The lost apothecary by Sarah Penner

Caroline travels on her own to London where she was supposed to celebrate her 10th wedding anniversary with her cheating husband James. She unexpectedly ends up mudlarking in the Thames and finds an old vial, used to contain a medicine, with a picture of a bear on it. She sets out to investigate this further and discovers an 18th century apothecary who mixed poisons to help other women.

The Lost Apothecary is a historical novel with two timelines set in London, one in the 21st century and one in the 18th century. We meet Nella, an apothecary who is asked by 12-year-old Eliza to prepare a poison for her master. Nella has a backstory of loss and revenge and now helps other women free themselves of toxic men. Two centuries later, Caroline wanders alone through the streets of London after discovering her husband’s betrayal. Her love for history and research awakens when she finds an old vial and starts looking for it story.

This book immediately reminded me of Nicola Cornick’s books. The two perspectives are lightly worked out and only partly connected and there’s a small magical backstory. An entertaining read, but not exactly one that will stay with me for long. Perfect for a long summer evening.

Towards the end, the story becomes a little implausible. And yet that did not bother me. Penner writes well, knowing that this is her debut novel. And I was drawn into the lives of Nella, Eliza and Charlotte. Of course, I slightly preferred the historical perspective, also because there was more tension in the story. Nella and Eliza must fight to keep their apothecary with all of its poisons secret.

I definitely enjoyed the book. If you’re expecting a little more depth, than you better skip this one. I’m curious to see what Sarah Penner will write next.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

What’s your favourite book set in London?

4 thoughts on “The lost apothecary by Sarah Penner

  1. I haven’t read this, but I like Nicola Cornick’s books so maybe I would enjoy this one. When a book is set in two periods I almost always prefer the historical storyline to the modern one!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve heard similar mixed reviews on this one, although I am tempted towards it by the 18th century story as I love reading about herbals and tinctures and other remedies. Have you read the nonfiction book Mudlark? It’s about mudlarking along the Thames and an interesting read about found objects.

    Liked by 1 person

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