The Shepherd of Weeds by Susannah Appelbaum

The Shepherd of Weeds, by Susannah Appelbaum, was published in 2011 by Knopf. It is the sequel to The Tasters Guild.

Back in the Kingdom of Caux after her journey to its sisterland, Ivy wakes up in a dismal orphanage alongside her friend Rue. Accompanied by a strange woman named Lumpen—who looks suspiciously like a scarecrow—the girls make their way back to Templar to plan a massive battle against the Tasters Guild, where Vidal Verjouce is making ink out of the deadly Scourge Bracken weed. Rocamadour grows darker and more dangerous with every drop. With an army of scarecrows, a legion of birds, and her friends and uncle by her side, it’s up to Ivy—the true “Shepherd of Weeds”—to wage war against the Guild, defeat her own father, and restore order to the plant world. Susannah Appelbaum’s imagination soars in this stunning and utterly satisfying final volume of the Poisons of Caux trilogy.

Rating: 2/5

I’m semi-glad that I finished The Poisons of Caux trilogy, if only because I’m a completionist at heart and I like seeing story lines wrap up—plus, if I’ve invested in the first two books, I may as well read the third, no matter how I felt about the first two (a la the trainwreck The Selection).

I did enjoy seeing all the characters unite together to defeat the Big Bad(s), and I liked the slight twist at the end in the hierarchy of villainy. Each hero got his or her own little moment to shine, even the ones whose loyalties were in question until that moment. Everything was wrapped up quite neatly—more neatly than I expected, considering the sloppy ending of The Hollow Bettle.

However, my main complaint of the story is still the jumping around, the darting from scene to scene and filling in the gaps later. I’m still unsure as to why the novel started the way it did, or how Ivy got in that situation. I’m still not sure how Lumpen ended up in the city, and then in the catacombs. Characters jump around from place to place with almost no explanation as to how they got there. Ivy leaves one city before her uncle and flies to another, only to ask if her uncle has arrived—as if she expected him to magically be able to travel faster than her. Also, characters end one scene doing one thing, and then, when we catch up to them again, they are doing something completely different. Is Dumbcane at the city wall with Clothilde, or is he in the Tasters Guild making ink? Apparently he travels between both in mere minutes, being able to do Clothilde’s bidding at one scene and then sneak up on Rowan in the next one.

The Shepherd of Weeds, and the trilogy in general, is a creative fantasy, which I like, and has some interesting characters, but the whole thing is such a mish-mash of time jumps, strange characterization, and at times sloppy plot, that though I was compelled enough to finish the trilogy, I also didn’t much enjoy myself at the very end. The cover art is quite eye-catching, though, which is what drew me to the books in the first place, and I liked the use of different color ink in the books. Appelbaum is creative, but the story was a mess.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Where did you get this?” Her voice cracked.

“Dumbkin,” Lumpen Gorse confirmed. “That scoundrel paid me with it the first time he came scrounging around.”

“Hemsen Dumbcane gave you this?” Ivy asked sharply. She knew the scribe’s troves of valuable parchments were stolen from ancient, magical texts. “Are there others?”

“Lumpen Gorse shrugged.

“I’ve got to go—” Ivy was suddenly, overwhelmingly worried about the safety of her stones. “I need to show this to my uncle.”

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