The Hollow Bettle, by Susannah Appelbaum, was published in 2009 by Knopf.
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?
As I started The Hollow Bettle, I wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to enjoy it. It seemed the type of quirky that I don’t like, the type of quirky to cover up mediocre plot and characters, the type of quirky that seems self-indulgent and unnecessary.
However, as the story wore on, I started to enjoy myself more and more. The world is pretty interesting, and even though the major plot trope is unoriginal, the setting and the characters themselves are intriguing enough to carry through. I wasn’t really a fan of the bouncing viewpoints or the narrator interposing his/herself for the sole purpose of suspense, but Ivy and Rowan grew on me over time, even if some of their fights started and ended abruptly.
The ending of the book was also good, if just a teensy bit convenient and a whole lot confusing. I’m not sure if the events warranted what happened and the thing with King Nightshade at the end was particularly difficult to swallow, if only because it seemed so abrupt and didn’t seem to follow from the events that occurred. However, Appelbaum manages the difficult task of both wrapping up the book and also leaving lots of things in suspense, without relying solely on a Wam! cliffhanger ending.
The Hollow Bettle is a little bit amateurish and clumsy, especially in terms of the plot and occasionally the interaction between the characters, but it is interesting and, eventually, endearing despite its flaws. The quirkiness grew on me and the end of the book was decent enough to make me curious to see what happens next. It’s not the most brilliant or the most groundbreaking fantasy out there, but it is interesting.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“But, Axle.” Ivy couldn’t hold back. “You said that the Good King Verdigris created great things, things to marvel at. This is just a doo! Show me this Rocamadour place! Got any drawings of that?”
Rowan bristled at the mention of the dark city of the Guild and thought how he’d be quite happy staring at either side of a plain old door instead. He looked in closer.
“Ah, Ivy. You are right—it is just a door. But there is an important question you need to ask yourself.” Axle sighed.
“May I?” Rowan was hoping to turn back the page to get a better look at the first image. Axle nodded and continued.
“What do you think of when you see a door?”