Summary and book reviews of The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

The Lost Apothecary

A Novel

by Sarah Penner

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner X
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
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  • Published:
    Mar 2021, 320 pages

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Book Summary

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.

1
Nella
February 3, 1791

She would come at daybreak—the woman whose letter I held in my hands, the woman whose name I did not yet know.

I knew neither her age nor where she lived. I did not know her rank in society nor the dark things of which she dreamed when night fell. She could be a victim or a transgressor. A new wife or a vengeful widow. A nursemaid or a courtesan.

But despite all that I did not know, I understood this: the woman knew exactly who she wanted dead.

I lifted the blush-colored paper, illuminated by the dying flame of a single rush wick candle. I ran my fingers over the ink of her words, imagining what despair brought the woman to seek out someone like me. Not just an apothecary, but a murderer. A master of disguise.

Her request was simple and straightforward. For my mistress's husband, with his breakfast. Daybreak, 4 Feb. At once, I drew to mind a middle-aged housemaid, called to do the bidding of her mistress. And with an instinct perfected over the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The Lost Apothecary opens with Nella in her shop, preparing to dispense a poison meant to kill a man. Her work is sinister, and much about her character is dark and disturbing. When you first learned that Nella was a murderer, how did you view her? How did your feelings change over the course of the book as more of her past was revealed? Did you believe she would eventually find redemption? In the end, did you see her as a hero, a villain, or something in between? Why?
  2. At the beginning of Caroline's story, she finds the apothecary vial while on a mudlarking tour. Had you heard of mudlarking prior to reading this book? Do you believe that fate or coincidence led to her discovery? Have you ever stumbled on something that you consider to ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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I was fascinated by the idea of a woman helping other women who find themselves in extremely bad situations in an era where there are no other solutions. And to have the current character doing research on the characters in the past is wonderful (Colleen T). One of the things that I really liked about The Lost Apothecary was that it is about ordinary people. Most historical novels I have read are about the lives of royalty. Sarah Penner did a lot of research on everyday life in the 1790s (Alyce T). The chapters set in 18th-century London seem well researched with their descriptions of the people, houses and social gatherings of the times. I found the information on poisons fascinating (Catherine S)...continued

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Media Reviews

BookPage
Spellbinding…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.

Historical Novel Review (Best Book of the Month Pick)
Enthralling… Musical prose… A completely absorbing story of the power of secrets and finding one’s way.

Booklist
Readers who enjoy Katherine Howe and Susanna Kearsley will be drawn to this promising, fast-paced debut.

Library Journal
Intriguing… Readers who enjoy parallel historical/contemporary narratives about women’s lives, such as Claire McMillan’s The Necklace or Liz Trenow’s The Forgotten Seamstress, will enjoy the historical details and mystery in this engrossing tale.

Author Blurb Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Alice Network and The Huntress
In The Lost Apothecary, Sarah Penner convincingly weaves three heroines and two timelines into one tale of poison, revenge, and the silent network of women helping other women in a world stacked against them…. A bold, edgy, accomplished debut!

Author Blurb Erika Swyler, bestselling author of The Book of Speculation
Dark, clever, and wickedly fun, The Lost Apothecary is a true page-turner. Sarah Penner has given us a puzzle box of women's lives, betrayal, power, and history. It's a book that slyly asks what any of us deserve and if, sometimes, that might not be a little poison.

Author Blurb Fiona Davis, bestselling author of The Dollhouse
Penner's debut had me completely under its spell. The women of The Lost Apothecary, separated by centuries, seek both revenge and truth in this powerful story. Riveting and utterly original.

Author Blurb Heather Webb, bestselling co-author of Meet Me in Monaco
An intoxicating debut, The Lost Apothecary is a riveting tale of poisons and potions and dark deeds in the name of survival.

Reader Reviews

Betty Taylor

Amazing debut!
An amazing debut novel! I immediately became immersed in the story. Set in London England, 1791, Nella, a female apothecary, has been dispensing cures all her life. But after being abused by her husband, she now also dispenses poisons for women to...   Read More

Elizabeth@Silver'sReviews

Elizabeth@Silver'sReviews - Excellent
Who wouldn't like to solve a hundred-year-old mystery and especially one that had to do with poisons that were used to kill unfaithful husbands or boyfriends. Caroline came to London for a tenth anniversary celebration, but found out her husband ...   Read More

Carole C. (Newtown Square, PA)

The Lost Apothecary
I really liked this book! It was very hard to put down as I wanted to keep reading to find out what would happen next. Sarah Penner does a wonderful job weaving together the stories of the main characters which both take place in London during ...   Read More

Maryanne B. (Little Compton, RI)

Historical mystery with a twist
Contemporary London and its 18th century counterpart collide in this historical mystery of a back-alley female apothecary who secretly distributes toxins to women to avenge the men who have betrayed, hurt, and abused them. Intertwining the two ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Mudlarking

Depiction of mudlarks in London, 1871 In Sarah Penner's The Lost Apothecary, a historical mystery is set in motion when a character discovers a small blue vial while mudlarking. "Mudlarking" refers to the practice of scavenging for objects — generally manufactured or otherwise manmade ones that have been lost or thrown away — usually on the shore of a body of water such as a river. While one can mudlark anywhere in the world given the right conditions, the term originally described picking up items of value along the muddy banks of the River Thames in London, where Penner's novel takes place, and still has strong ties to the area.

Lara Maiklem, author of Mudlarking, first began scavenging on her family's farmland and has been scouring the shore of the Thames ...

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