Sometimes you simply look at a book and it appeals. Beloved Poison, a first book by E S Thomson, was like that for me. It intrigued me and I don’t often read historical books. Set in in the 1800s in a hospital in London I realised immediately that I was being painted a very vivid picture of life at that time. Beloved Poison concerns Mr Jem Flockhart (who is actually female) who works in the apothecary at the hospital with her father.
In a sense this is real melodrama. Brothels and dirty streets, resurrectionists and murder, madness and medical matters are all brought out vividly by highly evocative writing. The dark dank (& smelly!) atmosphere is almost palpable. However there is humour here too and that gritty feel of the real world. The various characters are mostly very well development – I can even see many of them in my mind’s eye now. The standout character is without question Jem. She – her father has pointed out that she cannot be female and an apothecary – is, for me, wonderfully written. Jem manages to be is highly ambiguous and believable. She is the star even through her uncertainty about many aspects of the life she leads.
In the end I found this an extremely poignant & powerful story. The whole book feels somewhat bleak & dark and the ending maybe even more so. However it is entirely in keeping with the story to me. I find it very hard to believe this is a first book – the writing is so vivid and accomplished. The pictures of life in 1800s London painted for me here are still with me as I write this review. As someone who rarely reads historical fiction I’d love to find out what happens to Jem next!
Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review