The Apothecary’s Daughter

The Apothecary’s Daughter
by Julie Klassen
Baker Publishing Group, 2009

It’s a shame that women cannot be apprentices because the years Lillian Haswell has spent helping her father in his apothecary shop have thoroughly prepared her for the profession. On the other hand, she longs for new experiences, the same longing that she suspects drove her mother to abandon their family. When Lilly’s wealthy aunt and uncle extend an invitation for her to spend a season with them in London she jumps at the chance. Lilly enjoys her time in society, though she must always be careful to hide her humble upbringing and her mother’s scandal from potential suitors. One day she stumbles upon information that might lead to her mother’s whereabouts and enlists her uncle’s help in pursuing the lead, but things get complicated when her past begins to be revealed. Then a message from a family friend informing her that her father has fallen ill brings her back to her village and she finds her home and family have fallen into deplorable condition in her absence. She believes she will have to choose between family obligation and romance, but will she?

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Lillian Haswell is a likable character for her spunkiness and selflessness. Though she goes her own way here and there, she ultimately makes her decisions based on the welfare of those that she cares about and isn’t afraid to stand up against injustice. This likability serves to highlight the theme of inequality that runs through the story. Lilly is bright, with a nearly perfect memory for medical ingredients and compounds, and yet she is unfit to be an apothecary? Several characters with disabilities are also treated unfairly as times, in keeping with widely held beliefs of the time period (early 1800’s).

One of the things I loved about this novel is that the suitor she will ultimately choose is not immediately clear. There are several gentleman in the running who all have their own merits and weaknesses, and none are automatically characterized as the primary love interest. She is courted by several suitors and demonstrates grace and honesty with each, though a lack of communication causes some confusion a few times. It was refreshing to watch her discover who was right for her through the course of the book instead of having it written in all caps on a banner pulled behind a blimp in the first chapter. Part of that discovery rests on Lilly learning to rely on God instead of herself and to seek a mate who does the same.

The second thing I enjoyed was the historical aspect of medical treatment. The author portrays the struggle between the different branches of medicine at this time as apothecaries, physicians, and surgeons were all trying to establish boundary lines in their profession. Woven into the professional debate is the fact that women are not permitted in those occupations, so Lilly takes a huge risk when she dispenses medicines under her father’s name while he is ill, despite the fact that she is equally or more qualified than many men who have hung an apothecary shingle.
Along the same vein, there is some discussion about the treatments of various illnesses that we obviously do not adhere to today, but that were accepted and routine at the time (bloodletting and the use of leeches, for example). An epileptic character and mentally handicapped character also highlight examples of the differences in how disorders were perceived then as opposed to now.
I am a huge Julie Klassen fan. She has published ten novels in the last eight years and I have devoured nine of them. One more to go and then the wait is on for her next novel, scheduled for release in December of 2016. All her works up to this point have been stand alone, so the upcoming book is notable for being the first time she has begun a series. I can’t wait to read it!


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