Spoiler-Free Review: The Lost Apothecary

Author: Sarah Penner

16th century London a mild-mannered apothecary gives out herbs and ointments to tend to the pains of local women. And if occasionally those pains come from a cheating husband, an unscrupulous employer, or a lusty landlord, well, there are potions to deal with that too. Nella has two rules about her herbs: She will not poison a woman, and she must record everything in her book.

In modern-day London, Caroline is exploring the city, trying to forget her philandering husband, and reconnect with her unused history degree. While exploring the riverbed, she finds an apothecary bottle, without a name etched on it. What kind of apothecary wouldn’t want people to know made the treatment that helped someone? What is the story with this strange little bottle? Caroline becomes determined to tell the story of this strange little bottle, and the apothecary lost to time.

I want to like this book. I really do. Caroline’s husband is a great depiction of a controlling narcissist, but I’m glad the book doesn’t use that word because ultimately his diagnosis doesn’t matter, his behavior is unacceptable.

My big problem with books like this is that they tend to fall into the territory of “women good, men bad” I understand why Nella doesn’t want her poisons used on women, but Nella is still providing means to kill people. I get that to her, it’s an ethical standard, but it really isn’t. Murder is not any more ethical just because of the victim’s reproductive organs. I just wish the book called that out more.

I also have an issue with the idea of Nella wanting to leave a record. I get it is so that Caroline can find her log book, but most non-nobles didn’t think about how they would be remembered. Willaim Shakespeare didn’t record an autobiography. I know that’s the theme of the book, but it’s a very 20th century idea, it bothered me.

If you like “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago, you will like this book.

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