Published by Piatkus in paperback in February 2012
Inside the apothecary shop Susannah stood by the light of the window, daydreaming and grinding flowers of sulphur into a malodorous dust as she watched the world go by. Fleet Street, as always was as busy as an anthill. The morning's snow was already dusted with soot from the noxious cloud blown in from the kilns at Limehouse and the frost made icebergs of the surging effluent in the central drain. Church bells clanged and dogs barked which ceaseless stream of people flowed past.
Susannah Leyton has grown up behind the counter of her father's apothecary shop, surrounded by the resinous scents of lavender, rosemary, liquorice and turpentine. More learned than any apprentice, she concocts soothing medicines and ointments with great skill. Content with her life, Susannah is shocked when her widowed father announces his intentions to marry again, and later becomes caught in a battle of wills with her new step-mother. When she receives a proposal of marriage from handsome and charming merchant Henry Savage, she believes her prayers have been answered and resolves to be a good wife to him. But Henry is a complex and troubled man, haunted by his memories of growing up in Barbados. As the plague sweeps through the city, tragedy strikes, and the secrets of Henry's past begin to unfold.
Oh how I loved this book!
In fact I voted it my favourite book for January. I don't read a lot of historical novels, but this one conjured up such a vision rich in detail and texture that I found I couldn't put it down. I honestly felt like I had stepped into the 1600's. To be honest, that is one era of history that has always fascinated me - the plague and the Great Fire of London. I was pleased that the author really brought it to life for me with her vivid descriptions. I was amazed to discover that Islington used to be thought of as countryside!
I knew that I would love this book when I first saw the cover for it nearly a year ago. The cover is so beautiful, it reminded me of one of those old fashioned sweets shops you used to be able to go to where you could buy a quarter of your favourite sweets.
Susannah was an amazing character. She never let the ill fate that followed her keep her down for long. She was a strong woman with great intelligence who was often degraded just for being a woman. At the beginning of the story we find her situation similar to Cinderella's. Her weak willed father has fallen in lust with a much younger woman, Arabella, whose only objective was to find a suitable new home for her children with enough income to keep her in the dresses she desires. You couldn't blame Arabella for being the way she was, as during that era a woman needed a man to survive; as the sexist nature of society wouldn't allow women to have a carreer of their own.
Susannah is s desperate to do her best for everyone. Her relationship with Henry is a difficult one and I felt sorry for the way she was treated. However Dr William Ambrose, who appears as austere and moody, is definitely a character I enjoyed!
This book definitely shows a woman's quest for independence. Susannah is desperate to stand side by side with the men in society - she has the same apothecary skills which they have gained and can see no reason for equality.
In some ways, this book reminded me of L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. I think it was the warmth I felt from the book, and the love story which sits at the heart of it. Charlotte's descriptive writing also reminded me of the way Sally Gardner writes; the way she paints a picture with words.
I am extremely excited by Charlotte's writing and I long for more books very quickly.