The Lost Apothecary
Thank you to Netalley for providing me with a free eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Expected Publication Date: March 2, 2021
I was so excited when I read the email from Netgalley pitching this book! This is pitched as a historical fiction, set in the late 1700’s in London, with a female apothecary turned serial killer. While I’m typically a reader who shies away from murder mysteries, the fact that our killer is a woman who provides other women with poisons piqued my interest, and I couldn’t pass this up.
We learned that the apothecary shop is currently owned by a woman named Nella, who inherited the shop when her mother died. Shortly after her mother’s death, Nella experienced a traumatic event in her early twenties that led to her crafting and dispensing poisons, in addition to the tonics and remedies she was already selling to women in need.
Nella took her mother’s apothecary shop, and their reputation, and twisted it into something far darker. Her poisons are sold on the sole condition that they are never to be used to harm another woman, only the men whose actions have had disastrous consequences in these women’s lives.
We meet a 12 year old girl named Eliza, who is sent to Nella by her mistress to procure a poison for her husband (who we later learn has a predatory tendency with young girls). Eliza and Nella form an unlikely relationship over the course of the novel, where they both heavily rely on one another as things begin to unravel.
One of the things I absolutely loved about this book was having the point of view of three characters. We got an in depth look into Nella’s mindset, as well as what it was like to be a child during this time period. We were transported to the present day with our third main character Caroline, who is an American on vacation in London after the discovery of her own husband’s infidelity. During her stay, Caroline happens upon one of Nella’s apothecary vials, and begins a rather extensive investigation into the past, exploring the history of the apothecary killer.
I knew very early on that this book would receive a five star rating from me if it stayed the course. The writing is incredibly immersive into both the individual character’s and into the world they reside in. There was so much heart and personality written into each character, I honestly could not read this book fast enough. I wanted to stay in this world with these women, and see how they interacted with one another, and how they solved their own problems.
I really enjoyed the take this book had on the feminine experience. The duality of mixing present day with historical events (though I believe mostly fictional) was fascinating. Not only do we get to experience a woman discovering her husband has had an affair in 1790, but we also get to experience it in 2020 through these characters. This allowed me as the reader to compare and contrast the way each woman handled the situation based on her own personality and the time period. Women are represented through Eliza, Caroline, and Nella at various stages of life, which enabled me to revisit my childhood, and ponder my present, and future self.
I highly recommend this addictive read. It was so much fun, which I know is a very weird statement to make regarding a serial killer, but I genuinely fell in love with these women and their shared stories. I hope lovers of historical fiction and women’s literature will give this book a try. I cannot wait to see what Sarah Penner writes next. I’ll be waiting to dive into her new characters, and explore whatever world she wants to show us.