By Katherine Marsh
Available October 9 from Disney Hyperion
Come back later today for a guest blog by Katherine!
I think I would read more historical fiction if more of it was like JEPP, WHO DEFIED THE STARS. But part of JEPP, WHO DEFIED THE STARS charm is that it is an unusual story, charming in its lack of concern with the commercial. Katherine Marsh has written an appealing bildungsroman that will stand out.
Jepp is a dwarf living happily in his mother's inn, when a nobleman comes through and entices him to go and become a court dwarf for the Infanta. (Yes, I did have The Decemberists' "The Infanta" stuck in my head for the entire first half of the book.) At first I had trouble getting into the court scenes - they seemed like something from a bawdy farce without any bawdiness. Then I realized there was plenty of sex going on but it wasn't outright stated because the book is in young and sheltered Jepp's point of view. The second half of the book brings in the astrology (and astronomy) mentioned in the title as Jepp moves on to the court of Tycho Brahe. In this half of the novel Jepp is more worldly, but still not the best at reading people.
The historical detail of JEPP, WHO DEFIED THE STARS is fascinating. The novel moves from late-sixteenth century Holland to Spain to Denmark and features a wide range of real people. As the historical note at the end reveals, even Jepp was a real person. (Although very little is known about the real Jepp and Marsh's novel is obviously entirely fictional.) It's definitely a setting less explored than Elizabethan England or the Wild West.
The novel rests on Jepp's shoulders and they are able to handle the burden. He suffers various indignities - less than many dwarves of the time - but he always knows that he deserves to be treated as an equal. He longs to understand his past and control his future, unwilling to let his fate be a decided by the stars rather than himself. Jepp is not one to be content.
I'm having real trouble writing this review. It's not an easy novel for me to deconstruct. But I'm glad I pushed myself out of my reading comfort zone and gave JEPP, WHO DEFIED THE STARS a chance. I liked spending time in the world Marsh developed and thrilled when Jepp finally got his happy ending. It's a strange book, but I think it will find an audience.