book review, historical fiction, history

Review: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner is a quick, entertaining, and pleasant read. If you’ve been here before, you probably already know I have a soft spot of the 18th century. I’m also interested in herb lore and apothecary methods of the time, so the subject matter checked those boxes.

To be honest, for some reason I didn’t realize there was a present day POV. At first, I was put off by it because I don’t read modern-day set novels…just a personal preference because I want to escape when I read, not be in the same world. That said, I gave it the benefit of the doubt and continued on.

The Lost Apothecary focuses on Nella, an apothecary in London, and pre-teen Eliza Fanning who wishes to become an apprentice of sorts. Set in the late 18th century, TLA follows Nella as she doles our poisons to women who wish to harm or kill men who have harmed or wronged them. In this way, Nella meets Eliza, who comes to the hidden shop to retrieve a poison at the request of her mistress. We learned that while Nella’s mother was a traditional apothecary in providing remedies and salves, Nella’s line of work is what it is because of an old betrayal.

Mirrored to Nella and Eliza’s story is mid-thirties Caroline in the present-day. After having suffered her own betrayal at the hands of her husband, Caroline goes to London to find herself. There, she comes across a vial from the 18th century apothecary shop which sets into motion the unraveling of a mystery over two hundred years old.

The connecting thread of these women in different times is how they live and survive in a world defined by men. How can they lead their own, independent lives–true to themselves and outside the influence of men? Ultimately, both Nella and Caroline take control of their own destinies despite the hardships they’ve suffered.

Now as I said, at first I wasn’t keen on the modern-day aspect, but as time when on I slowly warmed up to it and how it connected with the 1791 storyline. Of course I prefer the 18th century plot, but I did come to appreciate the journey of Caroline since I am around the same age and have experienced some of the same feelings she does (as I’m sure most women in their thirties do.) My only complaint was that toward the end, Caroline’s plot goes a tad over where I was willing to suspend my disbelief.

Sarah Penner’s debut is engaging and succinct. I read the entire first half of the book in one sitting, and then finished it two days later. A truly quick and pleasant read, and a fun ride to boot!


The Lost Apothecary will be released on March 2, 2021.