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Book Review: Sarah Penner’s The Lost Apothecary

The Lost Apothecary is a beautifully written story filled with mystery set in England in 1791 and 2021. The book switches between three points of view, Nella, an Apothecary owner living in England in 1791, Caroline, a young woman living in the United States in 2021 and Eliza, a young girl living in England in 1791.

Without giving too many details away, Nella owns a secret Apothecary in London and creates poisons for housewives and mistresses to help kill their husbands. She inherited her mother’s well-known and reputable Apothecary and after experiencing her own trauma, decided to shift the brand of the once ethical shop.

Caroline is living in Ohio and has just had a huge fight with her husband and goes on their anniversary trip to London to get away from him. In a new city by herself, Caroline has the freedom to go wherever and do whatever she wants. After finding an odd item in the Thames River, Caroline’s love for history is intrigued and she goes down a rabbit hole trying to learn more. 

Eliza is a young lady’s maid for a very rich family in town and has been tasked with going to Nell’s Apothecary to get poison. Nella is at first taken back that someone so young has shown up to her shop, but agrees to help her. The events that unfold afterward is definitely a page-turner and catapults the plot into turmoil.

For all three women, there are things they need to learn about themselves and trauma they need to overcome in order to move forward. Penner does a great job of telling each woman’s story and the way each character grows by the end of the book is phenomenal. 

NPR said it well when reviewing the book: “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.”

Something I instantly loved about the book is Penner’s attention to detail and color symbolism. She does such a great job of painting a picture in the reader’s mind and you can legitimately picture the dark alleyways of 18th century England.

Penner also does a fantastic job of weaving the three character’s stories together and I was often left at the edge of my seat as clues were unfolding in front of me. I love when movies and books put the audience in a position to know more about the plot than the characters and this book did a great job doing that.

Another wonderful aspect of the book is the English historical knowledge throughout. It’s clear that Penner did her research on 18th century London and drops facts and details like Taylor Swift drops easter eggs for her fans. It worked so well when scenes were being described and made me want to visit 18th century London. 

The ending isn’t what I expected or hoped would happen, but the way in which Penner crafts it makes complete sense given the hundreds of pages that come before it. All of my questions were answered and I truly wished the book would never end. I would give The Lost Apothecary a five-star review and the book is definitely a well-deserved New York Times bestseller.

Sophia Donis

Mizzou '23

I’m a Journalism major with a minor in Political Science from the Chicago suburbs! I love interior design, spending time with my friends and snuggling up with a good book!
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