I was fortunate enough to meet Barbara Barnett at Capricorn 39 this past February. She was on a panel called Indistinguishable from Magic where they discussed the blurred line between some science fiction and fantasy stories. As part of the discussion she described her book and I knew I had to read it.
She said she couldn’t firmly put it into any one category and she’s never even dreamed of trying. It has magic, science, history, and a touch of horror. How could I resist?
I must say, it didn’t disappoint. While I have no problem firmly placing this book under fantasy, I can see where she was coming from. It’s got a little of everything all combined in an exciting story. It’s called The Apothecary’s Curse. A man accidentally gives himself immortality and lives in fear of being discovered. After centuries of hiding and looking for the key to end his plight he must face the dangers of modern science and those willing to compromise ethics to unlock the secrets of everlasting life.
And that’s not even the best part of the book.
Why it’s worth reading
There are a few things about this book that make it worth reading, in my opinion. First it gives a new take on immortality. It also deals with PTSD in a place you don’t often see it. Finally this book explores the meeting of ancient mythology and modern science in an exciting way.
How many books and shows have started you off with an immortal man who has lived centuries and has it all together? The implication is that simply by living hundreds of years one can acquire expertise in anything, handle anything, and be remarkably well dressed while doing it.
In this book, however you are faced with a man who accidentally found himself immortal and kept his personality more or less intact through the centuries. Although some of his experiences changed him, it was in ways you would expect from any normal person. He is by most standards a normal person despite not being able to die.
This makes him more relatable and more interesting to follow. We care what happens to him because even though he can’t die, he can suffer. And suffer he does. We root for him and feel for him. I don’t get that for any of the over-competent immortals you frequently see in vampire stories, which is why they often aren’t the main character. This take on the idea allows us to follow the immortal without getting bored or annoyed.
Along the lines of making him a normal person, Barnett have him a real disorder. Living for hundreds of years is bound to take a toll. And he’s seen some…stuff. It changed him and marked him in terrible ways.
He suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I will be upfront and say I don’t know anyone personally who has it, or at least who has shared that information with me, but I was impressed with her portrayal. She makes it clear that if someone goes through what this character does, it takes a real, and life-altering, toll. It’s not something that just pops up once in a while to remind the reader that he’s got baggage. It’s part of his life, every day. He must struggle with his experiences and attempt to cope with them.
While I cannot attest to the accuracy of her representation, I’m glad she brought us a character who truly must live with the terrible memories of his life and that she did that through a disorder that needs to be discussed more.
One of the most fun elements of this book, for me, was the tie between mythology and modern science. I don’t want to give away any details so suffice it to say Barnett makes an intriguing connection between Irish mythology, alchemy, and modern medicine/genetics. I am looking forward to see if she delves into the connection more in the sequel.
I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of this book for yourself. In addition to fantasy, science, history, and horror, it has romance and mystery. It really does cover it all. Please check it out and let others know what you thought by leaving a review.