CHARACTERS Ì The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge

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CHARACTERS Ì The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge ´ Subverting convention award winning creators M T Anderson and Eugene Yelchin pair up for an anarchic outlandish and deeply political saga of warring elf and goblin kingdomsUptight elfin historian Brangwain Spurge is on a mission survive being catapulted across the mountains intoElf kingdom while Werfel’s determinedly unbiased narrative tells an entirely different story A hilarious and biting social commentary that could only come from the likes of National Book Award winner M T Anderson and Newbery Honoree Eugene Yelchin this tale is rife with thrilling action and visual humor and a comic disparity that suggests the ultimate victor in a war is perhaps not who won the battles but who gets to write the histo. If ever there was a book that used satire and the unreliable narrator with a deft dry touch whilst still wholly appealing to children then this is that book The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge might be seen as the disgruntled older pubescent sibling of Zelnick’s wriiten narrativewordless format but it is also far sharper clever and deeply political for being so Anderson and Yelchin’s world is one of goblins and elves who have spent much of their past at war with each other But the elves now seek to renew their peace and send across the borders an elfin historian Brangwain Spurge with a gift for the goblins Meanwhile at the other end Werfel the goblin archivist has been tasked with the job of entertaining his esteemed guest and giving him a tour of his city before the gift can be handed over to their supreme ruler Ghogh – a nebulous black creature from a wholly different dimension But all is not what it seems in this story for the elf’s mission is not uite honest and both his world and his hosts is being cunningly manipulated by outside forces Can Brangwain see past his prejudices and acknowledge the greater truth before it is all too late A fantasy that is perhaps real than the fake news we encounter daily today and certainly a satire on all political skewing of ‘outsiders’ and ‘others’ what Anderson offers in words and Yelchin in his Boschesue illustrations is a story from two different perspectives Whose narrative can be trusted is another matter altogether but by the end of it the reader will doubtless be in a place where they have the sense to uestion the propagandist images in their own world and reconsider what the truth is in their own lives Whatever the impact of the book on the reader Anderson and Yelchin make for a wonderful partnership and beyond its ideological ramifications The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge is very very funny

M.T. Anderson » 1 CHARACTERS

Subverting convention award winning creators M T Anderson and Eugene Yelchin pair up for an anarchic outlandish and deeply political saga of warring elf and goblin kingdomsUptight elfin historian Brangwain Spurge is on a mission survive being catapulted across the mountains into goblin territory deliver a priceless peace offering to their mysterious dark lord and spy on the goblin kingdom from which no elf has returned alive in than. If history is written by the winners then what happens when everyone losesIn my job I read a lot of books written for kids and middle schoolers To guide this reading I take into account a lot of professional reviews from sources like Kirkus and Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal and the like If a book gets multiple stars I flag it for my To Be Read pile This is a good effective method for finding great books but it is not without its flaws I am in constant danger of Realistic Fiction Burnout RFB RFB comes when an adult subject has been exposed to a large number of children's books involving realistic characters in realistic settings all set in the present day If I have to read one bullying school bus lunchroom scene I’m going to melt into a large rather unattractive puddle I read outside my comfort zone but truth be told I just wish I was reading fantasy and science fiction Those are my sweet spots So when I just can’t take it any and the world is just too depressing and real I turn to something like The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge for relief Essentially a book that takes a Tolkien concept and wraps it up in a healthy bit of Cold War paranoia MT Anderson and Eugene Yelchin have created what has to be the kookiest interpretation of Middle Earth esue events to hit the children’s book scene since Ben Hatke’s Nobody Likes a Goblin This book’s like that only longer and with a plot that feels like what you’d get if you combined The Rite of Spring with Yakety Sax If that and the concept of a fantastical buddy comedy between an elf and a goblin who are both historical academics done in the visual vein of Brian Selznick appeals then buddy have I got the book for youOpen this book It’s the darndest thing The first thing you really see is what looks like a large floating warty Faberge egg As you watch the egg opens to reveal a jewel inside And inside the jewel are grotesue carvings of a battle pieces of fighters so inundated with spears and arrows that it resembles nothing so much as a pile of Pick Up Stix That’s the Prologue but Chapter One is eually visual Now we are in a strange kingdom where elves load one of their companions into a barrel He is handed the warty egg then launched into the sky whereupon his vessel is plucked from the ether by a three headed bird This is where the text comes in and it is split in two On the one hand we have the epistolary missives of the elf Ysoret Clivers the Earl of Lunesse who is dictating how an ancient artifact was found in Elfland and is now being sent with academic historical Brangwain Spurge to the land of the goblins to present to their leader as a peace offering The other narrative follows Werfel the Archivist the goblin historian who will be hosting Spurge and who couldn’t be pleased with the honor A tentative peace has been laid between the two hostile countries and Werfel believes no one is better suited to treat his guest than he But things don’t go exactly to plan Alternating between text and images that represent Spurge’s point of view which is not exactly reliable readers receive a palpable understanding of what happens when two entirely different cultures have to fight through false assumptions and propaganda to reach a solid friendshipThere is an art to a good unreliable narrator I suppose someone somewhere has probably written rules on the subject First and foremost the author has to decide whether or not they want to let the reader in on the narrator’s skewed pov from the start think Timmy Failure or if they want the reader to experience a kind of creeping suspicion and dread as they read think Pale Fire What sets Brangwain Spurge apart from the pack is that you’re dealing far less with an unreliable narrator’s words and an unreliable narrator’s eyes In fact aside from the occasional letter from Earl of Lunesse all thoughts come directly from the brain of the incredibly kind hearted Werfel But look how the book is set up From the moment you open it you encounter not anyone’s words but the images of Yelchin Images that consistently undermine Werfel’s testimony It’s as if the creators of the book are challenging young readers to uestion everything even their own eyes Why is it that we are so inclined to believe what we see over what we hear We know better in the 21st century than we ever did in the 20th that images are unreliable That they can be twisted and turned and changed to fit our needs So here we have a book that takes a Brian Selznick style on him in a moment and then slowly reveals to the reader that these pictures are frauds The unreliable visual narrator is a new creation in children’s books as far as I’m concerned New and extraordinarily vital in our post Photoshop existenceFor Anderson’s book to work he needed an artist that knew how to indulge in pleasant grotesueries And since Stephen Gammell has long been out of the business of creepy Yelchin makes a fascinating substitute So let’s examine exactly what happens when you read this book You open it up and encounter a series of illustrations that remind you possibly of the works of Brian Selznick Yet for all that they are cinematic in scope and done in black and white Yelchin’s art here is almost the anti Selznick Where Brian luxuriates in bringing forth subtle curves through the most delicate of crosshatches Yelchin appears to have channeled Hieronymus Bosch by way of Terry Gilliam And as I mentioned before Selznick’s art is all about trust The young reader trusts that if they pay attention to the art in his books they’ll be able to solve the mysteries hidden in his words I suspect that Anderson and Yelchin are playing with readers’ past experience with Selznickian books If this book had been done as a graphic novel it simply couldn’t have worked uite as well Sure there are plenty of comics where the art is filtered through an unreliable narrator’s perceptions but when you do it through a book that is made up entirely of seuential art then you’ve no chance to surprise the reader later on Whatever you may call this book I think “illustrated novel” suits it best the format fits the tellingWhen I go into a review of a book I like to do so cold without having seen anything that might influence my opinions of the piece Usually When I am stumped however I’ll grasp at anything that might possibly help me in my interpretation Take the art of this book for example What what is it exactly I saw that my edition of the book included a little conversation between Anderson and Yelchin and I figured maybe they’d let slip what it is that Yelchin’s doing here No dice though they do have a nice debate over whether or not the book invokes the works of Faxian and Herodotus or John le Carre the jury is still out on that one Likewise Anderson discusses how it is “a tragic meditation on how societies that have been trained to hate each other for generations can actually come to see eye to eye” while Yelchin calls it “A laugh out loud misadventure of two fools blinded by ideology and propaganda” All righty then This is probably the best explanation of what’s going on here that I could come up with Yet for a book like this to work you need to get beyond clever details and grand gestures You need heart and maybe a little soul And to my infinite relief I found bothBecause for all that this book is visual Pop Rockets to the old eye sockets it’s the relationship between Spurge and Werfel that props everything up At the start of the tale Werfel who is rather adorable is just so giddy with the prospect of meeting Spurge that he imagines a glorious future where the two of them talk about his favorite things “Finally contact with the enemy With another scholar With someone else who loved antiuity and beautiful things and who shared his hope for this beleaguered world” When Spurge misinterprets everything he sees and rebuffs Werfel’s attempts at friendship the goblin scholar sours on his guest Yet their fates are tied closely to one another and slowly Werfel is able to peel away the skin of his guest’s prejudices with sheer kindness My favorite part of the book is the moment when the two finally start to bond by “pretending to make friendly reading suggestions to each other while actually just trying to make the other feel stupid It was the best evening either of them had enjoyed in a very long time” By the time you get to the end of the book the relationship is sealed and you the reader are glad of itI’ve often said that the best way to get kids to read about adults having adventures is to turn them into furry woodland creatures see Redwall But making your characters mythical creatures works just as well in the end Anderson has always flirted with his love of fantasy though until now it was mostly relegated to his Norumbegan uartet Here he takes a deep dive into a full fledged fantasy world I admired many of his choices along the way For example it would have been so easy for both Anderson and Yelchin to have given the goblins a free pass in this book So maligned in the works of Tolkien and subseuent Tolkien imitators the twist of making them sympathetic than the elves is sweet What upsets the applecart a bit is the fact that while the goblins may be open minded than the elves they are also living in a police state with ruler so strange that I’m still trying to find a metaphorical or real world euivalent to his Mighty Ghohg Methinks I’m barking up the wrong tree with that though MethinksAs strange as this may seem the book that this reminded me the most of was the series of Avatar The Last Airbender comics by Gene Luen Yang Those books spend much of their time examining at length the intricacies of deconstructing an oppressive colonial system in a fantasy world something that this book only touches on lightly Yet even so we live in a post colonial world for the most part Colonialism didn’t go that well and post colonialism was botched in a variety of interesting and horrible ways Which brings us to America in 2018 the year of this book’s publication For kids reading this book today a title that discusses prejudices born out of often willful ignorance coupled with warmongering and malicious leaders golly is there anything here that will speak to them I won’t lie This book will take some work to get through for some kids Even dyed in the wool comic book readers may stumble a little initially at the unfamiliar art style But there will be a cadre of kids that stick with it Kids that find the story of scholars in fantasy realms fascinating And those kids are the ones that will cut through the treacle and figure out what this book is actually trying to say I’d wager good money that kids will get it than adults A fascinating blend of the wholly original and what is normally overly familiar Anderson and Yelchin are having way too much fun here It shouldn’t be allowed And I sure am glad that it was For ages 10 and up

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The Assassination of Brangwain SpurgeA hundred years Brangwain’s host the goblin archivist Werfel is delighted to show Brangwain around They should be the best of friends but a series of extraordinary double crosses blunders and cultural misunderstandings throws these two bumbling scholars into the middle of an international crisis that may spell death for them and war for their nations Witty mixed media illustrations show Brangwain’s furtive missives back to the. An elf and goblin both scholarly fellows go on an adventure This was one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in recent years Don’t skip this because it was marketed at middle grade readers; adults will enjoy this as much if not then young readers