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The Hollow Bettle (The Poisons of Caux Series #1)

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Overview

Introducing a witty and macabre new fantasy trilogy.

There's little joy left in the kingdom of Caux: the evil King Nightshade rules with terrible tyranny and the law of the land is poison or be poisoned. Worse, eleven-year-old Ivy’s uncle, a famous healer, has disappeared, and Ivy sets out to find him, joined by a young taster named Rowan. But these are corrupt times, and the children—enemies of the realm—are not alone. What exactly do Ivy and Rowan’s pursuers want? Is it Ivy’s ...

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The Hollow Bettle (The Poisons of Caux Series #1)

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Overview

Introducing a witty and macabre new fantasy trilogy.

There's little joy left in the kingdom of Caux: the evil King Nightshade rules with terrible tyranny and the law of the land is poison or be poisoned. Worse, eleven-year-old Ivy’s uncle, a famous healer, has disappeared, and Ivy sets out to find him, joined by a young taster named Rowan. But these are corrupt times, and the children—enemies of the realm—are not alone. What exactly do Ivy and Rowan’s pursuers want? Is it Ivy’s prized red bettle, which, unlike any other gemstone in Caux, appears—impossibly—to be hollow? Is it the elixir she concocted—the one with the mysterious healing powers? Or could it be Ivy herself?

Told with wry humor, The Hollow Bettle is the first installment in the Poisons of Caux trilogy, an astonishing tale of herbs and magic, tasters and poisoners.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Review, Publishers Weekly, August 17, 2009
“Bewitching. . . . Debut author Appelbaum’s stylish, atmospheric prose is well matched by Taylor’s warm interior illustrations. . . . Caux is an enchanting, unusual setting that echoes the complexity of its heroes and villains alike. ‘High above the tallest trees, you can feel the land’s misfortune,’ Appelbaum writes. ‘You might feel it even pulling you in."

Review, Booklist, June 1, 2009
“A deeply satisfying, humor-laced quest with elements of wizardry and herbology, deeds of a dastardly nature, and ultimately, redemption. Similar in tone but not as darkly Dickensian as Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, this adventure pulses with imaginatively named characters, gratifying close calls, and a landscape that is vividly alive. Readers, individually or as part of a read-aloud experience, will savor young Ivy’s expedition and eagerly await more adventures in the land of Caux.”

Review, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, November 2009
“A true epic quest. . . . The carefully described morbid, darkly elegant setting and a well-developed cast of intriguing and subtle characters add depth and balance to the quick pace and sarcastic tone of the book. The resulting novel is at once rollicking adventure and thoughtful fantasy.”

Review, VOYA,
“Appelbaum’s first novel quickly captures the imagination. [Readers] will not want to wait to see what happens to Ivy and Rowan in the second installment of this trilogy.”

Review, Chicago Tribune, August 15, 2009
“Witty . . . Ivy and Rowan encounter a lively assemblage of eccentrics, bound to return in later volumes of the Poisons of Caux trilogy.”

Publishers Weekly
This bewitching first book in the Poisons of Caux trilogy introduces 11-year-old Ivy Manx, who lives with her apotheopath (healer) uncle Cecil in Caux, a once pleasant kingdom now “a hotbed of wickedness and general mischief” run by King Nightshade; his wife, Artilla; and the sinister Vidal Verjouce. Skills once used to heal are now used to poison, and only those who can afford one of Verjouce's Guild-certified “tasters” (who ensure food's purity) are safe. One year after the disappearance of her uncle, Ivy is forced to flee her home, pursued by agents of the Crown and the Guild, her travels taking her across Caux and revealing her fated role as her homeland's savior. Debut author Appelbaum's stylish, atmospheric prose is well matched by Taylor's warm interior illustrations (printed in green, along with the text), which offer rich, angular portraits. Caux is an enchanting, unusual setting that echoes the complexity of its heroes and villains alike. “High above the tallest trees, you can feel the land's misfortune,” Appelbaum writes. “You might feel it even pulling you in.” Ages 9–13. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Suzanna E. Henshon
Eleven year old Ivy Manx lives in Caux, a kingdom that has been devastated in recent years. Her uncle disappeared into thin air a year ago, and, since that time, Ivy has run the herbal workshop on her own. Meanwhile, King Nightshade rules the Kingdom of Caux with an iron fist; the rule of the land is that you either poison or be poisoned. In order to survive daily meals, people need Guild-accredited tasters by their sides. Will things ever get better? Ivy decides to take fate into her hands—the fate of both her life and the Kingdom of Caux. With the help of a young taster, Rowan, Ivy decides to find her uncle. Soon the young girl discovers she and her friend, Rowan, are being pursued. Do people want Ivy's crimson bettle gemstone? Is Ivy's life in danger? In this humorous and exciting story, young readers will take their first peek into the "Poisons of Caux" trilogy by Susannah Appelbaum. Reviewer: Suzanna E. Henshon, Ph.D.
VOYA - Etienne Vallee
Eleven-year-old Ivy Manx dabbles in poisons like everyone else in the world of Caux. Ivy's uncle, a healer, tried to teach her the value of plants, without much success. Setting out to heal the king, he leaves Ivy to the care of Mr. Flux, a member of the Tasters' Guild. When her uncle does not return, Ivy sets out to find him with the help of Rowan, a young taster who failed to detect the poisoned dish of his employer. Chased by a mysterious Outrider and Mr. Flux, wanted by the evil Guild master, and pursued by Ivy's mother for reasons of her own, Ivy must navigate through intrigues and dangers to secure her uncle's release. Furthermore, as the proclaimed "noble child," Ivy is expected to fulfill the prophecy of healing the old king, thus saving Caux. Appelbaum's first novel quickly captures the imagination. She weaves elements of the background seamlessly into the story, enabling the reader to focus on the fast-paced action. As in Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass (Knopf, 1995/VOYA June 1998), the main character must save the world while resisting her mother's own pressures to steer her away. Caux is a well-designed fantasy world with enough appeal to satisfy younger readers, who will not want to wait to see what happens to Ivy and Rowan in the second installment of this trilogy. Reviewer: Etienne Vallee
School Library Journal
Gr 5–9—This story is set in Caux, now ruled by tyrannical King Nightshade. Under his regime, the healing arts have been pushed aside in favor of poisonry. In fact, avoiding being poisoned is a daily concern that has given rise to a shadowy guild that trains and accredits professional food tasters. When 11-year-old Ivy's uncle—the last apothoepath healer in the kingdom—disappears, she sets off to find him, accompanied by Rowan, a recently graduated young taster whose skills become suspect after a number of the king's men end up poisoned while on his watch. Ivy carries a very special bettle, or gem, which has mysterious healing powers. This unusual object may be one reason she's being pursued by guards and the minions of Vidal Verjouce, the frightening head of the Tasters' Guild, but other reasons soon come to light. The writing is vivid and there are many delightful ideas in this first novel, but the plot depends on all-too-familiar fantasy tropes used in unoriginal ways: a prophecy, an orphaned child, and predictable family relationships. Still, the story manages to remain compelling. Several atmospheric black-and-white illustrations are included.—Tim Wadham, St. Louis County Library, MO
Kirkus Reviews
A clever premise drowns in ostentatious prose. Any casual meal is potentially fatal in Caux, where "[t]he rule of the land was poison or be poisoned." After Ivy's uncle disappears, the taster supposedly protecting her poisons a roomful of guards. The guards' taster flees from punishment (tongue removal!) and becomes Ivy's travel companion. At the plot's heart is the hackneyed "Prophecy of the Noble Child," who is destined to "banish the darkness from the forests, evil from where it dwells, and restore Caux to truth and light." Although the text shows some wit ("It was generally assumed at the Hollow Bettle that Cecil Manx's excuse for his inexplicable tardiness was his own death") and enjoyable ghoulishness ("She did terrible things with cute bunnies and vinegar"), its gleefully showy prose suffocates itself with countless clauses and modifiers, ungraspable descriptions ("Her crown shone evilly"), repugnant disability stereotypes and an overdependence on the word "odd." Narrative perspective shifts merely to impart information, and the climax-wicked king and queen deposed by the transformation of gems into butterflies-lacks internal logic. (Fantasy. 9-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440422471
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 7/13/2010
  • Series: Poisons of Caux Series , #1
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 1,409,903
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 1010L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.70 (w) x 5.34 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

Susannah Appelbaum lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband and their two young children. This is her first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

Mr. Flux Arrives

It’s an astonishing feat that young Ivy Manx was not poisoned during Mr. Flux’s tenure as her taster.

These were corrupt times in Caux, the land being what it was—a hotbed of wickedness and general mischief. The odds were stacked against anyone surviving their next meal, unless they had in their employ a half- decent Guild-accredited taster. A taster such as Mr. Flux maintained himself to be.

The day of Mr. Flux’s arrival was a day like any other, devoid of goodwill and cheer (and befitting the taster’s disposition). A fire burned glumly in the grate within the small tavern Ivy called home, and beside it a few disinterested regulars took their drinks in tedious silence. Hidden in her secret workshop, Ivy Manx found herself hoping for something thrilling to happen—perhaps a particularly rousing poison- ing. She had been ignoring her studies in favor of one of her experiments when Shoo cawed softly.

“Never you mind,” Ivy admonished the crow. “Cecil will never know I was using his equipment unless you tell him.”

She proceeded to strain an evil-smelling mixture through her uncle’s sieve. Ivy worked with a look of great concentration upon her face, and when the task was finished, she set the vessel on a burner to boil. Almost immediately the syrup discharged a clingy cloud, and a sickly sweet smell filled the small room, forcing the crow to alight dizzyingly on a coatrack to avoid it.

This was greatly disobedient, she knew. Her uncle wished her to be a learned apotheopath—a healer—yet tinkering with her noxious brews was much more satisfying. Like most of Caux, Ivy preferred not the well-meaning herbs, but the darker, more potent ones. Apotheopathy seemed ancient to the ten-year-old, from a time when plants were used to heal, not harm. Her uncle’s collection of dusty books and scribbled parchments made her yawn—both to Cecil’s and Shoo’s great disappointment.

“There. Let’s see what that does when it’s done.”

As she stepped back in the workshop, Cecil’s top shelf caught her eye. He was still in the habit of putting his secrets up high, thinking they remained safely out of her reach. There was quite a lot to see, for as Ivy knew, there is no such better display of a person’s ideals and deficiencies as a bookshelf. (Cecil tended toward being an untidy person and the shelf illustrated this fact well.) Her eyes narrowed at the sight of the small leather case that contained his apotheopathic tinctures.

She pushed over a three-legged stool, and as Shoo grew ever more agitated, Ivy climbed up, reaching.

“Just a peek, Shoo. It’s his remedies. Clearly, this counts as studying.”

The black crow, longtime resident of the Hollow Bettle, knew better. The ampoules were strictly off-limits at this point in her studies, and the crow began pacing excitedly. With her uncle set to depart the tavern in the evening, Ivy was reminded that this trespass would better wait until then.

“But he’ll take them with him,” she told Shoo. “And, if you’re lucky, you, too.”

The stool was proving to be insufficient. Ivy considered climbing up the rickety shelves themselves. She wanted nothing more than to examine the delicate glass-stoppered medicines within the case and had long ago given up asking. First she must complete the long memorizations of herbs and plant lore—so completely bookish and boring.

“Anyone can produce a potion that will make you sick,” her uncle would remind her, his eyes gleaming with enthusiasm. “But it takes much learning to use plants to cure! Which would you rather be, then, a common poisoner or a respected healer?”

Interestingly, Cecil never seemed to wait for an answer.

g

Testing a bowed shelf for sturdiness, she gingerly began scaling upward, with Shoo now flying about the room squawking excitedly.

Ignoring the bird, Ivy was quite nearly there when the worst happened. Her foothold gave way and the entire contents of the overburdened unit—her uncle’s medicinal books and priceless notes, his scales and workshop essentials, important-looking mahogany boxes containing powders and infusions—all came crashing down, nearly taking Shoo with it.

In the silence that followed, Ivy and the crow waited nervously for Cecil’s appearance. Her straw-colored hair and flushed cheeks were streaked with her uncle’s pitch. She brushed something white and gritty from her shirtsleeve while considering what an appropriate punishment would be—and wondered if he’d forbid her from her experiments. (Just how this would be enforced in his absence she wondered, too.) Shoo, rumpling his sleek feathers, settled in front of the narrow door that let out into the tavern area.

“Don’t be in such a hurry. He’ll hold you responsible, you realize.”

When a remarkable amount of time had passed and her uncle had failed to respond, Ivy grew curious.

The workshop door was veiled from sight by dust and shadow, a sly entrance cut in the middle of an enormous blackboard in residence upon the tavern’s far wall. It was further obscured by the simple fact that the shadowy wall was never regarded—the menu on the blackboard was long obsolete. When Cecil was seeing his patients or when the workshop was hosting Ivy’s nefarious experiments, a sharp eye might discern a flickery crack of amber light slicing through the darkness. It was here that Ivy put her eye, wondering what might be keeping her uncle.

It was fortuitous timing. Ivy watched as a scrawny and particularly unimpressive stranger crossed the threshold, pausing right in front of her to scrape the caked mud from his tatty boots. He exuded from him a sour sense of disinterest, and clinging to him, although unseen, was an odd sort of melancholia—the kind that affects the bearer not at all, but those who behold him feel instantly cheerless.

Having just passed through the Bettle’s creaky front door, Mr. Flux—for indeed this was he—made a beeline to the bar. He ordered and consumed an unusually expensive brandy and then quickly ordered another, requesting Cecil leave the bottle before him.

Surveying the room, Ivy gave the lone traveler five minutes in the midst of this group of scoundrels and found herself eager at the prospect of his gruesome end.

“At last,” Ivy whispered to Shoo. “Something exciting.”

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 16 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 10, 2009

    Magic at its best!

    When I read The Poisons of Caux with my 12 year old daughter, it took me back to the knotty tree trunks and emerald hills of the English countryside (as well as its cozy pubs...) and brought back the best of children's adventure literature. Appelbaum is not only a witty writer with a knack for coming up with the perfect name for things (the evil King Nightshade and the River Marcel are just two examples), but her writing absolutely jumps off the page in a swirl of sensual detail, so that you can almost smell the wood panels that line the rooms where her characters play out the engrossing plot, touch the heavy cloth of the taster's robes, and taste the bubbly potions her main character Ivy conjures up. This is a book for both kids and adults and is suspensefully written but also has lots to teach about the power of herbs -- both good and bad -- and the resources within each one of us to both harm and heal. I loved it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 11, 2009

    Fascinating and Fun

    Gave this book to my niece and she absolutely loved it! Can't wait for the next installment.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 11, 2009

    Could not put it down!

    I rarely write reviews for books I have read, but this has to be the exception to the rule. the character development is brilliant, the storyline really compelling and overall I would highly recommend this for children aged 9 and above

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 10, 2009

    Fantastic fantasy appeals to both boys and girls

    Step inside the world of the Hollow Bettle and be transported to a world of peril, adventure, valor and magic. The world of Caux is rich, sumptuous and very, very dangerous. A wonderful book for both adults and their young adult readers it has so many levels that one can return for a second or third read and always find new elements to mine. Ivy Manx is an strong character who will appeal to both girls and boys - girls will love her for her spirit and strength and boys for the daring adventure she embarks on.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 29, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Interesting world building.

    What I really liked was the world building. The journey Rowan and Ivy go through was well described and their encounters with different characters was well done. I loved the different settings and their adventure seemed to get even more exciting as the book was nearing to a close. How the setting came about, and the introduction to this story was well done. I liked how the setting was established, with a nice concise history on how King Nightshade came about. It¿s almost told in a fairy tale narrative - which was well done, and there were plenty of witty phrases to enjoy (all throughout the novel as well). The idea of the bettles are interesting, but what I really liked was that the use of poison was all over the place in this land. It was different and I thought it was rather clever, definitely something you don¿t see in a lot of fantasy middle grade fiction out there.

    The characters in this book were also well done. Ivy and Rowan do make an interesting team. The plot was good, although a little slow moving at first. However once Ivy and Rowan teamed up on their journey, it got more interesting thanks to the different settings described, and the various memorable characters they encounter on their journey (Poppy really stood out! I thought it was cute).

    The idea of this book is a creative one. It¿s told with a nice whimsical flair to it, but it took a while to get used to this style of writing. I¿m not sure why, but the pace seemed slower and with the writing style (perhaps it was a little too whimsical) the book just seemed to go at a snail¿s pace. That being said though, I still thought it was an enjoyable book and it does pick up the pace after a third of the story. I¿ll probably continue this series, I¿d like to know what happens next, yet I¿m not really in a rush to read it. I¿d say take it or leave it with this book.

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  • Posted October 30, 2009

    BRILLIANT!

    Mark my word, this book will soon be a classic! I bought it for my niece and thought I'd check it out a little and before I new it I was compelled, the writing is clever and the imagery is amazing the story is so incredibly full of creative action. Right away, I was in love with the characters. The last time I read a children's novel was Harry Potter and I must say this one was way more appealing to me. Im hooked, I kept that copy for myself! (I got her another one). I cant wait for 2 and three. Beautiful!

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