The discovery of a bottle with a mysterious etching sends a woman on a search through history to find a hidden apothecary shop in this atmospheric, fast-paced novel.
The Lost Apothecary is an intricately plotted historical fiction novel that alternates timelines between eighteenth century London and modern London. In eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop sells poisons to women to rid them of terrible, oppressive men. Women come to the apothecary in desperation and leave with a plan. But, the apothecary’s life is threatened when her newest patron makes a fatal mistake. Meanwhile, a woman arrives alone in London for what should have been her anniversary trip. She recently found out that her husband had an affair and is reeling. A chance encounter has her searching the Thames for pieces of the past where she finds a mysterious bottle. Her love of history kicks in, and she embarks on a hunt for the origins of the bottle, linking her story to the apothecary’s.
I’ve seen this book all over online and know that it is really well loved, but I personally thought it was just ok. Full disclosure, this is really not my kind of read. But, being objective, I think it is an interesting story that suffers from some missteps.
Often, when I read novels with parallel timelines I find myself much more interested in the historical timeline than the modern one, and that was true with this book. The story of Nella, the apothecary, and her young patron, Eliza, is incredibly compelling. Nella took over the apothecary from her mother, but was inspired to begin doling out poisons after she faced a brutal betrayal. She exclusively exists to help women and has successfully hidden her involvement in these deaths until she is blackmailed by a wealthy woman. The historical plot is suspenseful, thoughtful, and quite engaging.
Personally, I hated the modern plot. I did not like and could not relate to Caroline. I’ve always found it frustrating when someone needs to be unfaithful in order to expose the cracks in a marriage. Caroline’s problems with her marriage started before she was even engaged, and it bothers me that she gave up so much, seemingly without realizing she was doing it. And yet, she mentions every few paragraphs how she wanted to pursue a history degree but her husband stopped her. I think if Caroline were a realistic character, she would have left her husband much sooner. Then, she makes many choices throughout the book that I find infuriating. I was much more attracted to Nella’s strength, and found Caroline to be incredibly lacking in comparison.
There’s also a plot point in the modern storyline that felt too convenient, but I can’t speak to it without spoilers! Just know that, while the historical plot was fun and fascinating, the modern plot left a lot to be desired for me.
So, not my personal favorite book, but one that a lot of people are enjoying. If you love historical fiction, parallel narratives, and a little suspense, this might be the book for you!
Let me know your thoughts! Do you plan to read this one?