Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Books Yay!: The Apothecary's Daughter, by Julie Klassen

I ran across Comm Ave on a class break a while back to grab a Cubano latte* at Espresso Royale, and while I was there I had to run to the bathroom.  The stall was decorated with various quotes, and one person had written "Those who rely on quotes cannot speak for themselves."  I wanted to high five the stall, because they perfectly summed up my irritation with people who spout quotes all the time.  When I was younger, I certainly used quotes and even kept a little notebook of them, but the better I learned to express myself on my own merits, the less I cared about having a bunch of quotes to refer to.  Drawing inspiration from quotes is a different thing, and we should study the thinkers that came before us so we can build on the best of their thought, but if all you can do is spout quotes, you need to work on your own thought.

The same goes for books.  The Apothecary's Daughter didn't have the same "feel-good" kinds of quotes you run in to commonly, but it was stuffed with quotes about apothecaries and early medicine.  It's not a scientific book or a history of the apothecary trade, it's a semi-cute, fluffy story about a woman in a man's trade who is wooed by various men but must stand by her family in the face of the Evil Apothecary Board who are not down with her handling the family business.  This makes the quotes annoying as hell.  I think Klassen is trying to add an air of legitimacy to her description of the apothecary business, but the quotes are completely superfluous and add very little.  One or two might have been used to good effect, but they litter the book and disrupt its flow.

I don't mean to excoriate this book or damn it for its use of quotes, which are useless but not the ultimate literary sin, but this quote thing seems more and more prevalent and I'm getting sick and tired of the technique.  This was a reasonably diverting read and I enjoyed it.  The story follows Lillian Hasswell, the titular daughter, and her progress through young life.  She begins life at her father's side, helping with his apothecary shop and learning the trade, before being whisked off to London by wealthy relatives to be presented in society.  While she keeps her common sense grounding and intellect, she cannot avoid entanglements with various dashing young men.  When she must return to her home to help her ailing father, she cannot escape said entanglements, and must balance her family life, the business and her love life all at once.  The book is full of interesting characters and lovely landscapes, and the presence of a doctor suitor allows Klassen to explore the tension between apothecaries and doctors that existed during the period.

This isn't a perfect book.  The story is cute and it handles relationships with a subtlety that's often lacking in this kind of "Regency" writing, giving people more credit for being human than you often see.  The book's main problem is a lack of editing.  One preliminary chapter is written in the first person, which is meant to give us insight into Lilly's thoughts, but because we see so much of her thoughts and sensibilities throughout, the actual benefit of the chapter is minimal.  The quotes are so much static, adding little.  I think more than anything, this work could have used a better editor, but in the end, it's a diverting little beach read that will appeal to period readers and fans of romance.

* How do Cubans keep any teeth in their head with all the delicious, delicious high octane sugar they consume?  I love the sugar content but man, some of it is so sweet it'll turn your face inside out.

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