Book Review: The Apothecary, by Maile Meloy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Set in 1952 London (mostly), this novel definitely gets better as it goes. After a somewhat slow start, the pace and interest level picks up as the main character Janie gets wrapped up in the mysterious lives of Benjamin and his father, the Apothecary. When the Apothecary disappears, it’s up to Benjamin and Janie to unravel the secrets of the amazing Pharmacoepia, an ancient book of powerful alchemy. What follows is a nice mix of adventure, espionage, and fantasy written in Meloy’s easy, comfortable style.
My first of two issues with the book, and this is really an English major thing, is the mild inconsistency in the created world. The Apothecary and his colleagues can pretty much whip up a powder or elixir which does whatever they want. There seem to be no bounds whatsoever, and, although there is some attempt at an explanation, I wasn’t convinced. I am a big believer in Tolkien’s philosophy of a created world having to abide by rules, even if they are different from the real world.
My other concern, and there’s a spoiler coming with this, is with the end. The characters use their alchemical powers to contain the effects of a hydrogen bomb. Shortly after, Benjamin and his father set off into the world to keep it safe from a nuclear doomsday. Meloy runs into history here. Are we the readers supposed to assume that the two of them are the reason a bomb was never used after WWII? If not, what happened to them? I didn’t get the sense that a sequel was coming, but was just left wondering about the post-story in a way which made me uncomfortable. As this was aimed more at a middle-school/high-school audience, however, I don’t think it overly detracts from the book.
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