Sunday, August 7, 2011

Book Review: The Apothecary's Daughter

Author: Julie Klassen 
Title: The Apothecary’s Daughter

 As we meet Lilly, the apothecary’s daughter, she stands on a bridge, wistfully looking for her mother, who deserted the family several years earlier.  Meanwhile, the apprentice apothecary her father recently acquired moves in but has difficulty learning the trade. Lilly’s life revolves around the shop, her family, including her mentally disabled brother, and her best friend, Mary, who suffers from epilepsy. When relatives of her mother visit, Lilly is given the chance to leave her small country village to taste life in London. Although she is courted by several young gentlemen, her status as the daughter of a tradesman and her past, tainted by her mother’s disappearance, hold her back from feeling free to marry. When her father’s serious illness calls her home, Lilly must choose between life as a young lady in London and life as a tradesman’s daughter in her small village.

This book wasn’t what I was expecting; genre-wise, it was more historical fiction than romance. While most romances revolve around the relationship of the hero and the heroine, The Apothecary’s Daughter definitely has a heroine, but several suitors vie for the hero’s role. This more realistic view of a courtship and eventual marriage identifies the book as historical fiction with romantic elements.  I found the details of the business—the apothecary’s shop, the medical treatments of that time, and the interaction between the various medical professions—to be the most fascinating aspect of the book.  For example, during the early to mid-nineteenth century, at least three professions—physicians, apothecaries, and surgeons—competed for patients. As a young woman, Lilly is not free to practice any of these professions, yet her intelligence and her familiarity with her father’s practice make her a natural to follow in his shoes. Her desire to help those in medical need often conflicts with the customs of the time, with potentially damaging results. There was a plot twist at the end of the book that seemed to change the book’s tone more than the author prepared us for—but it wasn’t enough to make me dislike the book.

Lilly is a sympathetic protagonist, if a little passive (actually, she is much less passive than women at that time are supposed to be, but more passive than I like heroines to be). Her friend Mary, the other residents of the village, and Lilly’s suitors are also well-drawn secondary characters. I enjoyed Klassen’s writing style for the most part. The story was engaging, the plot kept moving, the ending was not obvious, and the Christian content did not overpower the rest of the story. Speaking of Christian content, this book marked the continuation of a small trend for me. I tend to put books on my kindle and read them when I get around to it. The books are very generally classified into fiction, non-fiction, or romance, so I don’t know much about them when I start reading, since it has usually been several months since I downloaded the book. Recently, I’ve been surprised by several books which “turn out” to be Christian, sometimes as far as midway through the book. One book that I read all the way through without identifying it as such turned out to be aimed at the Christian market. I’m not sure if Christian fiction is attempting to broaden its appeal as a genre, or if writers are just becoming more subtle. At any rate, this book is marketed as Christian fiction. Both readers of romance and of historical fiction would enjoy the book, and I’d recommend it to young adult readers who like historicals.

I found Klassen’s approach to the “Christian” aspect of the book a little unusual. It seemed that for these characters, Christianity = prayer. So characters who pray in the book are “better” than characters who don’t; characters who stop praying are headed downhill, and their return to better times is heralded by more praying. There is a little bit of church attendance, but mostly, they just pray. This book was enjoyable and held my interest, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to seek out another by Klassen.  

Article first published as Book Review: The Apothecary's Daughter by Julie Klassen on Blogcritics.

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