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All booksHistorical fantasyThe Lost Apothecary
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
Historical fantasy

The Lost Apothecary

Each year thousands of members vote for our Book of the Year award—congrats to The Lost Apothecary!
We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Sarah Penner, on your first book!

by Sarah Penner

Quick take

Forget healing salves or soothing tinctures. This apothecary specializes in one thing: helping women fight back.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SlowRead

    Slow build

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Supernatural


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NonLinear

    Nonlinear timeline

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Puzzle


Why I love it

Lidia Yuknavitch
Author, Verge

Let’s face it, I’m the kind of reader who thrills in time travel. I’m obsessed with history, but not history as a set of events locked in and legitimized by a set of dates in time and space; I am obsessed with history because it is alive. History moves. History changes. Different storylines recede, others come forward, statues topple, new voices and bodies that were once repressed emerge. I was predisposed to love The Lost Apothecary, a novel that toggles between past and present, where the lives of women are woven together to recreate history.

18th-century London: Penner had me at the apothecary itself, a kind of reliquary where poisons are sold by the mysterious Nella to women who seek revenge on the oppressive men in their lives. The city seethes with sexist sins against women, and yet, the women and girls who navigate their worlds turn out to be tenacious and brilliant. With her potions, Nella gives them a material means for controlling their own lives and fortunes. But this delicious storyline does not sit silent and still inside the vestiges of invisible history...

Present-day London: Caroline Parcewell is part historian, part detective, part time-traveling explorer. Upon discovering a centuries-old vial in the Thames, she begins to investigate the history of an underground apothecary. She examines the artifacts of the past as if her own life could be put into pieces and reassembled alongside the women and girls in her city who spoke back to their culture.

The Lost Apothecary reminds me of my favorite kind of stories involving women and girls, the ones where an author or artist embarks on an archeological dig through history in order to unbury alternative storylines. This novel is a reclamation project, a resistance narrative, a bringing back to life the stories and bodies of women and girls who save us every single day of our lives. Throw in a juicy mystery, murder, intrigue, and an entire strata of secret-keeping, and you get a novel that lifts up the skirt of history to reveal women running the world.

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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.

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Get an early look from the first pages of The Lost Apothecary.

Member thoughts

All (49066)
All (49066)
Love (25399)
Like (20446)
Dislike (3221)
49409 ratings
  • 51% Love
  • 41% Like
  • 7% Dislike
  • Cedar Grove, WI

    Plot was very thought out, and the characters were relatable. I enjoyed the time jumps to portray all parts of the story, and thought the author did well rapping up. Very enjoyable to read ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Des Moines, IA

    I love how the story flips from present day to the history of the apothecary, unfolding the story begins the apothecary and what it was. Such an interesting read the develops great friendships! ♥️♥️♥️

  • Baltimore , MD

    4/5⭐️! Would’ve been a perfect 5 if it was just the 1791 timeline! The modern day storyline was unnecessary and kinda cheesy— the apothecary storyline was much more intriguing, similar to Outlander!

  • Henderson, NV

    If you like mystery this is for you. Do not be pushed away because it’s listed as Historical Fantasy. I am so glad I picked this up and I don’t like fantasy. It’s really more like historical mystery.

  • Hilliard, OH

    This book was slow to start, but I’m so glad I stuck with it. Nella and Eliza’s stories were fascinating. While Caroline’s parts were a little long, I loved the way the past and present wove together.

  • Noblesville , IN

    This book had me magickly pulled. I wanted to know so much more. Nella and Eliza’s relationship and connection to one another made the book. Caroline’s discoveries added a modern day curiosity! Loved!

  • Normal, IL

    This book instantly captures you and leaves you wanting more. I couldn’t put it down! The revelation made at the end truly left me speechless and I’m so glad she came to that conclusion. Awesome story

  • Grosse Pointe Park, MI

    Even though I did not read this as a “Women’s History Month” feature, it did serve that purpose. The strong female characters gave me all the girl power vibes! I enjoyed this fun, suspenseful read!

  • Alhambra , CA

    Loved this book. Very welled written, and the back and forth between history and modern day is nicely done. It’s such a fun read that I couldn’t put the book down. I enjoyed all females in this book.

  • Charlotte, NC

    Besides the few verses where Caroline “got serious”, the story was so well written. The characters were wonderful, the twists shocked, and the ending left me equally wanting and satisfied. A favorite.

  • Canton, MI

    This was a fast read that I didn’t want to put down! I love stories that have two timelines that work together, it’s like putting together a puzzle. This one came together nicely, the ending was great

  • Salt Lake City , UT

    I love the non-linear time lines. Nella & Eliza’s friendship, mixed with mystery and magic had me hooked. Caroline’s discoveries & passion was an excellent addition. Strong women characters. Fun read!

  • Niles, OH

    This book isn’t one I may typically read but I’m so glad I went out of my comfort zone. I really liked how the story was told between the past and present. I enjoyed the historical elements as well!

  • Millersburg , OH

    I enjoyed reading this book about two different errors and how the story lines all came together in the end.  A fun fast read. I found that I enjoyed The past storyline compared to the present. 

  • Mossyrock, WA

    I wasn’t able to put this book down. I was rooting for all the character. I cried big fat ugly tears of sadness and then of joy. I normally don’t like historical fiction. But this is a new favorite!

  • Rochester, NY

    Couldn’t put this one down. The story of the apothecary sucked me right in. While the modern day wasn’t as enthralling for me, I still felt for her relatable longing to find purpose - to be someone.

  • Tulsa, OK

    Wonderful characters with a greatly interwoven story. I couldn’t decide who I wanted to read about more: Caroline, Eliza, or Nella. I would recommend to anyone with historical or fiction proclivities

  • Neenah, WI

    This book has a unique story line and it really pulled me in from the start! I loved Nella’s character and the cross between her story and Caroline’s. One of my favorite books I’ve read recently!

  • Lancaster, PA

    Books that can take you on multiple journeys are always engrossing, and this was no exception. I want more of the modern day character’s journey as a budding historian! Or maybe she findsa new mystery

  • St Louis, MO

    I am not a fan of historical novels nor of fantasy. Except in the case of this jewel. Through the weaving of 2 timelines and the interconnectedness of women across centuries, I couldn’t put this down.

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