Book Reviews

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner: ARC Book Review

This is a spoiler-free review.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Expected publication March 2nd, 2021 by Park Row.

My rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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

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.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating exploration of women rebelling against a man’s world, the destructive force of revenge and the remarkable ways that women can save each other despite the barrier of time.

Thank you to the publisher, Park Row/Harlequin Trade Publishing, and NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC of this book. All thoughts are my own.

The Lost Apothecary takes place across two different timelines: 1791 and modern-day, and volleys between three protagonists: Caroline, Eliza and Nella. After finding out that her husband was cheating on her, Caroline decides to take what would have been their anniversary trip to London on her own. She joins up with a mudlarking group searching for treasure by the river Thames and comes across an odd object: an old vial with a mysterious marking of a bear on it.

Her curiosity piqued, Caroline begins to research the origin of the vial, and soon finds herself immersed in the history of London circa 1791 – where an unnamed apothecary helped women get revenge on the men who scorned them was whispered about.

Nella, this apothecary, has been hurt by men she trusted in the past. She once only sold potions to heal. Now, she deals in poisons for women who are in need of a way to escape from the men who mistreat them. In her well-hidden apothecary shop is where she meets Eliza, a young girl in search of some poison for her mistress. Over time, Nella and Eliza strike up a friendship, and Nella starts to mentor the young girl on the healing properties of herbalism.

However, there’s more at play than simple salves and perfumes, and soon both Eliza and Nella’s safety is in jeopardy.

The Lost Apothecary IMMEDIATELY piqued my interest. Because, well, how could it not? An 18th-century serial killer who poisons her victims, specifically men who have mistreated the women in their lives? I LIVE for that.

However, while The Lost Apothecary may have an incredible premise, the execution fell a little flat. Not that it was bad! It was still a very interesting story!

For starters, I really liked Nella and Eliza. Nella in particular had a very interesting back story, and I loved the parts that focused on her apothecary business. Those were definitely my favorite. Eliza was so spunky and strong-minded, she was impossible not to like. I did wish their story had been a little faster-paced. Despite this novel being a fast read, the plotline itself wound up being a little underwhelming.

Meanwhile, I didn’t care for Caroline as much and was personally hoping for bigger revelations from her in the end. Her husband is a Piece Of Work, let me tell you. But given her characterization, I think her story arc was satisfactory and did make logical sense. I was still on the edge of my seat for the majority of this novel, even for Caroline’s chapters.

Overall, The Lost Apothecary is a solid book, and I think likely to be enjoyed by fans of Women’s and Historical Fiction alike. For me, while it didn’t stand up to my sky-high expectations (especially given such an INTRIGUING premise), it was still an enjoyable read that I sped right through. 🧪

Have you read The Lost Apothecary?

What did you think of it?

Let me know!

Liza is a twenty-something book blogger who spends way too much time with her nose in books and feels way too much. She loves cooking, baking, reality tv show watching and, of course, reading. She can be found most often with a cup of tea in one hand and a book in the other. Her blog, Literary Liza, features bookish content like reviews, recommendations, and author interviews.

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