The problem with a fantasy novel that does not, as mandated by genre, kill off the parents, is that the tedious issue of parents dealing with their young children's adventures (or the children's disbelief-suspending avoidance of discovery) must be addressed. While Meloy's resolution to this quandary is not the most satisfying, the magic she brings to a 1952 London in which alchemy is alive and well offsets that small annoyance. Janie and her family move from Los Angeles (where the McCarthy hearings are in full force) to London under a certain amount of duress. Janie meets Benjamin, the son of the apothecary, who confesses an infatuation with the mean girl at school and an ambition to become a spy. When Benjamin's father is kidnapped, Janie and Benjamin team up with Pip, a local pickpocket, and Sergei, a fellow student, to protect the book with which the apothecary has entrusted his son. Without giving up too many plot points, I will say that I wasn't entirely satisfied with the level of involvement of either Pip or Sergei. While they play key roles, they seemed a bit neglected and shoved out of the way during the main plot (which involves using alchemy to avert a nuclear disaster).
The setting of this novel was fantastic. In post-war London, shortages are still in effect, nuclear power is a major issue, and across the Atlantic, anti-Communist paranoia and unbelievable abridgments of First Amendment rights are affecting families. Alchemy is more science than magic, and the distillation of herbs into wonderful potions is great fun. The ending left me uncertain as to whether this book begins a series or not. If it does, the ending is pointlessly expositional, but if it does not, there are unanswered questions that make it deeply unsatisfying. I found the combination of alchemy with the historical setting highly readable, so I hope the first is the case. Although it has its flaws, THE APOTHECARY was an enjoyable read.
Source disclosure: I received this book compliments of the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.