Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Book Review: Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, by Katherine Marsh

Title: Jepp, Who Defied the Stars
Author: Katherine Marsh
Publisher: Hyperion
Publication Year: 2012
Read: June 2013
Where It Came From: Library
Genre: YA-Historical
Rating: 4 Stars

Jepp, a teenaged dwarf at the close of the sixteenth century, leaves his quiet life at his mother’s inn to see the world and have a finer life at the palace of the Spanish Infanta. The promised finery, however, comes at the price of humiliating work aiding the court jester. Eventually Jepp finds himself sharing a room with a beer-drinking moose and reduced to picking up his master’s prosthetic nose. Although his horoscope promises many things, it isn’t until Jepp starts to take action that his stars can begin to make sense.

Jepp is a pleasing YA historical fiction novel. Author Katherine Marsh found several ideas in her research, and wove them together into an interesting story with multifaceted characters. The setting of the intermediate section offers the perfect transition for Jepp—the castle of Tycho Brahe, an early astronomer, has an unorthodoxy that can inspire Jepp, and a fascinating landscape of contradictions for readers: despite doing work in science, everyone takes their horoscopes seriously; Lord Brahe’s liberal enough to live with a commoner wife, but he makes his employed dwarf sit under the dinner table and eat only scraps; there are inventions like automatons and running water, however all their astronomy work must be done without a telescope.

Jepp is a particularly good character. He’s at point of life where he is beginning to question things and piece together his observations. He’s kind yet not self-sacrificing; smart yet not a prodigy; assertive yet largely cautious. When he falls in love, it’s cheer-worthy (plus his love interest is an imperfect, interesting and smart character in her own right).

To round out the good of the book, Jepp’s struggle to determine whether his star-chart controls his destiny is an extended consideration about the role of fate vs. self-determination. In some ways the question Jepp asks is a dated one—most people today do not commission astrological charts for their birthdays, or take them seriously if they do see one—but it speaks to the eternal question we ask about what makes us ourselves. To see beyond your role in your school/family/world and find who you are without the trappings is worth striving for at any age, and we can all hope for the clarity Jepp achieves.


Sarah H. said...

This books sounds like exactly what I was looking for recently. I'll have to see if any of the libraries have it around here!

Susan said...

Oh that's perfect! Jepp's quieter than a lot of books on the YA shelves these days, and I keep hoping he finds an audience!

Alyssa L. said...

Tycho Brahe always makes me think of Aveni classes. How would you compare Jepp to Tyrion Lannister, another compelling fictional dwarf of great reknown?

Susan said...

Tyrion likes whores. Jepp is willing to go with unconsummated love.
Tyrion is a Lannister. Jepp is the son of an innkeeper.
Tyrion is caustic and witty. Jepp is mostly polite and hides his learning for a while.
Tyrion drinks a lot. Jepp leads a drunk moose back to his room.

Jepp is like 1000x more innocent than Tyrion, and has the luxury of spending his time viewing the stars and star charts. He's almost annoying in his naiivity at times, but he's a sheltered teen, so it's understandable. Other than their shared dwarfism, I don't think they're alike!

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