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Friday, July 6, 2012

Book Review: The Apothecary's Daughter

The Apothecary's Daughter, by Julie Klassen, was recommended to me by a good friend and I'm glad I followed through and checked it out at the library. Set in the very early 1800s, it revolves around a young woman, Lillian, known by all as Lilly. Struggling with the harsh reality that her mother abandoned her family when Lilly was younger, as well as the difficulty of having a special needs brother, she also struggles with the desire for, as Disney's Belle would put it, more than this provincial life. Although insanely skilled as a helper in her father's apothecary shop, she wants nothing to do with the lifestyle and trade. She craves society and the adventures she can only assume her mother is having. Also she totally wouldn't mind a boyfriend and who wouldn't?

Her luck changes when her mother's wealthy brother and his wife offer to sponsor her for a season or two in London. She's given a taste of what she craves, but when her father's health and business suffer, she must relunctantly return to deal with it and numerous other mishaps, emergencies and tragedies. Also there's the nagging question of which suitor she will choose.

One thing I want to say is how surprised I was to discover that Klassen is a popular and much-awarded Christian Fiction writer, even more so when I discovered this about halfway through the book. To me, The Apothecary's Daughter is a richly illustrated, exhaustively researched account of life not only in the early 1800s but also within the trades of apothecaries, physicians and surgeons in that time period. It's not a bible thumping, over the top Christian Mission Statement. Sure there's mention of thanking God, and praying for miracles and relying on one's faith, but never in a heavy-handed way; it's done, as one reviewer puts it, in a way that is historically appropriate.

 Klassen's style of writing in no way puts me off from reading any more of her novels, in fact, I hope to read another soon. But I will say that the most off-putting element of the tale is the subtle Mary Sue quality of Lilly. Yes she's pretty, intelligent, loyal, independent and hard working which are all fantastic characteristics that anyone would adore in a future spouse, but to have one, two, three, four, five suitors, ranging from nobleman to doctor to socialite (wait, maybe two noblemen then), from shopkeeper to apprentice, I was just like, Oh, OKAY ALL RIGHT ALREADY. And of course I think we're all sick of the Irritatingly Obvious Admirer Whose Admirations Are Misunderstood Or Downplayed By The Heroine shtick. But I do say that in a lighthearted ribbing sort of way. It's a good story and an excellent peek into life from that time period.

Grade: A

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