3 out of 4 stars
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The Apothecary is the first book in Patricia Simpson's Londo Chronicles trilogy, although it takes place in a world she first created in her novella The Marriage Machine. The year is 2525 and the city of London has been reduced to the most basic of technology and a ration system that keeps its citizens in line. Everyone must follow strict rules set forth by the Overseers, the only reason that humanity has managed to survive as long as it has in the wake of nuclear war.
Joanna and Eva lost their parents when they were young. Being the older sister, Joanna has always worked hard to provide for her younger sister, forgoing life's simple pleasures to put food on the table. She's ecstatic that all of her hard work will end soon, as her sister will be getting married, matched to a man she won't even know until his name is called in front of the Marriage Machine, a steampunk contraption that supposedly awakens a couple's fertility. However, Eva's tryst with her lover has put her bright future in danger. Her lover, sick of the Overseers' rules and regulations, makes a stand and sets off a chain of events that have ramifying effects on the city and on Joanna in particular, as she comes face-to-face with an Overseer who begins to carry more than a passing interest in her.
The Apothecary has the perfect blend of a steampunk setting, political imbalance, character development, and romance. Joanna is the most likable and realistic heroine I've had the pleasure to read about in a long time. She is not the only character to undergo major development, but her changes are gradual and, even for the reader, the most liberating. It felt so good to see her blossom from a mousy goody-two-shoes who only cared about her sister to an independent woman who was not afraid to break the rules and make decisions based on her happiness and not the happiness of others. Although the book's setting itself is deliciously fantastic, in my opinion, Simpson's strongest talent lies in her characters.
Despite the book having over 450 pages, I got sucked in and flew through it in less than a week. I have to say, I was surprised by the number of minor errors and inconsistencies I found. This is not Simpson's first novel, so I was expecting a cleaner copy. The most common issues were hyphen misuse and a lack of consistency between Silas' and Silas's. Other than the editing issues, I had no complaints.
If it weren't for the minor inconsistencies, I would have no problem giving The Apothecary 4 out of 4 stars. I can only give it 3 out of 4 stars, but I would highly recommend it to romance lovers who enjoy steampunk settings, the paranormal, and strong female leads. This is the first book in a trilogy and the next book will focus on Eva, Joanna's younger sister. Although Eva was not my favorite character, I've fallen in love with Joanna and the world she lives in, so I will definitely be giving the next book a read.
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