The Apothecary’s Curse – Barbara Barnett
Release date: October 11th, 2016
Age Group: Adult
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
This genre-bending urban fantasy mixes alchemy and genetics as a doctor and an apothecary try to prevent a pharmaceutical company from exploiting the book that made them immortal centuries ago.
In 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.
Five years later, 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 Transdiff 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?
The Apothecary’s Curse definitely has an interesting premise and I was captivated throughout the majority of the book. However, the last part of the book, especially the part that is set in the present didn’t quite feel as good as the rest of the book.
A book presumably written by one of the fair folk has been gifted centuries ago to a mortal man in Scotland to pass on from generation to generation, hoping it would do some good in the world. It is a book that needs to be understood completely to work. It is full of recipes for different sorts of medicine, curing all kinds of diseases like the plague and cancer. However, one little mistake can turn it into the most deadly poison, or an elixir for eternal life.
Gaelen Ercledoune was born in the 1600s and when he became ill with the plague he consulted the book his father had left him and made himself a potion, hoping it would cure him. His father had been captured and killed on claims of using sorcery before he could explain the book to his son, so in making the potion, Gaelen didn’t quite get it right and as a side effect became immortal.
In the 1800s he is an apothecary looking after the less wealthy (and sometimes even the elite when they have certain problems that a respected physician can’t see). He befriends the physician Simon Bell and when Simon’s wife is diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, he turns to Gaelen as a last resort, desperate to save the life of his one true love. Gaelen decides to help and gets out the book that helped cure him all those years ago. He has to get it just right this time though, but after much contemplation he’s willing to risk it.
Simon’s wife, though cured from the cancer, dies anyway and in his grief and desperation Simon drinks the rest of the potion Gaelen made. But contrary to his wishes, he doesn’t die… In the meantime Gaelen is arrested for a murder he didn’t commit and is transported to Bedlam where he falls under the mercy of the mad doctor, who is fascinated by the fact that wounds on Gaelen’s body seem to heal almost instantly.
A big part of the book also takes place in the present day, where Gaelen and Simon are still friends, though both plagued by the long life they have lived. Simons wants nothing more than to die and Gaelen wants to get rid of the nightmares that keep him awake every night. They have been trying to find the Ourobouros book for years now, with no success.
It is a fascinating and magical story, however in this book it all gets a more realistic and bitter twist. Immortality, alchemy, the Fair Folk, it all sounds amazing. Getting a perspective on life from someone who has lived 200 and 400 years respectively during the timeperiods that are discussed in the book is always fascinating. The good thing about this rendition is that it’s not all about magic of living forever and getting the most out of the extra time you are being gifted with.
Vampires, for example, were at some point glamorous and their immortality certainly had a great deal to do with that. Gaelen however is plagued by his immortality because of all too real problems: how can you ever succumb to love when you know that person will die while you still look the same as the moment you first met. You’ll outlive your children, your grandchildren, their grandchildren. Immortality is a lonely thing. To avoid being discovered, the immortal person has to restart their lives time and time again. One misstep though and suddenly you’re being probed and tested because of your miraculous ability to heal. Be it in the 1800’s or 2016, it’s not a cakewalk. Definitely no glamour here. Which shows that this book gives a truly realistic view on what immortality could mean for humankind.
I love how the emphasis was strongly put on the fact that the ourobouros book was specifically meant for healing and that the immortality was purely a side-effect from misinterpreting or not fully understanding the recipe for the potion. Though it is described as a book about alchemy, it is in its essence really not. It’s interesting to suggest that ages ago, some form of medicine and understanding of genetics and medical science was on par with or even surpassing what we have now, but for some reason got erased from history. Is it so crazy to see this as a possibility though? We have proof that ancient societies might have had an understanding about certain things that baffle us today. I couldn’t help to think about all these things while reading The Apothecary’s Curse.
Why did the last part of the book disappoint then in my opinion? It’s difficult to put words to feelings sometimes. I think it was mainly because of the romantic part in the present time. I had some trouble getting in to their sudden attraction, even though a possible explanation was given for this. I’m not the kind of person to like insta-love, even though it has definitely been very popular in YA the last few years. When the words “love” and “darling” were then thrown around, my brain just went ‘nope’. You’ve known each other for what, a week? Less than that? I seem to stumble over romantic aspects of the books I read often. Am I not a romantic person? Don’t I like lovey-dovey tales? Believe me, I do. To use the popular terminology: I ship certain fictional couples so hard I wish they were real. Or I was one of them. Why is it then that most of the time books can’t seem to get it right for me? Is it all going too fast in standalone books? Too sappy? Too unrealistic? I hope to find out some day.
Don’t be fooled though, I very much enjoyed the book overall. It was interesting, thought-provoking and well written. I’m looking forward to reading more of Barbara Barnett’s work.