Friday, September 3, 2010

The Poisons of Caux: The Tasters Guild by Susannah Appelbaum

I apologize for taking so long to write my reviews, and to be honest a couple of them have since been published, but in my defense I wasn't super stoked about a couple of them and had to work up the enthusiasm to start. On with the reviews!

This is a sequel which started with The Hollow Beetle, when I went to the stall at the ALA conference, I was told that this could be read as a standalone. HA! Let me give you the fast summary of the first book that was at the beginning of The Taster's Guild: Caux is a land that used to be known for its healing knowledge, now a tyrant is ruling and poisons dictate your position in the new regime of which Ivy our protagonist is a prodigy. Ivy is a noble and is given two food tasters to keep her safe, both whom have hidden agendas. Ivy is not satisfied with the status quo and secretly starts learning healing potions, which get her into trouble with the Taster's Guild (the power behind the throne), and lead her to discover that she is the Noble Child that is destined to save the rightful king and restore the kingdom to its healing glory.

Now onto the plot of the sequel. A very talented forger has taken mystical texts from the Tasters Guild, and his knowledge of creating the books has caught the attention of the deadly Tasters Guild. It seems by creating such perfect copies of the original texts, that he has stumbled upon a deadly plant that could end up destroying the entire land. It eats away at the land and drives people crazy as it kills them. In the mean time Ivy has been learning greater healing knowledge of healing through regimented apothecary lessons. She becomes impatient to begin her quest to find the king and heal him so that the kingdom can be restored to greatness. With the help of her friends she is able to escape her home and head towards the magical gateway that is supposed to lead her to the alternate reality where the king is being hidden. Unfortunately the only known gate is in the Tasters Guild underground labyrinth, where the director is concocting a plan to destroy the land's hope and kill Ivy so she cannot restore the king. Taking many risks, making a few mistakes, and losing some friends along the way, Ivy and Rowan make it to the king only to discover that their quest is not nearly as easy as they first assumed.

So I'm not sure what to tell you about my response to this book. I'm a bit on the fence. There were so good things about it, but a lot of that was drowned out by the fact that I spent most of the book confused. The publishing dude obviously lied when he said that this could be read without reading the prequel. There are so many characters, I spent half of the book trying to figure out who people were and eventually gave up to just focus on the main characters. That's not even to mention all the subplots that I had no clue what they were talking about or why they were important. Also this book has a seemingly intricate and developed history and culture, so it was a bit intimidating.

OK, taking utter befuddlement out of the equation there were so great things going for the book. A ridiculously well-developed society and culture. Ms. Appelbaum obviously has a complete picture going when it comes to the background to this story. From the different social castes to using details about plants was all really well done. I liked her supporting characters, they seemed to all have a great deal of depth to them with backstories that I wish we could have known more of (maybe they're in the first book). There were some great ink illustrations by Jennifer Taylor, and a great addition and explanation of the plant code that is used a great deal throughout the book. We'll just pretend that the calligraphy at the beginning of each chapter wasn't there.

There were really only three things that I didn't like. One being my general confusion about the subplots, why do we suddenly need to know who her parents are and why is that pet crow still important? I tried to keep this in perspective though and mostly chalked it up not having read the first book. BUT this book is supposed to be for 10-15 year-olds. It seems like Susannah Appelbaum was trying to maybe bridge the gap between middle-grade and young adult by making it overly complex. The second thing I didn't like was the main character Ivy. I found her to be overly self-involved and one-dimensional. Sad right? With such a depth of setting and secondary characters you would think that the main character would just hit it out of the park, but no. Not even close. Ivy doesn't even swing before striking out.* Third thing is the series name. The Poisons of Caux. Really? Why didn't someone, anyone, sit her down and say, "Oh honey lamb, really? You want to call this land Caux? Really? That's unfortunate, sit in that chair until you've thought about what you've done wrong and apologize." Oi.

Anyways, The Poisons of Caux: The Tasters Guild is out now. Someone needs to read the first one and then read this one and let me know if it's better that way.

*I have no idea where this, albeit badly done, sports analogy came from. As my family can attest I was not raised with these kinds of metaphors growing up.

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