I did not realize that there would be a sequel to The Apothecary, so was thrilled to see The Apprentices. I read the first about a year ago, so quickly re-read to review, then dove into the follow-up.
The story picks up two years after we left the apothecary and his band of magic wielding fighters-of-all-Cold-War-evil. Janie is at boarding school in New Hampshire, and Benjamin travels through the Far East with his father, treating the injured in the jungles of Vietnam. Benjamin also experiments with a magical formula to help him communicate with Janie; it works, but has unintended side effects that threaten their safety. Pip is a television star in London, and Jin Lo returned to China to confront the ghosts of her past.
Janie studies chemistry at Grayson Academy, trying to perfect Jin Lo’s small scale desalination project. She is kicked out for “cheating” on a math test, which sets in motion a complicated turn of events that threatens world peace in an already unstable time. We meet old friends and enemies, and new characters that weave the story together across the globe.
Much the same as in the first book, there is Cold War intrigue and mystery, culminating in a James Bond-esque rescue on the private island of a mildly psychotic billionaire with world domination pretensions.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, the illustrations in this book added multiple chapters to the story. Illustrator Ian Schoenherr brings the story alive so beautifully, you can almost understand the plot from his sketches alone.
Meloy’s voice in this book is slightly more frenetic, and less about the discovery and wonder that drew me to The Apothecary. There, there were possibilities and anything could happen. The plot drew me in and I believed. This magical understanding was not so present in the sequel. Meloy knew where she wanted to go with the story, but seemed unsure how to get there.
The story switches from continent to continent; there was trans-Atlantic and Pacific travel, new characters jump in and out of the story without the reader being sure of their ultimate purpose. The original characters don’t seem to take on any new dimensions; maybe because so little of the book sees them together, we lose out on the wonderful chemistry they all had as they fought to save the world in The Apothecary.
In the end, I liked The Apprentices, but did not love it the way I did the first instalment. It was good, not great. But big points for having heroes and heroines in fairly equal numbers; it is appealing to boys and girls both. As with the first, it is appropriate for all ages.
The Apprentices is published by The Penguin Group.