The Apprentices: The Apothecary, Book 2

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Apprentices: The Apothecary, Book 2 Book Poster Image
New villains seek A-bomb in exciting Apothecary sequel.

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 5 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Kids will want to have their atlas handy, as the action takes characters to most continents on the globe, not to mention a few islands. Besides continuing The Apothecary's excellent examination of Cold War issues and culture, not to mention World War II and other events underlying the issues, The Apprentices frequently evokes the stories that excited kids of the time, including Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. A school Shakespeare production is important to character development; Janie's fascination with chemistry and good math skills prove helpful. One of the subplots involves "cargo cults" of the South Pacific, a fascinating and little-known cultural development in the wake of wartime occupation of islands by U.S. forces in World War II. Some dialogue in French, Italian, and other languages.

Positive Messages

Courage, friendship, family, and loyalty are all essential values here, as are intelligence, creativity, and the ability to change your mind as you learn more. There are many ethical issues to contemplate (e.g. world-saving vs. saving your loved ones), and few pat answers -- part of what makes the story and characters compelling.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Both Janie and Benjamin act with courage, conscience, and creativity in the face of life-threatening challenges, as do several of their adult friends and family members. Former pickpocket Pip, now a British TV star, retains his resourcefulness and irreverent charm; his relationship with the truth may be highly flexible, but he uses his skills to save his friends.


Some characters, including beloved ones, meet a violent death, while others are kidnapped, imprisoned, and otherwise endangered. The past deaths of characters' family members in wartime atrocities are retold, without much gore but with much emotional impact.


Brief (and sometimes long-awaited) kissing between teen characters. One of the bad guys is cheating on his wife with his beautiful secretary, though there's no explicit description of their activities.


Some mention of commercial products of the era, some of which (e.g. Coca-Cola) still exist today; more scene-setting than product endorsement.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Many characters ingest magic substances (some natural, e.g. a mushroom than speeds language learning, and some man-made, e.g. Benjamin's telepathy-enhancing potions); adult characters consume alcoholic beverages, and members of an island tribe force one of the teens to consume large amounts of kava. A seagoing couple's provisions include a small amount of opium, which they say is for toothache. The "forgetting wine" that played such an important role in The Apothecary returns.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Apprentices, sequel to Maile Meloy's outstanding young-reader debut, The Apothecary, is a fascinating brew of fantasy, history, teen romance, and life-and-death adventure. In 1954, two years after the events of the first book, Janie Scott and Benjamin Burrows, son of the mysterious Apothecary, are now 16 and continents apart, trying to reconnect. As with The Apothecary, much of the plot involves efforts to keep the atomic bomb from falling into bad hands, with attendant ethical complexities and character development. One character's father is cheating on her mother with his secretary; different cultural and family expectations cause trouble as well as mutual enlightenment. Some heroic characters as well as villains meet a violent death, while others are kidnapped, imprisoned, and endangered. Wartime atrocities and violence, including torture and the massacre of a character's family, are presented, often in flashback, in non-graphic ways that still make clear the full horror. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byAishamustafa March 16, 2015

The Appothecary

its a worth reading book that takes your imagination into the mixture of bitter reality and fantasy simultaneously.
Parent Written byLisaLisa1969 November 10, 2013

Contains a Very Violent Passage not meant for pre-teens or teens

My 11 year old and I loved The Apothecary but were terribly disappointed by this book. I was totally shocked by the gratuitous violence depicting a woman who h... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old November 10, 2019

Pretty good!

This book is much more violent than the first one, so it's good for older kids. But that doesn't mean it's a bad book! I couldn't put it dow... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byLava11 July 20, 2020

Absolutely Love

I love this book so much! It mixes a bit of history with fantasy and bold characters, perfect for kids who are avid readers.

What's the story?

Two years after the events of The Apothecary, Janie Scott, now 16, is back in the USA, in an East Coast boarding school and working on an interesting chemistry experiment; her English friend and first love, Benjamin Burrows, meanwhile, is somewhere in Southeast Asia with his father the Apothercary, trying to help the locals survive in a war-torn region, and the other members of their adventurous band are scattered around the world. When Janie is endangered and kidnapped, their paths converge; once again the Apothecary, THE APPRENTICES, and their friends must work quickly and cleverly to save the world.

Is it any good?

Some Apothecary fans may be disappointed at the relatively brief (or sometimes non-) appearances of favorite secondary characters, but the current cast and their interactions are deftly handled. The Apprentices will make a lot more sense to those who've already read The Apothecary, as many characters (and their issues) return from that story. The fast-moving plot has characters whisked from one side of the world to the other as new, sinister villains threaten the world and our heroes; Ian Schoenherr's illustrations add vivid appeal. The story brings a wealth (which might border on overload if it weren't so intriguing) of anthropological field reports, mid-20th-century history and political issues, ethical dilemmas, and magic -- as well as the social difficulties of high school. A third volume is in the works to resolve some of the pending cliffhangers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how history and fantasy come together in The Apprentices. Do you think it works? What other books you've read or movies you've seen deal with the Cold War? 

  • How have Janie, Benjamin, and the other characters grown and changed in the two years since we last saw them?

  • What are some of the ethical choices that confront the characters? Do you agree or disagree with their decisions?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history and fantasy

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