Book Review//The Lost Apothecary

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

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Goodreads Synopsis:

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. 

[Amazon CA] [Book Depository]

My Thoughts

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. As I have previously mentioned, I first heard of this book in my marketing class this past summer. It sounded amazing, and the hype was real. Then I read the book. Park Row’s marketing team is stellar and even got a mention in the acknowledgements of this book; all that being said, I wasn’t a fan of this book. I’ll break it down using the CAWPILE (Character, Atmosphere, Plot, Intrigue, Logic, and Enjoyment) system I use.

Characters: Caroline’s husband is first introduced to us as kind of a jerk. I immediately knew that the reader was not supposed to like him from the way his wife, and main character, Caroline describes him. I even get the sense that she’s a bit resentful towards him because she took a job doing something completely different than what her degree was in.. Caroline herself is nicely developed, same with Nella; I didn’t have a huge problem with these two characters.

Atmosphere: I did like the atmosphere, and the mystery around the vial that Penner created. The setting and the time period was unique which set it apart from other historical fiction novels.  I’m used to these types of novels being set during World War II. The setting and depictions of the surrounding areas could have been described in more detail. I can normally visualize in my mind what an area looks like, but all I got a hazy/fuzzy sense of the area and buildings.

Writing: Considering this is Penner’s debut novel, I enjoyed her writing. She didn’t try to make it super literary with flowery words, it was easy to digest and read at just over 300 pages.  She did use the trope of cheating husband who comes back and states that it won’t happen again. I hate this trope, so much. I think that Penner could have used another method for getting Caroline to London without including the cheating husband. I also disliked how Caroline finally realized her passion in life and chose to stay in England to continue on her with her education. I did catch some of the undercurrents of feminism in this novel; it is also targeted towards feminists so I can see the appeal there.

Plot: The plot was simple; Caroline finds a vial while going mud larking on a whim when she gets to London. She meets up with a woman who works at a library and they find clues as to where the vial came from. In the past, a woman runs a secret apothecary to help women with their problems – if they have pain, or if they want to dispose of their husband/a mistress/etc. Nella is very discreet when it comes to women’s problems. Caroline finds clues and pieces together where this apothecary is located, what happened to Nella. There was no real surprise or twist for me in this novel. It was all very much one set pace with no real urgency.  I liked this plot; it wasn’t overly complicated with tons of characters thrown into the mix.

Intrigue: I was interested in how this vial played a role in this novel, what the significance was and how vital it could be to the story. Other than that, I wasn’t too invested in any of the characters; I wasn’t dying to know what happened. I did read this in two sittings, but it took me a while to get fully invested in Caroline, Nella, and Eliza. Maybe I was still in my huge reading slump, or maybe I wasn’t pulled into the story.

Logic: I didn’t have a problem with the possibility of this actually happening, maybe some aspects where a bit too convenient – Caroline having a degree in history and wanting to search more about this vial was maybe a bit too convenient, but it did tie into the overall plot so I can overlook that. That nice wrap-up in the end was also maybe a bit too convenient and implausible, but then again I can overlook that for the sake of fiction.

Enjoyment: I did enjoy this book, just not as much as I thought I would. I wanted something more and I just didn’t get that from this novel. I have no doubt that Penner will grow as a writer. I am eager to see what else she has drafted on her computer.

Overall this novel was enjoyable, but I wouldn’t re-read it. I got caught up into the hype, and it was a disappointment for me. I can see why it’s been on the New York Times Bestseller’s list for a few weeks now and why others are raving about it. I may also just be burnt out from reading historical fiction novels.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this novel! Let’s chat in the comments!

Cups of Tea:


Publisher: Park Row

Publication: March 2, 2021

Tea Pairing: Ginger Honey

One thought on “Book Review//The Lost Apothecary

  1. I’ve been going back and forth about this one for months. I love the concept, but cheating spouses isn’t something I enjoy reading and really hate when a trope is used over and over in the same story. I may still give it a try one day, but it’s now not at the top of my list anymore. Thanks for your review!


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