Published by: Piatkus Books
ISBN 13: 9780749958220
Published: February 2012
Format reviewed: Paperback
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five
Related Review: The Apothecary’s Daughter / The Spice Merchant’s Wife
‘The Painter’s Apprentice’ by Charlotte Betts is a romantic historical novel set in London during 1685-1688, during the time of religious unrest. It is set after Betts’ first novel, ‘The Apothecary’s Daughter’, and involves the same characters, but in no way do you need to read the first to understand the second. As it is just as wonderful however, I highly recommend you do.
In this novel we meet Beth, daughter to Susannah (who was the Apothecary’s Daughter in the first novel) who is at a marital age but has no inclinations. She can’t imagine leaving her childhood home – a comforting hostel for those who would otherwise be shafted into Bedlam – as she especially enjoys the company of one of the residents; a painter by the name of Johannes. As she has quite the talent for painting, all she has ever wanted is to develop her talent to be the very best it could ever be, and if that means never going through the distraction of marriage and a family, so be it.
Distraction soon comes however, both in the form of Noah Leyton who only causes the family distress, and then also in a mystery guest – one who would certainly change Beth’s life – and that of all in England – forever.
As in her first book, Betts’ strengths lies in her characters. To say there is a wide scope of characters by status and personality would be an understatement. We easily understand their feelings and reasons for their actions, even if we wouldn’t act in such a way ourselves. While Beth seems to get away with behaving in ways probably not acceptable in those times, it is easily overlooked with the knowledge that though there were certain ways ‘things were done’ in those times, it is human nature to push the boundaries – that is how society changes eventually after all.
Capturing what society and standards of living at time is another of Betts’ strengths, everything from how paint was prepared (such as the medicines used in the Apothecary in the first book) to how a garden was cared for, and meals arranged.
Throughout, the plot moves quickly yet in detail, and though amazing (another understatement) events occur, at all times Betts has ensured there is enough back-story and options available to make it utterly believable.
Like the first, I managed to read this book in one go, though I started in the evening. Reading up through midnight I couldn’t put it down as I simply had to know what happened next. The plot and reactions in general feel realistic – leaving you wondering whether the happy ending we tend to expect from novels will come or not – or whether it will be something else suitable, but entirely different from expected.
This book is as easy and engaging as her first, The Apothecary’s Daughter (you can find my review of that here), and I can’t wait to read and review Betts’ upcoming book, ‘The Spice Merchant’s Wife’.
This review was originally posted at SentientOnline on the 19th July 2012.