Monday, August 8, 2016

Review - The Apothecary's Daughter

Original Title: The Apothecary's Daughter
Author: Julie Klassen
Published: January 1st 2009

Publisher: Bethany House Publishers

Julie Klassen is becoming one of my favourite authors. Reading her books was one of my biggest dreams, and I owe it to my best friend Brittany, who amazingly made that dream come true. Thanks to her, I have two books by this amazing author, both signed and dedicated, and they are among the treasures of my shelves. But most of all, thank the Lord for giving me the chance to meet such wonderful people, even when we live in different parts of the world.

Well, to the review. I doubt I can truly do justice to all the wonderful details in this book, but I’ll try.

Saying that I loved it doesn't even begin to explain how much. The Apothecary's Daughter it is a true historical fiction work that it is a pleasure to read, and what it makes it all the more amazing and admirable is that huge research work behind it. I was impressed with how many details I could learn about the work of an apothecary, the way of treating patients and how much they rely on them, even above actual doctors. It's a truly captivating story; it kept me turning the pages for hours, and wanting to get back to it when I had to put it down. 

I loved Lilly Haswell, because, in despite of her many hesitations and indecisions, she’s a strong, deep character. She feels torn between two worlds: the one that shaped her whole life, in her father’s apothecary, and the infinite possibilities of the London life her aunt and uncle have to offer (she knows the world is bigger than the small part she’s familiar with - I love when a character doesn’t settle for what there is at hand, and follows her/his heart). Lilly knows that leaving Bedsley Priors will hurt the people she loves, but she can’t fully bring herself to reject the chance of education, refinement, travel, and perhaps an advantageous marriage, her relatives have ready for her in the big city. 

In other aspects, she is, among the many books I’ve read, the first heroine who has three men vying for her affections, and although I’ve seen that it felt unrealistic –and even insufferable– for many other readers, I consider that it speaks of more character depth than the character itself is aware of. I mean, Lilly is a full grown woman, and her beauty and charms do not go unnoticed by the men in her life, but she has other priorities, and hardly remembers of her own heart during her father’s illness, her mother’s absence (who left without even a word to anyone), her brother Charlie’s difficulties, and the whole restoring of Haswell’s, which has fallen in hard times. The admiration from those three men is, each according to their vision of her, sincere, and she knows it, she sees it, and her doubts are not something I find annoying… I think that it makes Lilly a lot more human. If she didn’t have any hesitations about who she loved, then I wouldn’t have believed her for a second.

The three suitors are great characters, and, in a way or another, I loved the three of them. The romance is not a sparky, passionate one, but a rather sweet, quiet love that grows between the characters, and, at some point, they realize life is no life if the other isn’t there. I loved it, because you go with Lilly step by step, and her feelings are your feelings at some point, about her missing mother (with every clue she finds), her father and brother, her friends, her suitors, her patients… She’s a true historical fiction heroine.

This book is wonderful, also, because it has skilfully showed two different worlds, and entwined them in what it feels like a beautiful painting, showing the two faces of the story’s reality: the small town life, and the polite upper society one, both of them showing that they have equal amounts of lights and shadows, that none of them is perfect, but love is, at the end, what makes you choose one or the other. Lilly belongs to the two of them, as she is both refined enough for a London ballroom, and highly skilled to prepare the medicines and tonics needed in her father’s shop, having the sincere trust of those who count on it, and the Haswells’ knowledge.

All the characters in this book are lovable, even the darkest ones, and the Regency manners are so well depicted (especially with the whole education ladies used to receive, in dancing, conversation, music and communication –like, with their fans), that this whole novel felt like time travelling. But also, the wonderful display of explanations (and not just mention –I value that detail very much, because anyone can mention, but a just few, truly explain) of medicines, preparations, syrups, herbs… The training of an apothecary, and his role almost as a doctor for those who can’t afford one; Ms. Klassen put phrases and extracts from books at the beginning of each chapter, and one of them explains it all, over chapter 30: 

[The apothecary] is the physician to the poor at all times, and to the rich whenever the distress or danger is not great.” –Adam Smith, 1776.

It’s a pleasure to read an historical book from an author who actually cares about historical accuracy, and sits there to do the research, towards the goal of taking readers to another era. And while there is this kind of people in the world, the past centuries will not be utterly gone, because we will always find a way to return to them. I always say that a story doesn’t have to belong to the fantasy genre to have magic in it… There’s many types of it, and this is only one them.

This is definitely a must read for those who love historical fiction. In my case, I wanted to read this one for so many years, that I thought I’d be disappointed when I finally could, because my expectations were too high; but that didn’t happened; I utterly loved this book, and it is an astounding YES to the rest of the books by this author. Go ahead, you won’t be disappointed, and I hope you love it as much as I did!

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