“Apothecary 709” by Cristen E. Rose

If you are seeking a delicious escape from disheartening news about elections and climate change, you won’t find a better one than the utterly enchanting novel Apothecary 709 (Happy Cat Press 2023). In her debut novel, Cristen E. Rose builds an amazingly detailed, gorgeous story world with fairies, shadows and changelings. This gaslamp fantasy opens in 1907 in the Sovereign Kingdom of Seastone.

The author’s creative talent is such that at times I was convinced that Violet Morgen was likely as delusional as the mental asylum director in Seastone, Dr. Porter, asserted. Other times I believed wholeheartedly in the Fae Otherworld and the Reliqua, the society of warrior magicians sworn to protect the balance between the human world and the realm of Faerie.

Both story worlds are beautifully described. Here’s the world of Seastone where Violet lives with her aging frail father:

“We neared the little hillside borough where I lived, visible now from our vantage point. Terrain sloped upward, from the gravel road beside the seawall to an elm-shaded lane of Victorian homes. Old society ladies they were, skirted in porches, crowned with diminutive turrets, and bedecked with gingerbread trim. Human progress had yet spared them the invasion of electricity and telegraph poles which went up like mad eagles’ nests in town. No doubt it was only a matter of time.”

The Otherworld is replete with similar lovely details:

“Our path meandered into a glade lined by maples, their dew-laden leaves like stars in the morning light. A pond in the distance reflected colorful sky. The landscape bore no evidence of human habitation or roads of any kind, other than the thin footpath we followed.

A shimmering mist floated through the air just above the treetops. The farther we ventured into the meadow, the more I noticed threads of iridescent-gold winding through the atmosphere. The clouds appeared like the lining of an abalone shell.”

The poetic quality of the writing alone would keep readers turning the pages, but there’s far more to this novel than beautiful language. A classic plot thrusts the protagonist, Violet Morgen, from one obstacle to the next, making full use of Jungian archetypes like the hero’s quest and embracing the strength of one’s shadow.

The story begins as Violet and her housekeeper Agnes venture into town to purchase specially blended tea from the apothecary run by the handsome Roger Gale. It quickly becomes clear that Violet rarely leaves home. She is distressed around the vehicles, the sounds, the crowds. Noticing Violet has a headache, Roger provides her with a tincture of willow, mint, cannabis indica, and cramp bark for her pain. At the apothecary, Violet also becomes enamored with a basket of kittens. As Roger’s tincture begins to heal Violet’s discomfort, she ventures into town regularly to visit with him and the kittens—and of course, she falls in love. He presents her with a rock crystal pendant decorated with mysterious symbols in what Roger calls a magical language.

Naturally, there are obstacles to overcome. The first is Violet’s father, who sends a letter to Roger. She is certain it discloses “his daughter’s mental shortcomings, disguised as an apology for her brazen forwardness. In sum—a warning to the gentleman to stay away.” And then there are Roger’s secrets. And Violet’s secrets. Obstacles, yes—but there is also the kiss, as in “That kiss. Damn. I’d never been kissed like that in my life.”

During the Equinox, Violet’s father disappears and she is determined to find him. Her attempts lead her into confrontation with mysterious mirrors, a Shadow tempting her to come to him, a trophy room full of mythological creatures like Griffons and Dragons, and knowledge about her true identity and parentage. She will escape from straightjackets and slay enemies with a magic brush knife.

Will she be able to rescue the ones she loves? Will she save humans from those harnessing power for evil? And which world will she ultimately choose to live in—if she, indeed, has a choice? Read Apothecary 709 to find out.

Hopefully, a sequel is in the works. Like other famous fantasies—Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Martin’s Game of Thrones, Le Guin’s The Earthsea Cycle, and Sanderson’s Mistborn series—readers will be eager for more adventures of the Apothecary and Otherworld.

Cristen E. Rose

Cristen Elizabeth Rose is a fantasy writer, graphic designer, and illustrator. She has won awards for flash fiction as well as book cover design. When she’s not working or writing, she reads, gardens, paints, photographs butterflies, creates steampunk costumes and art, and studies ceremonial magic. She lives with her husband, son, and a tuxedo cat in the wildlife-filled woods of Tallahassee, Florida.


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