The Apothecary’s Curse by Barbara Barnett
The Apothecary’s Curse is a strange mix of myth and medicine. It begins in the Victorian era and winds up in the present day and it tells the story of two men whose lives become inextricably entwined and not always in the most pleasant way.
The story unfolds using split timelines jumping backward and forwards where we gradually learn the tale of physician Simon Bell and apothecary Gaelan Erceldoune. I confess from the outset I found the Victorian aspects of the story quite fascinating, this is when we first uncover the real truth behind our two protagonists and it was a story that I really enjoyed. Simon is in search of a miracle cure for his wife Sophie who has terminal cancer and as a last resort he begs Gaelen to help him. Unfortunately the cure doesn’t work and Sophie dies leaving Simon bereft and angry. Hoping to take his own life he swallows the remainder of the remedy himself and in a bizarre twist becomes immortal. At the same time Gaelen is unfairly accused of a crime that will see him convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. And he does indeed hang – he just doesn’t die! Gaelen is also immortal.
In the modern day story Gaelen and Simon’s lives occasionally cross. Gaelen owns an antique bookshop and Simon has become a successful author. Simon is tormented by the Ghost of Sophie and Gaelen is tormented by dreams of the time he spent in a mental institution where he was subjected to horrific torture. Gaelen and Simon seem to lead lives that revolve around each other and the one key ingredient that keeps them coming together is an ancient book. This book once belonged to Gaelen. A possession that had been in his family for as long as any one could recall. Impossible for most people to read, this book supposedly contained cures for every disease. Simon is anxious to locate the book – he thinks it holds the secret to his immortality and as he longs to join Sophie in death this book could finally give him his release. Of course Simon and Gaelen are not the only two interested in the secrets of longevity. A major pharmaceutical company are also keen to discover more and their search is finally beginning to close the net around our two lead characters.
What did I enjoy about this? It’s an intriguing tale and I thought well written. I wouldn’t say it was a particularly fast paced story but in spite of that it really held my attention. As I mentioned above I preferred the Victorian aspects of the tale – I thought those sections of the story were richer in detail and the characters just seemed to fit better in that timeframe. I liked the way the author kept the story primarily focused on Simon and Gaelen, their lives seemed to frequently gravitate back together as though their paths were fated to continually cross. The story also looks at our search for the impossible, whether that be turning metal into gold, the philosopher’s stone or immortality and the question of whether any of these things can truly make a person happy. Is the grass greener, would we be truly happy, is it just a matter of perspective?
In terms of criticisms. I had a few niggles. I think primarily, whilst I liked Simon and Gaelen I never really became solidly attached to either of them and I’m not sure I can put my finger on why that is. Although, on balance, I would say I preferred Gaelen and I think that is probably because we spend more time with him in the latter part of the book. The other thing that I couldn’t help focusing a little bit negatively on was during the latter stages of the book as it becomes apparent that there’s a major pharmaceutical company looking for Gaelen. This is a company who seem to have a ‘no holds barred’ approach to getting what they want – I wanted to feel the urgency and tension of the situation but it was a bit difficult given Gaelen’s relaxed approach.
But, in spite of my niggles, I think The Apothecary’s Curse was an entertaining read with it’s dual timeframe and mythological aspects. If you enjoy a story with a bit of murder, mystery, intrigue, corruption and a couple of love stories alongside all of that then this could be just for you.
I received a copy courtesy of the publisher for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.