Jee’s book review: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner @parkrowbooks #bookreview #historicalfiction #mudlarking #london #thelostapothecary

Title/Author: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Publisher: Park Row

Pages: 269

In a nutshell (Publisher):

Named Most Anticipated of 2021 by NewsweekGood HousekeepingHello! magazine,, Bustle, Popsugar, Betches, Sweet July, and GoodReads!

March 2021 Indie Next Pick and #1 LibraryReads Pick

“A bold, edgy, accomplished debut!” —Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Alice Network

A forgotten history. A secret network of women. A legacy of poison and revenge. Welcome to The Lost Apothecary…

Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.

Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.

My thoughts:

While I’m in love with the cover, the story as a whole, not so much. From the rave reviews, I see that I’m probably going to be in the minority in this. I’ll explain later. First, the story.

This historical fiction was set in London in two different timelines1791 and present-day.

In present-day London, Caroline was spending her 10-year-anniversary alone after discovering her husband’s infidelity. On a whim, she joined a mudlarking tour when she stumbled across a vial which, being an aspiring historian, intrigued her. Her discovery led her to a series of research, and eventually the story of the apothecary 200 years ago. As ecstatic as she was with her discovery, she still couldn’t take her mind away from her marital problems.

Nella, the apothecary, whose job, on the surface, was to heal, but hidden behind a secret wall, was a room where she kept her potent poisons that she concocted to help women kill the men who betrayed them. Eliza, a strong-willed 12-year-old maidservant, came to Nella’s shop on behalf of her mistress Mrs. Amwell, to seek for her help. It was from this meeting that their lives were forever changed.

The premise, its time and tone, the apothecary, the murder of men, all of it sounded dark, mysterious and fascinating. It had all the ingredients I love.

As mentioned, it was set in two timelines, although I much preferred the one set in the past, that was about the apothecary, Nella and her young friend, Eliza. What I loved reading was the friendship between Nella and Eliza despite their huge age difference. Nella was very protective of Eliza, while on the other hand, the young girl found herself drawn to Nella, whom she thought could teach her about magick, and therefore offered to volunteer her services to Nella when her mistress was away. Due to the risky nature of her job, Nella turned her away despite her persistence.

But as fate would have it, Eliza was at Nella’s place when her help was unexpectedly needed. And this incident forever changed their course of lives. I loved the mystery and suspense of whether or not Nella’s secret will be discovered, if so, how? And will Lady Clarence’s (one of Nella’s clients) action be the end of it all for Nella, and what was to become of Eliza?

Now, what kind of spoiled the fun for me though, was the story and actions of some of the characters. For one, Caroline’s findings and research felt too easy and coincidental. Two, the story about Caroline’s husband, James, felt so far-fetched and unbelievable. And I had a hard time differentiating the voices of the women.

This next one really bothered me a lot. Nella had this registry which she kept the names of her clients, and when she was trying to escape from the police, she decided to leave it behind because if she got caught, the list “would then be alongside [me] behind the iron bars”, and those names would be lost forever, as it had been her intention to make sure the women won’t be forgotten. This didn’t sit well with me. Because by leaving it behind, won’t that incriminate the women when her secret room is discovered?

I did, however, get to learn a little about mudlarking. This story got me curious about it and of course I started doing a search on it, and true enough, mudlarking is a thing in Thames! When traveling is allowed again, and if we were to ever visit London, I’m going to add that to our to-do list.

Due to my recent short attention span, the short chapters helped a lot, but the plot felt contrived and its characters could’ve been stronger. That said, I didn’t regret reading it. I’ll be looking out to reading her future works.

Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for giving me the opportunity to read this eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine.

Have you read this book? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to? Please share with me your thoughts!

15 Comments Add yours

  1. Rosie Amber says:

    That’s a shame but the points you mentioned are important to readers. I too liked the promise of the story. I follow a lady on Instagram who posts her pictures from her mud-larking adventures, so this did intrigue me.


    1. Jee Wan says:

      Maybe you’ll enjoy this more than I did 🙂


  2. Hmm…too easy and coincidental couldn’t have been fun. But since this one was mentioned in a list of books you’ll love reading if you love Shadow and Bone and A Discovery of Witches, two of my favourite read, I’ll definitely read this one. 😍😄


    1. Jee Wan says:

      I hope you’ll enjoy it more than I did! 🙂


  3. nsfordwriter says:

    I agree the cover is lovely! The idea does sound intriguing, but maybe it would have been better focusing on the past. I’m not always a fan of dual timelines because the one set in the present is always less interesting! Great review Jee 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, NS! Yeah, dual timeline sometimes work is the author knows exactly what he/she wanna do or achieve. This one, I’m not sure if the present worked to the favor of the story. Nevertheless, great work for a debut! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh it’s a shame you didn’t love this quite as much as you hoped! I recently bought a copy of this and the synopsis ticks so many boxes for me, so I’m excited to get to it. Excellent review, Jee 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, Stephen! Hope you enjoy it 🙂 Many others did! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. stargazer says:

    Hmm, a contrived plot doesn’t sound ideal and the characters are also important for me. Too bad, you didn’t love this one, I too have been seeing many positive reviews. Oh, and I always prefer the storyline in the past! It often feels like the present story is just a framework for telling the story in the past. Unless the present story has some unique and interesting elements, I would prefer the author to skip the dual timeline and focus on the interesting story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Same here! I think if she’d had focused on the past, it would have made the story much more interesting and intriguing! And the history, richer 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Aw snap, I’m sorry to hear about the issues you ran into with this one! It seemed like it had a really nice premise to work with too! But the whole far-fetched/unbelievable qualities of the book do make it sound like it has its fair share of flaws. Excellent honest thoughts, Jee. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, Lashaan! Yeah, it really could’ve been better. Great work for a debut though! 🙂


  7. Leslie says:

    You read it! You weren’t sure if you were going to. The past was sooo much better than the present. I wish it would have just been about that. I think the way she tried to align the stories didn’t really make sense. I enjoyed it but would have been a lot more in love with it if it was just the past.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Yeah me too but glad to have read it 🙂 made me so curious about mudlarking!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Leslie says:

        haha!! True.. it sounds pretty awesome! lol

        Liked by 1 person

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