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

The first book of the new Poisons of Caux series by Susannah Appelbaum, The Hollow Bettle, sets up a solid Girls Underground storyline, although without the satisfying resolution, as the action is continued on to the next book (which I haven’t read yet).

‘Poison’ Ivy, 11 years old, has grown up without parents, raised by an uncle in his tavern. She lives in a world gone mad – a society that revolves around poisoning and being poisoned, ruled by monarchs with twisted minds after the true king disappears, grieving for a poisoned daughter. When her uncle goes missing, and the enemy invades her home, she goes on a quest – to save him, to find herself, to uncover the secrets of the kingdom. She must evade the clutches of the intermediate adversaries (a corrupt taster, a blind assassin), who are serving a greater evil, with the assistance of her companions – the young disgraced taster Rowan, and a very helpful crow named Shoo. A gatekeeper – a wise old man who lives under a trestle – shows her the way initially.

She begins to find clues to a prophecy which predicts a child will heal the king and save the kingdom. Is she that child? Others seem to think so, both for good and ill. Is her real adversary the Guild Director, or the evil Queen? Is the lady in white a friend or foe? (The companion sometimes betrays the girl, but only rarely.) The road to her uncle is paved with dangers. At one point, she even goes literally underground (often the case in such stories), first into a magical forest, later to a hidden railway station. She also navigates a hedge maze (labyrinths make frequent appearances in these stories).

Unfortunately, because this is only the beginning of the full story, Ivy doesn’t really confront and defeat her adversary, although she does accomplish the first goal of rescuing a family member.