Eric Boss reviews THE ASSASSINATION OF BRANGWAIN SPURGE
The home-cooked-baked-bean aspects of this review are simple: I like the buckram-like binding of this book. No dust jacket, just images and text printed directly on the cover like a Tom Swift or Hardy Boys volume, and the notation that is appropriate for readers 10-14 years of age. It’s perfect for me. I think for others too, but more on that later. It’s heavy in the hand and satisfyingly lengthy (500+ pages, including illustrations). It’s worth noting that the authors have chops: Anderson is a National Book Award winner and Yelchin is a Newberry Honoree. These are some of my favorite things.
Regarding its suitability for the tween-teen reader; that is certainly the case. I think that older readers up to and including adults will find it charming and entertaining. Many YA novels are easy crossover titles which can be enjoyed by those of any age, and this qualifies for several reasons.
The text is a not-too-thinly veiled satire of current political tribalism. Brangwain is an elf historian who holds an understandably inflated notion of the nobility of his race. He is catapulted into Goblin country on what he believes to be a diplomatic mission (really, espionage). His ethnic perceptions are colored by his prejudice despite the evidence that not all the reviled creatures are what he thinks they are. In fact, Werfel, his goblin counterpart and fellow scholar, treats him with the greatest of respect and humility, all of which is lost on Brangwain who is rigid in his cultural judgment. He is petulant and stubborn in his rejection of all thing goblinesque: food, music, dance, in fact everything. He sends reports of his findings via a magical trance which depict his host and his host’s country with extreme bias.
Here’s where the illustrations come in. Brangwain’s missives are visual: there seems to be no provision for including text in the elvish communications system. The drawings that comprise the chapters in which he transmits his reports are enchanting. I am reminded of the work of Walter Moers (The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, The City of Dreaming Books, etc.), although Yelchin’s work is less complex and not quite so dark, but they are equally magical. Alternating chapters of text and pictures
give the book a joyful variety and provide an exercise for those who are accustomed to getting all their information strictly from print, or vice versa. Both mediums are equally witty, wry and delightful.
As an exposition of the absurdity of most of our misgivings about those unlike us, a snarky jab at current politics and international relations and a paean to the value of friendship, charity and humility, this is worthy of a much wider readership than just the ten to fourteen-year old crowd, although they will surely learn valuable lessons useful in later life. I recommend it to anyone: if you are old enough and have the reading skill to comprehend the narrative, it is well worth the time and effort. If you’re not too old and hidebound in your cultural beliefs, you may learn something that will prove useful in your life, too.
Shelf Talker: Fun, funny, profound, educational and poignant, this tale of how we see ourselves and others is a darkly comic thrill ride, complete with fascinating illustrations of high quality.