Thursday, May 9, 2013
Jepp Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh
Jepp is a dwarf in the 1600's who lives happily in a village working the inn with his mother. When a man comes and offers to take him to court, Jepp is curious to see the world. His mother reluctantly agrees and Jepp learns the prejudices others show to those who are different. He meets three other dwarves at the court and learns humiliating routines to entertain the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia. His experience at court is to learn that the rich and wealthy view dwarves as their playthings and not as human beings. While Jepp enjoys meeting other dwarves a terrible abuse happens to Lia, a dwarf he loves. Disillusioned, they flee the castle; thus ending Book I.
Marsh divides her book into three sections with Book I being told in a flashback as the protagonist, Jepp, is being taken north as a prisoner. At first, it appears that Jepp's life is at stake and this urgency creates tension making a good setup for the flashback, but as the story progresses, it becomes clear that the man dragging Jepp north has no intention of killing him, and flashback boredom settles in my bones like arthritis. Luckily Book II drops the flashback and I immediately got into the story of the quirky court of Tycho Brahe, who wears a prosthetic nose that keeps falling off and parades a moose in the dining area as entertainment to scholars and guests. I actually would have liked the story better if it had started in Book II with a few flashbacks worked into the action as Jepp travels north. When Jepp hears the birds he can flashback to Lia in her gilded cage. When he talks to Magdalene he can describe his past. But I've never written a book so maybe I'm being presumptious.
Book III involves Jepp finding answers to his questions. It contains more inner monologue and less action. Letters back and forth put more emphasis on the romantic aspect of the plot and less on the historical aspects given in Book I & II. The ending with the money didn't make sense to me. Would the laws allow Don to do that? It also seemed that Jepp should have returned to the island. I would not think Magdalene would do something that would be considered improper. I needed some explanation about her father's consent or lack of it, but it isn't given.
Marsh does a nice job developing her characters. This is one of those books where I would have liked it to be in third person. The villains are one-dimensional. We don't have any understanding as to why they mistreat others except that they are just nasty people. Jepp's voice is formal and highly educated. He's smart but I don't think he would have sounded like that running a tavern, although the author explains that everyone in their village learns to read. The astrology scenes are fascinating and were some of my favorite parts of the book and I'm not even interested in astrology. That is where I thought the story took flight and when the spotlight moved to other areas of the plot, I felt it dimmed in comparison.
Just an FYI, while it happens off the page and there is no graphic description, there is a rape in this story. It is a young adult book and while some young adult novels are okay for elementary I can't see this novel appealing to most of my high readers. I plan on giving it to the middle school library where it will have a larger audience and be more appreciated.