The Apothecary’s Curse (10/11/2016)

The Apothecary's Curse by Barbara BarnettARC releaseThe Apothecary’s Curse by Barbara Barnett (Blogcritics)
Published: Pyr (Oct 11, 2016)
Posted: Goodreads (Sep 3, 2016)
5 Stars (5 / 5)

The Apothecary’s Curse is an upcoming fantasy novel set in an alternate Victorian England and modern day Chicago. Alternating between two timelines, the novel explores humanity through the lens of its two immortal protagonists: Doctor Simon Bell and the mysterious apothecary, Gaelan Erceldoune. Over the centuries, they’ll need to work together to overcome many obstacles and unravel the secret of their affliction.

The author concocts a masterful blend of the finest storytelling elements. With a tempered hand, Bell and Erceldoune’s story is told over the course of large periods of time, never once becoming tedious or boring. Love, life, secrets, and the vile intolerance of the masses pave the way for a surprising relatable tale of fear and despair. We instinctively know that their journey will be rough from other similar works, but never once does the narrative degrade into outlandishly magical deus ex moments.

The scotsman Gaelan is an outstanding character. Skeptical of alchemy and magic, the apothecary rationalizes every miracle with science. But when one of his healing elixirs kills one and bestows another with man’s greatest dream, he’s forced into a world of uncertainty and dread. The author captures his death-in-life vividly. From having to endure great personal loses to unspeakable horrors, Gaelan’s tribulations make this foray into the gas-lit Victorian Age truly terrifying.

Bell’s inner purgatory brought on by the unfair death of his wife leave him guilt ridden and hollow. One could only imagine what tricks the mind plays when left in isolation for long periods of time. Bell’s demons are doubly dangerous, drawn out by the events that unfold in this swift page turner. This notion drives Simon’s existence and makes for some great character reflection.

I really enjoyed the author’s use of the present. A multinational pharmaceutical company wants the secrets locked in Bell and Gaelan’s blood. Their quest for salvation is curbed only by their need for constant secrecy. But the story never becomes a mindless action throwaway, the present timeline doesn’t turn into a gimmick. The character’s past is important to their future. Rest assured that The Apothecary’s Curse stays the personal tale of two characters and the narrative is stronger for it.

The Apothecary’s Curse also features excellent pacing, humor, passionate romance, tasteful adult situations, and descriptive writing.

“I observe a rose and see the petals, pistil, and stamen,” she said wistfully. “Thorns and pollen, the veins that redden the green leaf as if blood courses through it. I wonder what magnificent chemistry creates the scent and color: yellow distinct from red, distinct from white. Of course I see the beauty, yet there is no beauty greater than comprehending the truly amazing parts to the whole.” – Eleanor

“His thoughts drifted to Eleanor – the Corona Borealis, their nexus into perpetuity; the skies never changing, his constant in the algebra of the universe.”

Apothecary is truly an outstanding novel with excellent writing, story, and strong characters. It’s without reservation that I highly recommend it to all fans of Victorian fiction. 5/5

(This book was received from the publisher for a fair and honest review. Special thank you to the SFWA for letting me review this novel.)

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