REVIEWED BY DEBS CARR
It’s 1665 and Susannah Leyton quietly works behind the scenes in her father’s apothecary shop in Fleet Street. She would love to be a recognized apothecary like her father, but the idea of a woman doing something so outrageous makes this dream an impossibility. Susannah likes nothing better than trying out new concoctions from the vast array of ingredients her father stores in his shop. Her mother died tragically years before giving birth to Susannah’s brother and since witnessing that horror, she’s always insisted that she doesn’t wish to marry, but is happy spending the rest of her life working with her father.
One day, Dr William Ambrose, a serious, unsmiling man, comes into the shop and asks to speak to her father. Susannah explains that he’s out and when Dr Ambrose tells her he urgently requires a potion for one of his patients, she offers to make it. He is not impressed with the notion and Susannah can’t help feeling insulted by his abrupt reaction.
Susannah’s orderly life is changes beyond recognition when her father falls in love with a young widow and marries her. Abigail and Susannah soon fall out when Abigail starts ordering Susannah around and expecting her to look after her three young stepsiblings. The two women become increasingly antagonistic towards each other, upsetting Susannah’s father, who, much to her distress, takes the side of his spoilt, lazy, bride.
Living at this tragic time in London, Susannah, her father and William are unable to escape the inevitable deaths of neighbours, friends and patients. Each day dawns with red crosses having been painted on more front doors and the constant threat of the plague is something they all fear.
William’s handsome cousin Henry Savage arrives in England after spending years living on his father’s plantation in Barbados. He asks Susannah to marry him and at first she rejects him. Abigail finds her work as a governess for a friend of hers and having met the family, Susannah is horrified to think that this may be all she’ll have to look forward to in her life. When Henry proposes for a second time, she accepts. Her father pays him a large dowry, but despite her best efforts their marriage isn’t all that she’d hoped it would be. Henry has many secrets. Some William is aware of, but there are others that even he knows nothing about and soon he’s regretting not putting a stop to the marriage.
This novel begins in the midst of the Bubonic Plague and ends very dramatically a year later. I read this book on a flight to Miami and picked it up when the steward announced that the onboard entertainment wouldn’t be working for the nine-hour flight. I can honestly say I didn’t put it down until I’d finished it. It’s so well written that the smells, sounds and sights of seventeenth Century London seemed very real and I can’t wait to read Charlotte Betts’ next novel.