A few months ago I stumbled upon Julie Klassen’s novel The Silent Governess. I was entranced and completely mesmerized by the story, characters, and outstanding writing. I said in my review that upon finishing the novel, “I immediately needed to add all of Julie Klassen’s other novels to my to-read list.” As luck would have it Klassen’s publishing company, Bethany House, saw my review and graciously offered me the opportunity to review The Apothecary’s Daughter, which I now get to share with all of you!
Lillian Haswell is bored. The daughter of the local apothecary, Lillian aims to get out into the world and learn new things that their small village can’t offer her. To add to this anxiousness that Lillian feels, she is constantly nagged by rumors from the villagers over the mysterious disappearance of her mother, which her father refuses to discuss with her. She is finally offered a measure of relief when an aunt offers to take Lillian to London to make her into a respectable woman that she can take out in to society. Through this education and grooming, Lillian learns much about the world, including the affections of men and more clues about her mother’s case. All this ends suddenly, however, as she is called back to the village to tend to her terminally sick father. She is stuck with an immediate problem when she returns home to find the apothecary practically in ruin. She has no source of income if the apothecary fails and must therefore act in her father’s stead, without the village knowing that a woman is running the shop. To add to this, she has matters of the heart to deal with as well, as she is now a properly educated and worldly woman, and a few men have taken notice. What will Lillian do with all these new problems? Will she let her heart or her head guide her?
I had high expectations going into The Apothecary’s Daughter and I can gladly say they were all well met. Klassen’s novels have fascinating characters, and this novel was chock full of them. Lily, our heroine, is a woman with a stiff upper lip. She’s unafraid to get her hands dirty to save her family and loved ones. When the shop is failing due to her father’s sickness, she rolls up her sleeves and takes on the risks of running the shop as a woman. While this is occurring, she is being actively pursued by three men: the mysterious rogue, the childhood friend, and the man who can elevate her in society. Each has his own positive and negative characteristics and I spent a lot of the novel changing my mind over who I hoped she ended up with. Besides the aforementioned four characters you have a wonderfully complex set of supporting characters. Lily’s father is an enigma all on his own. His life has been wrought with sadness, more than the reader realizes at first glance. Unfortunately his son has mental difficulties, making it impossible for him to pass down the family apothecary business to him. His daughter is absolutely perfect for the position, except for one small thing: she is a woman. Women were not allowed to be apothecaries back in the day, and this therefore ends his family’s rich history in the business. I could go on and on about all the characters, but suffice it to say they’re all multi-layered and written by an expert at character development.
Besides the richly described characters is an extremely creative and inventive plot. The debate between who in the medical profession (apothecaries, doctors, or surgeons) should be responsible for diagnosing patients and giving out medicine and remedies was fascinating. (This novel was definitely meticulously researched) I learned a lot about old school medical practices and have to say it was eye-opening. Besides all of the medical jargon, little mysteries cropped up throughout the entire novel which kept the plot moving at a great pace. Some of these mysteries remained unsolved until the very ending of the novel, effectively keeping you on the edge of your seat until the very last page. These plot twists, combined with Lily’s compelling story, and interesting characterizations made for an amazing novel. I cannot recommend this novel and Julie Klassen enough!!
5 out of 5 Stars
This is my sixth completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge