Top-Secret Transmission: Locate THE ASSASSINATION OF BRANGWAIN SPURGE Now!

Lynn: We count you Bookends readers as friends. Having just read The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge (September) by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin, I know that, were I a goblin, I would affectionately address you as follows: You clammy, sweaty pedant! Get your toad-like hands on this book ASAP (as-soon-as-published)!

Brilliant and very, very funny, writer Anderson and artist Yelchin tell this tale jointly through text and illustration. Together, they weave a wildly imaginative story that challenges readers to examine their perceptions—societal, historical, political, and personal. Can perceptions ever be trusted? Can we ever trust a narrator, or are they always unreliable? Can we even trust our own eye-witness observations? And what are the consequences when governments have skewed perceptions, then act on them?

The kingdoms of Elfland and the Goblin Court of the Mighty Ghohg have been at war for 1000 years. Elfin Scholar Brangwain Spurge will extend a peace offering in the form of a priceless artifact to be presented to the Mighty Ghohg. Spurge’s Goblin host—another academic, Werfel the Archivist, historian to the Ghohg court—is beside himself with excitement and has done everything possible to make the Elf feel at home. Will they have peace in their time? Despite Werfel’s generosity and planning, things go wrong from the start. Spurge seems horrified and disgusted by everything he sees, offends everyone he meets, and ignites a series of diplomatic crises wherever he goes. Soon, both Werfel and Spurge find themselves on the run, hunted on all sides, the peace accords in ruins.

Werfel’s sections, presented in text, and Spurge’s Top Secret Transmissions, presented in fabulously intricate illustrations, are supplemented by reports from Ysoret Clivers, Lord Spymaster of the Order of the Clean Hand to the King of Elfland, that share Spurge’s transmissions with the Elfland King. Spurge, it seems, has a double role as both ambassador and spy. Is there another terrible secret?

As thought-provoking as it is entertaining, this fantasy is part John Cleese, part inverted Tolkien, and part Hieronymus Bosch. Packed with secrets, double-dealing, and barbed commentary on our own world, this witty adventure reminds us that while it is the victor who writes the histories, sometimes historians can be the victors.

Cindy: My friend, Lynn (I would say “esteemed friend,” but were she goblin, she would be offended by that moniker), is spot-on in her account of this forthcoming treasure. It is worth gifting to elves and goblins alike, but especially to any sniveling, smelly upstart who reads beyond his young years and can handle the vocabulary of mythical archivists and the intelligent humor of author and illustrator found herewith.

And, for me, at long last, a book in which survival techniques are not innate. The struggle is real for Spurge and Werfel:

And as they both realized, they were not good at survival in the wild.
They had been trained to live in libraries and museums.

Yea and forsooth!

I get many requests from my middle-school students for books like Brian Selznick’s groundbreaking The Invention of Hugo Cabret and its companions. I can’t wait to give them one that uses illustrations to tell part of the story and begs discussion about truth and perception, as that squat, filthy bore, Lynn, posits above. Yelchin and Tobin make great collaborating historians. My middle-school scholars will be poring over this fine text for years to come.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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