“Our work is an ongoing struggle with unintended consequences,” says Marcus Burrows, the titular apothecary of Meloy’s previous novel for young adults (2011).
The work to which he refers is using alchemy to halt the spread of nuclear weapons in the 1950s, and in this sequel, he is joined in his quest again by the resourceful and quick-witted 16-year-old Janie Scott. Meloy’s deft exposition sets the stage swiftly, so that when the boarding school where Janie has been sent for safekeeping is quickly revealed as a treacherous place and her bogus expulsion in the second chapter plunges her into action, readers already understand her history. The narration shifts among Janie and her allies: Benjamin Burrows, the apothecary’s brave son; Pip, the wily London con artist; and Jin Lo, the tortured Chinese chemist. This mirrors their experiences when they discover an elixir that enables them to see through one another’s eyes while they cross the globe to reunite, head off nuclear disaster and cope with the fallout from their own alchemical experimentation. The denouement leaves room for both optimism and a third (as yet unconfirmed) installment.
This sober and well-constructed adventure accurately conveys the geopolitical instability of the era and is leavened with just enough magic, chaste romance and humor to appeal to middle-grade readers through teens. (art not seen) (Historical fantasy. 10-14)