In Victorian England, apothecary Gaelan Erceldoune, whose knowledge comes from a mysterious manuscript passed down through his family for generations, is viewed with the usual skepticism reserved for members of his profession. His friendship with Dr. Simon Bell leads him to make a tonic to cure Bell’s wife of cancer when Bell begs him for help. Through a mishap, the elixir is ruined, Bell’s wife dies, and Bell, seeking to commit suicide, drinks the leftovers, only to discover that they made him immortal instead. Over the years, he and Gaelan learn that they both share immortality. They join forces to recover Gaelan’s lost manuscript so that they can reverse the effects of the elixir and release themselves from never-ending life.
The novel seamlessly weaves dual timelines together, shifting from Victorian England to modern-day America. In each, Simon and Gaelan work to hide their immortality while either striving to evade “mad doctors,” recover the missing manuscript and keep it (and themselves) out of the hands of unethical pharmaceutical researchers, and unlock the modern marvels of genetics.
I loved this book. I thought at first that it took too long for the modern-day geneticist, Anne Shawe, to make her appearance, but upon consideration, it seemed a very deliberate choice on Barnett’s part. Delaying the love interest’s appearance, then making her immediately interesting and invaluable, gives readers a sense of what it might be like to live forever, want to die, and then be faced with something worth living for. I also loved that the novel touched on many facets of medical ethics. It highlights a lot of things we need to discuss within the medical community. I don’t know if Barnett did that intentionally or not, but it was nicely done all the same, and goes to show that sci-fi/fantasy is an ideal medium in which to discuss some heavy topics.
Review originally published on the Historical Novel Society website: https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/the-apothecarys-curse/