, but it just worked. You almost forgot the centuries in between the three women’s lives. in fact there were times when I could almost imagine Caroline walking down the street and running into Nella and Eliza, their stories are that interwoven.
My one tiny, really really small issue if I’m being picky… I felt this book could have been a little darker and a little more ‘adult.’ The seriousness of the topic left little for levity and while it wasn’t at all a ‘light and fun’ read, it also wasn’t quite as dark as I was expecting for the subject matter. I do feel that this has more to do with my dark and bitter soul than the actual book, but it did seem to edge a little more towards higher YA than truly adult for me. I would also have liked the characters endings to be a little more open, a little more left to the imagination. There were some fantastical elements to this book, though I wouldn’t class it as fantasy, and I think the open endings would have been a more fitting end to the story. But as I said, that is me being extremely nit picky and I’t didn’t affect my overall love for the book and story.
Brilliantly written, with characters that are so real they jump off the page. I think this is a book and story that will stick with me for a while, it has the best of historical, women’s and contemporary fiction that manages to pull on your heartstrings whilst also making you a little mad in parts. I’m amazed that this is a debut ( although I shouldn’t be by now by how many of them have been amazing recently) and will certainly be picking the Authors other works up in the future.