Review: The Lost Apothecary

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Let me preface this by saying that I wanted to like this book. I tried to like it. If I’d thought it was irredeemably bad, I wouldn’t have finished it – or so I thought. Unfortunately it was and I did, so here we are.

Another reviewer very aptly stated that, in another author’s hand, this concept could be something amazing (I’m paraphrasing). But let me tell y’all – Sarah Penner could not handle this story. She bit off way more than she could evidently chew and it’s painfully clear throughout the pages.

The book is split between the late 1700s and present day. It follows Caroline in the present as she works through the mystery of the apothecary and it follows Nella and Eliza in the past. Nella is the lost apothecary.

The main characters were all Mary Sues. They were bland, all of them, with no dimension. None of them had a distinct or distinguishable voice.

Nella and Eliza, murdering men in 18th century London, were uninteresting. Calling Nella a murderer, even, is untrue because she just dispensed poisons, making the female serial killer aspect that so appealed to me prior to reading this story irrelevant. But then there’s Caroline.

Oh, Caroline. The character who spent what felt like half the book talking or thinking about the one time ten years ago she almost applied to Cambridge. As if that counts for anything. She’s obsessed with her almost application. And the banalities Penner has spouting from Caroline! Gems like “I resolved to come back and investigate later.” Penner, if you’re gonna write something, try to say something.

There’s absolutely nothing at stake for Caroline which makes her even more vanilla. I could see clearly how her story would end 20 pages in.

The trajectory of Nella and Eliza’s storyline was harder to gauge and it would have been much more interesting if they’d actually killed themselves. Instead they got happily ever afters, a concept entirely boring because of how rigorously it’s been beaten to death. I want to be surprised, captivated, and moved. This book did none of that.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I was surprised by Nella’s asinine reasoning for not disposing of her incriminating book of names, which would have helped and made logical sense. I was captivated by the hope that a character would die in this book about serial murder – a hope dashed because it reads as though a 12-year-old wrote it. And I was moved, almost to tears, by the sight of the final pages and the promise that this lame book would soon end.

It may have a pretty cover, but don’t judge the book by it. I do not recommend The Lost Apothecary.

Dates read: July 27-28, 2021

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