As a mother who screens everything her 11-year-old reads I was truly tickled by "The Hollow Bettle", the first book in "The Poisons of Caux" series by Susannah Appelbaum. Yes, it's a series, and I had been heartily looking for a change from those - but the story is original to the point that we can't wait to get our hands now on Book 2. Anyone who's enjoyed Flavia DeLuce's mysteries by Alan Bradley and Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" will get a giggle out of "The Hollow Bettle." (See below) I can't wait to see if better bettles will battle poisoned batter in the future ... Yes, it's that kind of book! Said daughter enjoyed it so much, she chose to submit her review of it as a class assignment!
"Imagine living in a world where everyone is dedicated to the thought of poisoning his next victim. And in that world, only one small girl with a big passion for poison can save this world from destruction. This new world is introduced in 'The Hollow Bettle' by Susannah Appelbaum which is the first book in the new fiction series, 'Poisons of Caux.' At first, you might think that this book will center around the crow and the book illustrated on the cover. However, you will be surprised when you read the book and realize that you really shouldn't judge a book by its cover.
The world of Caux is ruled a truly evil couple called the Deadly Nightshades and filled with boars who hunt for bettles in snowy mountains and tasters whose job is to make sure that their clients' food is not poisoned. Citizens of Caux live only by one rule of thumb: "poison or be poisoned." We are told it wasn't like that at all a few years ago. It was only when the king's daughter was poisoned and the king went into deep mourning, the land's dark side started to emerge. That's why when eleven-year-old Ivy Manx's uncle disappears a year before her eleventh birthday and leaves Ivy with the worst babysitter ever, Sorrel Flux, Ivy knows all is not right. Flux is also a horrible taster who cannot even taste for poison in his soup to save his own life as well as has a penchant for napping. However, after Flux poisons 20 men in her uncle's tavern, Ivy and a newly-graduated taster from the famed Taster's Guild named Rowan manage to escape to find refuge with Ivy's friend, Axlerod D. Roux, author of the best selling series: A Field Guide to the Poisons of Caux. Axle leads them to his mysterious friend, Clothilde, and a lovely bettle boar called Poppy.
"The author of this new trilogy, Susannah Appelbaum, is a first-time author. She comes from a family of doctors and philosophers which 'instilled in her both an early fascination and a great deal of caution with bottles marked `Poison'', according to her website. The idea for the trilogy blossomed while she was living in an old wood cutters cottage in the French apple country, where 'Out the door were ancient forests, wild boars and new and inviting foods to taste.'
"I personally thought that the book, while still refreshingly original, was a mix of Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce books about eleven-year-old Flavia De Luce who also has a fascination with poisons and Philip Pullman's 'The Golden Compass' in how Clothilde turned out to be more than Axle's mysterious friend with long white hair. The illustrations throughout the book by Jennifer Taylor were perfect for the world of Caux, which seemed to have been drawn out of old nursery rhymes, and Susannah Appelbaum's writing is vividly descriptive of the setting and the characters' emotions and personalities: Queen Nightshade, for example, on p. 347, 'was known for her awful experiments with turtledoves baked in pies. She did terrible things with cute bunnies and vinegar. She raced turtles into the soup pot ...' Since I am a vegetarian, this has to be one of the saddest parts of the book, but I went right along with the macabre humor, laughing out loud at the over-the-top imagery.
"I also thought that the cover of the book depicting Shoo the crow, poison ivy and cinquefoil flowers was wonderful. It was a clever touch to include a little red bug in the picture, but no bettle. What is a bettle, anyway? How does Ivy save the kingdom, find her uncle and discover her hollow bettle is pretty special? Guess you have to read the book to find out!"
REFERENCES & CITATIONS:
Appelbaum, Susannah; The Hollow Bettle
Bradley, Alan; The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Bradley, Alan; The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag
Pullman, Philip; The Golden Compass (also published as Northern Lights)