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.
... an enthralling work of mystery, murder, trust, and betrayal ... Penner's immersive story flows skillfully from past to present, revealing the heartaches and lost dreams of three captivating main characters in a page-turningly tense drama that surprises right up until the final paragraph ... engrossing from the onset. Although some might be slightly appalled by Nella's profession, Penner immerses us in 1791 London, patiently revealing Nella's backstory and the circumstances that influence her decision to turn her mother's apothecary shop, once a place for healing, into a haven for betrayed women who believe they have no other choice but murder ... Refreshingly, this book is not a procedural or a study in the psychosis of a serial killer. What it does is create an affinity for the reader with Nella, Eliza and Caroline. We root for the three main characters, wanting them to find a way around the problems that escalate in surprising ways ... Also compelling is Penner's consistent return to themes of motherhood and impending womanhood. It creates a sense of humanity — in other words, I didn't feel guilty about not passing judgment on any of the female characters ... While The Lost Apothecary feels like it gets off to a slow start, Penner builds tension by planting us deep into each woman's psyche. Then as the characters dig in, she upsets their foundations and shifts their expectations; Nella, Eliza, and Caroline must think quick to avoid falling deeper into a ditch they don't see ahead. And neither do we, which only adds to the fun ... you can trust Sarah Penner's The Lost Apothecary to keep you turning the pages of a story that doesn't ease up until the very last sentence.
Dual narratives don’t always work — I often find myself much more interested in one and rushing through the other. But Penner keeps both parts of The Lost Apothecary engrossing, with rich detail, assured pacing and effective suspense.
... spellbinding ... What’s most striking about The Lost Apothecary is not how expertly Penner braids the three strands of her story together, though the structure and pacing are certainly well done. What is most admirable is that, as she leaps between first-person perspectives—including two women who are often reflecting on the exact same events—the sense of character never once falters. Their presences and voices are distinct, even as they’re bound by an emotional link that is clear to the reader (though not always clear to the characters). There’s a powerful unity to this story, making it nimble yet sturdy, light yet satiating ... Like in a well-brewed potion, all the ingredients have been given exactly the right level of care and time, and the result is a novel that simply overwhelms with its delicate spell.