November 19

The Apothecary’s Daughter by Charlotte Betts

It is interesting to receive comments on my reviews. I have always said that everyone is entitled to their opinion, and as long as you have given it some thought and justification, then your opinion is valid. You don’t have to like what I like to read. My purpose is only to offer alternatives and let you make up your own mind.

Anyway, a new review from a new author. The publisher’s website tells us that this is a debut novel from an ‘exciting new voice in historical fiction’. I will admit that I found it a very entertaining book to read, but ‘new voice’ – I think not.

Susannah Leyton is a woman outside of her time. All her life she has worked with her father in his apothecary shop, and maintained a comfortable household after her mother’s death during childbirth. Then one day her father remarries, and suddenly Susannah is banned from the shop and delegated to the nursery to help raise her step-mothers two brats. Eventually she is given the choice of marrying an attractive, apparently wealthy young man or continuing to live at ‘home’ as nursemaid to her stepmother’s baby. She accepts marriage, and then the troubles begin. Her husband is desperately unhappy and homesick for Jamaica where he grew up. The house they are living in is rented, well without actually paying any rent. When her husband dies from the plague, suddenly Susannah is alone and penniless. And in 1660, that is not a good place for a woman, even one with excellent medical skills.

This was a very entertaining book to read. The setting of London just before the Great Fire was credible. The plague was rife and no one knew the cause. Much of the city was dirty and rat infested, even the homes of the wealthy. The primitive attempts at quarantine for the infected did little more than ensure that whole families died. Caught up in this horror, and the eventual fire Susannah provides a credible witness to the event.

The inevitable romance in the book is well handled. Not overly mushy, and maintains a strong credibility. It follows all the typical romance novel formula, boy meets girl, girl marries someone else, girl is released from her vows, boy appears to be carrying on with someone else, finally in a moment of crisis they admit their feelings and live happily ever after. OK, so there are no surprises. But a debut author is not going to be allowed to challenge accepted practice.

This is an enjoyable read. However, I would argue that this is not a ‘new voice’. Betts has skill and a good understanding of her genre. I will happily read more from her. But I’ll choose her books when I’m looking for something comfortingly familiar.