In her debut novel, The Lost Apothecary, Sarah Penner weaves a tale of female empowerment and justice with a centuries-old mystery. Picked as both a Book of the Month option and featured book for a Once Upon a Book Club Box in March 2021, this book has captivated readers around the world and has solidified Penner’s name as an author to look out for.
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.
This debut novel was wonderfully written and the way that past and present wove together was fantastic! I loved all three narrators and to hear each of their perspectives was enlightening and really added depth to the novel. The historical aspects of the story were fascinating as well! The history of the apothecary, the descriptions of the poisons and remedies, and what life was like for women back in the 1790s was really interesting. Any fans of historical fiction will fall in love with this novel!
While it took a little bit for me to get into the story, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the women of the Back Alley Apothecary and cannot wait to see what book Penner will write next! If you’re a fan of historical fiction that intermingles past and present then this book is for you!