It’s 1791 London and a mysterious woman named Nella operates her secret business in the hidden section of her mother’s former apothecary shop where she learned the healing natures of herbs and plants. Her mother is gone and after Nella suffered a betrayal at the hands of a cheating lover, she shifts those skills to concoct potions that will be the undoing of men like him. She’s an underground secret that only women know about and protect her identity. When she allows a young girl who expresses an interest in learning more about her craft to help her, it sets up a series of events that spans forward into the future. Enter Caroline Parcewell in the present day whose marriage is falling apart and she’s in London on what was supposed to be a tenth anniversary celebration. She’s alone and when she finds a vial on the shores of the Thames, it has historic and life changing implications.
This is a tale of two shifting timelines, which I like when it’s done well as it is here. I thought I’d be more invested in Caroline’s story but it was Nella’s that captured most of my attention. She’s a complicated character living in an era where women’s fates were in the hands of men, often those behaving badly. On the surface, Nella’s answer might seem a dark form of justice but it takes a toll on her soul. When Caroline finds that vial, she sets off to research its history and origin, filling a hole in her own soul she didn’t even recognize was there. She has a degree in history but toils away at home in Cincinnati working as a glorified bookkeeper in her family’s business. This mission reawakens her in a way that provides clarity in her own life.
I’m not sure I would have ever selected this to read if not for my book club, which is another endorsement for participating in diverse reading groups where you can broaden your scope. I had a tough time pausing this story, especially because of the timeline transitions. How that vial ended up on the shores of the Thames two hundred years later is the heart of the story and the journey getting there was full of intrigue, suspense and excitement. I listened to the story and separate narrators were used for Nella, Caroline and young Eliza, which really added flavor to the performance. I especially loved Nella’s voice as she captured every emotion that character embodied. It was masterful and contributed to a wonderful listening experience of a really good story.
- Release Date: March 2, 2021
- Narrators: Lorna Bennett, Lauren Anthony & Lauren Irwin
- Audio Length: 10 hours, 18 minutes
- Publisher: Harlequin Audio