The Apothecary’s Curse by Barbara Barnett

Happy Book Birthday to The Apothecary’s Curse by Barbara Barnett, published by Pyr!  This book, set in a world mostly like our own, spans three centuries, from Victorian England to modern-day Chicago to follow the lives and tribulations of two men and their shared curse.

FTC Notice: This book was provided free in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacts my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

apothecarys-curseTitleThe Apothecary’s Curse
AuthorBarbara Barnett
Series: stand-alone
Publish Date: October 11, 2016, Pyr
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Source: Provided by the publisher

Publisher’s DescriptionIn Victorian London, the fates of physician Simon Bell and apothecary Gaelan Erceldoune entwine when Simon gives his wife an elixir created by Gaelan from an ancient manuscript. Meant to cure her cancer, it kills her. Suicidal, Simon swallows the remainder—only to find he cannot die. Hearing rumors of a Bedlam inmate with regenerative powers like his own, Simon is shocked to discover it’s Gaelan. The two men conceal their immortality, but the only hope of reversing their condition rests with Gaelan’s missing manuscript.

When modern-day pharmaceutical company Genomics unearths diaries describing the torture of Bedlam inmates, the company’s scientists suspect a link between Gaelan and an unnamed inmate. Gaelan and Genomics geneticist Anne Shawe are powerfully drawn to each other, and her family connection to his manuscript leads to a stunning revelation. Will it bring ruin or redemption?

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Invested_Ivana_100Invested Ivana says…

First, I loved this book, and I’ll tell you why in a minute. But second, I feel the need to manage some expectations before I get into my review.

When I first saw a listing for The Apothecary’s Curse, it was labeled urban fantasy. And it is… sort of. It’s not your hero or heroine kicking-ass kind of urban fantasy, though. It’s not Victorian steampunk. It’s not what I call a “popcorn” book–the literary equivalent of a summer action blockbuster that you can enjoy without much mental effort.

This book is much meatier than that. This book jumps time, and not always chronologically. In fact, the first chapter is actually set between the Victorian and modern narratives that run throughout the rest of the book. The characters in this book exhibit the speech patterns of their time; in the Victorian narrative, the characters use flowery language and long sentences that can prove difficult for modern readers. This book is slow to reveal itself, letting the two narratives unfold in their own way until the reader finally starts to see the connections emerge. There is very little fighting or action in this book at all; it is a thinker’s book to be sure and feels very literary.

I say all this because I know that, labeled urban fantasy, this is not what some readers will be expecting. And I would hate to see bad reviews of this book simply because a reader had the wrong expectations.

All of the things I listed above are why I LOVE this book. There is a time and place for “popcorn” books; I love them dearly. But I also find great joy in the more literary, more challenging reads. The Apothecary’s Curse is one of these.

Four of the things I particularly love about this book are:

  • the multiple ways in which Simon’s and Gaelan’s lives entwine and mimic each other.
  • the way in which Simon’s guilt and sorrow over his wife’s death manifests itself.
  • the parallelism between Gaelan’s two loves in the book.
  • the possible interpretation of an ancient, and supposedly Fae-wrought, book of healing in light of modern medical science.

Every book has a few things that could be different. It seems as if there are a couple of story threads left dangling, such as a bit about Anne’s family history and her acquisition of the book, but nothing so central to the story as to be distracting.

badge5v4I’m really very happy with The Apothecary’s Curse. It’s one of those books that, upon reread, will likely reveal even more of its secrets. I can see this being a good choice for a fantasy book club or creative writing class as there is a lot here that could be mined for discussion. I highly recommend this to any fantasy or historical fiction reader who is looking for a substantial, satisfying read.

If you like this book…

The Apothecary’s Curse put me in mind of Christopher Farnsworth’s The Eternal World.  It is also about the appeal (or lack thereof) of immortality and spans multiple centuries.  If you like historical fantasy titles with a literary feel, try Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley, or the Chronicles of Alice duology by Christina Henry.

FTC Notice: This book was provided free in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacts my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


About Invested Ivana

I'm currently a freelance line editor, a book blogger at One Book Two, and lifetime reader. I like geeky things. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not reflect the opinions of Red Adept Editing or any of my clients, the other reviewers on this site, or this site as a whole.

Posted on October 11, 2016, in Review and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I’m very excited to read this. I love the sound of the setting (huge sucker for Victorian era steampunk here) and to hear that it has elements of UF mixed in makes me even more intrigued. Hoping to start it later this month.

    Liked by 1 person

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