[Book Review] The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

The Lost Apothecary cover image

Title: The Lost Apothecary

Author: Sarah Penner

Genre: fiction; historical fiction; mystery; fantasy; contemporary

Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

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.Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.
Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

Review: 5 Stars

I really enjoyed Sarah Penner’s multi-POV novel even though this is something that usually turns me off when reading. Traditionally, I find them to be annoying and I get lost in the story because I’m trying to keep track of too many plot points. I thought that would be especially true in this because I was going to have to navigate multiple points of view that spanned multiple centuries. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how easily these perspectives overlapped.

This book was multiple things; a mystery, a woman’s journey to find herself — a few actually, a coming of age, an Indiana Jones-esque quest for the historical truth that is also a Holmesy crime solving novel.

There are three perspectives 1. Nella the 18th century apothecary, 2. Twelve-year-old maid servant Eliza Fanning, and 3. Caroline, a woman alone in London in the 21st century. The way these three perspectives weave together is straight up magical. Where Nella and Eliza come together makes sense — same time line, but the way Penner fits Caroline (200 years later) into the narrative is brilliant.

Each chapter alternates perspective, but the story connects and picks up like they’re all together. London becomes the fourth major character in a way that is so interesting and fantastic. The power of the history, the past, and preservation is a huge component to this story.

All of this story feels like a love letter to the power of women. Their power to persevere. Their power to create. Their power to find, discover, help, save, come together, and their power to destroy. In all story lines, Penner reminds us time and time again that Nella, Eliza, and Caroline have all of these and more in so many ways.

This was my Book of the Month selection, it had a beautiful cover and an interesting tag line, and I’m very glad I selected it.

Author: chelsea usher

Reader. Writer. Book Reviewer. Teacher. Traveler

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