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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Heavy Medal Finalist: THE ASSASSINATION OF BRANGWAIN SPURGE by M. T. Anderson & Eugene Yelchin

in“How can we ever tell what the world really looks like?” This quote appears before the book even begins and sets us up for a story about perception.

THE ASSASSINATION OF BRANGWAIN SPURGE is a story told in a very unique way. Only a few stories that I read this year were different and this story stood out for the way in which the authors chose to tell it. The story was told using three different methods and often gave three different pictures of a person or an event.

The first method chosen was to show wordless illustrations from the point of view of the title character Brangwain Spurge. These were colored by his thoughts and feelings. When he was frightened or happy the pictures might not match what the goblins who told the story later thought had happened. Pages 246-7 shows pictures that demonstrate this well with angels with trumpets around Brangwain.

Some other books were well illustrated this year, but this is the only one that used the illustrations to show the emotions of someone in this way.

The second method chosen was in letters to convince someone that the plan is going in a way that will lead to success. These were letters from one bully to another and did not go quite the way the letter writer thought they would from his point of view. Again there were only a few stories told using letters. These letters were a significant part of the story because of the information about the actual assassination that was disseminated this way.

The third method was more traditional. The third person prose told the story from the point of view of Werfel the Goblin. This point of view was important because it also allowed some narration in contrast to the illustrations.

The setting was not a place that we will recognize since it comes straight from the imagination of the authors. They do go out of their way to describe places and items with some excellent descriptions. One of my favorites was a slightly different mode of travel used by the goblins:

“….reached a landing where there was a giant metal orb covered in spikes next to a huge crank. An open hatch led into the orb…inside there were velvet padded benches bolted to the walls….giant spiked sphere was released and dropped down a chute….the orb skipped and rolled with a sound like thunder. Everyone was thrown around in their seats….The transport sphere plowed along the trench, past all the fortified city’s defenses: walls, moats, machicolations, crossbow cannons, drawbridges, bristling spear pits, bladed gates, and giant mechanical grinders. The sphere came to rest in a sand trap near the outer wall.” p. 77

The authors used technical terms like “machicolations,” talked us through enough that we could at least picture the orb, and yet the picture of a sand trap to me might not be quite the same as it is for you, leaving some room for interpretation. There are also illustrations that do some of the work for us in showing the setting.

All of this leads me back to theme. I thought the differences in how we perceive the world was very well done. The three different methods of telling the story gave you differing perceptions of the same events in different ways. I must also mention the ending. Throughout the story the Goblin tells stories of outgrowing and peeling out of his skin at different times in his life. At the end of the story the elf is the one who peels out of his skin that he has finally outgrown, thus showing how although we are different we are also the same. This is a great message for kids and shone throughout the story.

I think THE ASSASSINATION OF BRANGWAIN SPURGE offers a unique style of storytelling with excellent descriptions of setting, clearly portrayed characters, and a consistent and important theme. These are the reasons that I nominated it.

Introduction by Cherylynn

We now invite Committee members and spectators to comment on this title and share their positive observations first.  (Following the discussion guidelines of the Newbery committee work.)  There will come time for concerns later today.

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Roxanne Hsu Feldman About Roxanne Hsu Feldman

Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at roxannefeldman@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. This is truly one of the strongest books on our list. Thematically astounding. Not just in its representation of the dangers of tagging the unknown as ‘other’ and ‘evil’, but the way it showed, through the complicated relationship of the two main characters, how the act of pausing to listen and shoulder empathy, creates true change of heart. A change that improves the greater world.

    This is a book that embodies the concept of showing over telling. It is sophisticated in the development of the characters. The reader, as least this one, needs to use patience to understand these two ‘men’ and the baggage they carry with them, piled on by their respective cultures and prejudices. It’s one of the few books on the list that I feel I need to reread to fully appreciate.

    • Courtney Hague says:

      I completely agree with you, DaNae, about the showing vs telling. I was impressed by how the authors managed to draw us into all the perspectives and prejudices without explicitly telling us that the elves and goblins were prejudiced against one another.

    • Yes about re-reading. It was one of the few I was really excited to re-read as well!

      • Deborah Ford says:

        I agree about the re-reading. I read it so long ago, that what remained was “Well that was different. And unexpected. And I should read this again, as hindsight makes the plot a completely different story.” On reading it again for HMAC, the clues along the way seem to stand out. The cleverness of the dialogue is sharper. The aha moments in theme, like prejudice, are more evident.

      • Mary Zdrojewski says:

        I’m also looking forward to rereading the whole book.
        As I read, I probably read the whole book twice, as I had to keep going back and rereading sections as I went. Things tended to happen fast, and, after seeing the illustrations, I kept doubting myself and had to go back and see if I’d read what I thought I’d read. The contradictions were purposefully a little confusing, but the writing made everything clear by the end.

  2. I think it’s important not to downplay the significance of the word “distinguished” in the Newbery Medal terms and criteria. It’s laid out clearly in the first sentence of the terms and criteria and the terms and criteria even go as far as defining what “distinguished” should mean. We are just looking for the best book of the year, we’re looking for the “most distinguished” book of the year and in some ways, those could be different things.

    I think THE ASSASSINATION OF BRANGWAIN SPURGE is “individually distinct,” to quote the definitions in the Newbery Medal terms and criteria. In fact, it may be the most individually distinct book on our shortlist. There is no other book like it this year. The way the narrative is juxtaposed with black and white images of Brangwain’s transmissions provides a depth to this work that other books lack.

    I think Cherylynn really hit on the strengths of this book nicely, primarily its interpretation of theme, which I think is the book’s biggest strength. I’m really glad she included the perspective of Lord Clivers’ letters. While these letters were some of my favorite moments from the book, I hadn’t really considered the way they too, supported the theme of perception.

    Some of the details I appreciated were how snobby the elves were and how crude, but kind-hearted the goblins were. I really liked how they showed their appreciation to one another by slinging insults. I liked that we were given hints along the way as to how similar these two races were, despite what Brangwain was transmitting.

    Anderson’s narrative is filled with individually distinct prose, using sophisticated, Tolkien-like fantasy vocabulary rather flawlessly and demanding that his readers will keep up despite not always knowing the meaning of what’s being said.

    I think the biggest think THE ASSASSINATION OF BRANGWAIN SPURGE has going for it, is it’s unique approach to telling its story. Definitely distinct in this year’s batch of contenders.

  3. Steven Engelfried says:

    Some excellent insights into the strengths of THE ASSASSINATION OF BRANGWAIN SPURGE. At this point, readers are welcome to share concerns or questions about the book. Positive comments, or course, are still welcome.

    • Steven Engelfried says:

      Also a reminder that the avatar with the medal, the H, and the M, indicates that the comment is coming from a member of the Heavy Medal Award Committee (HMAC). But we also invite other readers to participate in these book discussions.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      Greetings from the bleachers! It might make sense to keep non-Committee thoughts contained in a single spot away from the main Committee discussion, so I’m nesting this in Steven’s comment.

      I enjoyed BRANGWAIN, but if I were on the Real Committee (with its longer list of contenders), I would compare it to at least REBOUND and BABY MONKEY to evaluate just how much of an outlier BRANGWAIN really is in terms of “unique approach” or “unique style.” Both of those other books of course also offer narrative visuals that are, to some extent, unreliable. And both those other books are also strong in other respects (for example, they are arguably as strong as BRANGWAIN in terms of character and style.) My point is that if BRANGWAIN isn’t quite so individual in its presentation as it may first seem, then it’s harder to see where else it pulls away from the pack. Arguably theme, yes, and perhaps setting.

      I liked how Cherylynn jiu-jitsu’d BRANGWAIN’s illustrations into a pro-Newbery argument. As a non-committee member, it made me think of Flora and Ulysses, and I wonder whether that Committee found a way to incorporate its illustrations into a (successful) Newbery argument or whether they awarded it without considering them. Nobody on the Heavy Medal Committee has yet urged caution along the lines of “if we can’t consider illustrations, how does that change BRANGWAIN’s case?”, and perhaps nobody on this Committee will, but it might be worth thinking about.

      • I read an advance copy of REBOUND that did not contain illustrations, so I can’t totally speak to them, but I seem to remember the illustrations being the main character’s drawings of himself as a comic book character performing feats he wasn’t actually performing on the page. I didn’t think the illustrations were trying to purposely mislead the reader, but more to serve as a way to illustrate his hopes and dreams and inner thinking.

        I guess I understand the comparison but wouldn’t want to get too hung up on comparing the two because they are completely different works and were conceived in completely different ways. BRANGWAIN’s story seemed to stem from Yelchin’s idea about illustrations whereas REBOUND’s illustrations seemed to be an add-on, supporting a character trait.

        BABY MONKEY is a really good comparison, but I get hung up on the ease of the text. I know distinguished writing looks different aimed at different ages, it’s just challenging to determine “distinguished” when there’s such little words to work with. It’s been a long time since I’ve read it but I feel like the story was much more dependent on the illustrations than BRANGWAIN is.

      • I thought of Selznick in general with this book and I think the illustrations work differently here than in baby monkey, etc. In those, there’s no way to read it without the pictures, they tell so much of the story that you’d have no idea what was going on. But here almost everything is in the text. You miss out on a different perspective without them, but you can still understand the story.

  4. I agree that this is easily the most “individually distinct” book we have on the table this year. It’s delineation of theme, as others have mentioned, is definitely distinguished, and the argument can (and will!) be made that it is the MOST distinguished interpretation of theme.

    With such a strong theme I think the careful creation of setting, which Cherylynn mentions in her post, is not getting the attention it deserves. We are clearly not in our world, and some aspects of the world are left purposefully mysterious or not fully fleshed out, but in such a way that it is not confusing or overwhelming to readers for whom this might be their first encounter with high fantasy.

    • Mary Zdrojewski says:

      The setting was wonderfully vivid, although I expected that in the end we would discover the two lands were as identical as the two races. The fact that they were, in fact, very different, offered some explanation on how the two cultures became so distinct.

  5. Most of the points I wanted to make have already been stated. I will add that I greatly admire that Anderson and Yelchin have tackled themes of colonialism, prejudice, and appropriation by removing our own prejudices (after all, none of us has, to my knowledge, encountered an elf or a goblin) and clearly showing how absurd but culturally ingrained prejudices can be. It’s a sly and winking way to hold up a mirror to society, and the book manages to be nuanced and subtle by *not* being nuanced and subtle – again because actual prejudices have been artfully removed.

    Equally admirable is how neither Yelchin’s nor Anderson’s contributions outsize the other’s – it’s a remarkable marriage of talents, and one that yields some superbly crafted moments, particularly in the end. To me, it wasn’t really clear if there was a “bad guy” until about halfway through the book when I realized that Spurge is, by both his own hand and by the hand of the culture in which he is raised. Yelchin and Anderson work to unpeel the layers of the story’s heartbeat: that it take time and compassionate understanding, both stripped clear of hang-ups, to develop empathy.

    The ending is a profound suckerpunch: the removing of the skin works on so many levels to address the theme, and it is one that will stick with me for a long time.

    • sarahbtlibrarian says:

      That ending is so great and worth a re-read! And as you pointed out, it works on so many levels.

      The thing I really appreciated about this book is how much trust is given to the reader. The reader goes in trusting the author to tell a story and along the way our own perceptions are challenged along with Spurge and Werfel. It’s a powerful device and used very well here. As we start to realize things that are being said aren’t matching along with other things shown or said, we ourselves starts to question along with the characters. And as you pointed out, neither one outsize the other. They work so well together and all three narrations-the letters, the pictures, and the text, work seamlessly to create one story leaving the characters and the reader thinking about what the truth really is.

      I thought it was a fantastic book and truly distinguished!

  6. Kate Todd says:

    I am confused about whether Eugene Yelchin is considered a second author, who would share the Newbery award, or an illustrator who would not be named in the award.

    • Reading the chat between authors following the story, it’s revealed that Yelchin approached Anderson with the idea of creating a book where the written story conflicted with the accompanying illustrations. Anderson came up with the elf/goblin story and the two went from there. It’s interesting to me that their roles are really not signaled out in the book at all. I would assume Yelchin did the illustrations, but he is not listed as the illustrator. I would assume Anderson was primarily responsible for the text, but Yelchin’s name is right there next to his as “author.” So I think I would assume that Yelchin is a co-author and would be awarded WITH Anderson.

  7. I do agree with Cherylynn about the strengths of this book in setting and theme. It also has “kid appeal”, which I know doesn’t need to be considered. I agree with Leonard though. Is the book as strong if we aren’t able to consider the illustrations. Will the committee disqualify it because so much meaning is conveyed by the illustrations? Does it meet the criteria for the Newbery Medal? I’d like to hear someone else’s opinion.

  8. I think this book will take a more sophisticated reader to appreciate it. For what it’s worth I was led astray by the unreliable images Spurge sent. It didn’t occur to me to question them. Yes, the goblins looked fierce, but who was I to judge the goblin standard of beauty? I was fairly far into the book before I realized that Spurge’s prejudice colored his images. I don’t know if this is a shortcoming or just a failing I had as a reader. As I said before, it is a book I should read again.

    I feel the illustrations did as much story-telling as the the text. Just like a graphic novel, which would make Yechlin a co-author.

    • I have been struggling in thinking this book fitting this particular criterium, “Committee members must consider excellence of presentation for a child audience.” What do you think its the age of the intended audience? Are the humor/multiple perspectives (subtle and not so)/political critiques, etc. presented in ways that truly appeal to those intended readers?

      A while back someone noted that their students really took to the book and started creating inventive insults — as evidence of how they enjoyed the book. However, if that’s the young reader’s understanding and appreciating of the book: that the most appealing aspect is how the goblins call each other names to show their closeness — then are they missing a huge chunk of the book that’s not on the surface level?

      Is the actual storyline as strong as the stylistic game the co-authors play with the readers?

      • sarahbtlibrarian says:

        I loved this one, but I too am wondering just what age category it falls into. How much is this for an audience up to 14 and how much is for an older audience? This is one that I think is hard to place and I’m wondering how much of child audience is here. Some of the storyline does feel more advanced.

      • Roxanne, I’ve given this to several fifth and sixth grade students. I aimed it at those with quicker understanding that have shown a willingness to tackle more complex books. It was well received by all so far, usually with a big grin. I have not taken the time to probe and see if the greater themes were appreciated. I will look through the paperwork they’ve turned in. I do think it can be enjoyed by a wider range readers who may not get it subtler undertones.

      • Amanda Snow says:

        I’ve really struggled with this. As several have mentioned, it feels meant for an older audience. I found myself confused at several points, which definitely made some of the magic dissipate. I can see the literary merit and really enjoyed the illustrations, but the complexity of the story is bound to deter some readers.

    • DaNae, I’m not so sure that Anderson or Yelchin wanted readers to put anything together before you or I did. In fact, I think they intended on their own readers’ prejudices to color how they interpreted the story and just went along with Brangwain’s transmissions, adding another layer to the theme of perceptions.

    • sarahbtlibrarian says:

      I think the fact that we don’t think to question the illustrations at the start play to the strength of the book. We trust what we are being told and so at first the illustrations seem to work. But then we slowly understand just as our characters do, that not everything is as it seems.

      • I “spoilered” myself by reading the information(including about the discrepancy in perceptions) the 2 creators had written in the back– I Wish I could have gone on that discovery journey–Whoops!

    • I don’t know how to say this exactly but the style of the drawings and the type of story is so off-putting to me personally (this is NOT my genre and I did not care for the illustrations) that it took me a while to realize that there was supposed to be a mismatch and that it wasn’t just me not enjoying what the book was doing. My own personal feelings aside, I think the book rewards people who stick with it for its reveals.

  9. Just a reminder of what the Newbery criteria says regarding illustrations…

    “Each book is to be considered as a contribution to American literature. The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.”

    Two things strike me about that that I think we should consider: 1) “Primarily on the text” and 2) “Less effective.” I do not think the illustrations make the book less effective so that is out of the question for me. “Primarily on the text” is interesting because without the illustrations, I do think the book feels less distinguished to me. However, I think most of the strengths outlined by comments in this thread can be found in the text itself. For instance, even the reveal of Brangwain’s inaccurate transmissions is explained fully near the end of the book and I, like DaNae, hadn’t actually realized there was any reason not to take Brangwain’s transmissions for what they were. So I think the impact of the twist and the theme of perception is still felt in this scene, but the illustrations definitely enhance the experience.

    • I think you definitely lose something without the illustrations (given that was the whole original concept of the book!), but that it still does work without them. I listened to the audiobook and it includes a PDF of the pictures but says you can listen to it without looking at them for a different experience. I did look at the pictures, but because of that I paid particular attention to whether to worked without them or not. And I think it does still hang together, except the ending would be confusing without them I think. But the rest is summarized in the text and even the ending gives you just enough that you could figure out what happened.

      • I can’t imagine experiencing this book without its illustrations. It would be like watching Mary Poppins (the movie) but taking all the songs out. The pictures move the plot along as much as the writing in the book. And What Pictures! I loved them. The element of surprise is conveyed so well in each page turn of the section when Spurge falls out of the barrel, into the lake full of creatures, swallowed by a fish that turns out to be a (very steam-punk looking) mechanical submarine. Then again on pages 84-87 when Spurge levitates. I remember having an inner gasp at that. A huge part of the pleasure of reading this book for me, was the illustrations. (I wouldn’t want to miss “A Jolly Hoiday with Mary” either!)

  10. I feel as if I am in the minority in not whole-heartedly loving this one. I do think it is distinguished, but there were some flaws as well.

    I recognize that humor is entirely subjective so the fact that I found the torture of Werfel to be revolting instead of hilarious is not something I could argue at the real table. However, it is relevant to the discussion to point out that I think it undermines the messages and themes of the book. On the one hand we are encouraged to get multiple viewpoints, to understand that everything is colored and perceived through our own lens, that we need to empathize with the Other. Then we have Werfel who is just Bad. It’s funny to watch him be tortured. We shouldn’t empathize with him, or try to understand why he does the (horrendous) things that he does or wonder if some of his reprehensible behavior is a desperate attempt to not be harmed in a culture that has given him no other outlet. He’s just Bad.

    I appear to be the only person who didn’t like the ending where Brangwain shed his skin. I foolishly forgot to bring a copy home with me, but I recall that the goblins shed their skin periodically. You aren’t the same person you were a few years ago because your views have changed, but you’re also physically growing, and the shedding of the skin is a physical process, not a psychological one. Therefore if elves are really “just like goblins all along!” then even if they don’t care about their skins, they should still physically be shedding them and Brangwain should recognize what is happening to him at the end instead of being confused about why he’s so itchy. It would’ve made more sense to me if he knew what was happening because he also sheds his skin periodically and what shows his growth is the choice to keep it as a memento instead of throwing it away in disgust, rather than the actual shedding in the first place. That way it’s an active character choice, rather than something that just happened. The idea that elves don’t shed at all also implies that NO elves, as a culture, ever grow or change.

    • I’m with you – this was not my favorite. I am curious about the point you made about the skin and what others think. How does this ambiguity affect how distinguished the book is?

    • Courtney Hague says:

      I’m not sure it’s about finding the “torture” of Werfel funny or not. I think you are honestly meant to begin the book believing that the goblins are exactly what the elfin propaganda says they are (I.e. brutal, monstrous, disgusting, etc) but through Werfel you, the reader, come to empathize with the goblins and distrust the transmissions of Brangwain and thus the elfin POV. I mean I found the book funny but it wasn’t really about how they treated Werfel so much as it was about his character and the way in which he presented his world and his use of language in particular.

      But you may be right about the skin-shedding at the end. I thought it was meant to imply that there really was no goblin vs elf, but it does seem odd that elves would never grow and thus never shed if that were the case.

    • I agree that the ending was a bit confusing. I thought it was clever upon first reading, but became a little more confusing the more I thought about it.

      I dug back through some old threads on this site and Eric at one point mentions that Brangwain is shedding because he has now spent enough time in the goblin lands’ harsher environment and that we’re led to believe that the only reason the goblins shed is ironically due to the fact that the elves drove them out of their original, less harsh, environment. The elves don’t shed because they live there now.

      As clever as this seems, it raises another question to me… Werfel made it seem like the shedding of the skin and the saving of the skins has been a sacred, time honored thing among goblins. There were even skins from ancient goblins hanging in the museum that Brangwain visited. This kind of contradicts the idea that the goblins only shed their skin because of the environment they live in. This would seem to imply that they’ve always shed their skin.

      I’m not sure I remember it mentioning when that battle between elves and goblins took place. Maybe that could clear this question up for me…

    • I like to think that Spurge finally shed his skin because of his own ‘personal growth’. The Elfin folk were conquerors and colonizers and refused to see the ‘humanity’ of the goblin people. When Spurge finally sees Werfel as he truly is, ( and becomes his friend) he grows enough to shed his skin. A bit like having your heart ‘grow 3 sizes’

      • I both liked and didn’t like the ending. I also found it kind of confusing. But I like Susan’s explanation of it being like having your heart grow three sizes that day.

      • I like this interpretation of the ending Susan N.

      • Courtney Hague says:

        Agreed. I like this interpretation of the ending. Thank you, Susan N.

    • Alys, I think you mean Lord what’s his face, not Werfel. I did find the cutting off the fingers funny–gross, but funny. Although it’s the writing and the relationship between the characters, not the blood itself. I don’t think he is actually just Bad. He struck me more as an inept upper class civil servant who’s snobby and narrow-minded but not evil. He does feel bad for Brangwain occasionally–(although he’s much more concerned with his own convenience). But I think clearly the king is supposed to be the bad one in that exchange for constantly chopping off his fingers. Although certainly there is an element of indirect revenge on behalf of Brangwain, that we feel like the Lord guy is getting his just desserts to some extent. But I guess I see that as part of the fairy tale aspect in which the villain gets punished (often in gruesome ways). So I do see what you mean, even though it just didn’t bother me in the same way.

      • Totally agree, Katrina. Lord Ysoret Clivers is a former bully and a small-minded person. Not necessarily a ‘bad guy.’ Does every book need someone who is “Bad”? And must bad things happening to people be punishment for said badness? I tend to like books that are like life– with shades of grey. Sometimes wonderful people (Werfel) have horrible things happen to them. A lot of horrible things. Like Book of Job level horrible things.

      • And yes to this story having the fairy-tale style of punishment and just desserts–along with other fairy tale motifs.

  11. As I’m re-reading I am delighting in the clever and silly writing. When Werfel take Spurge out for goblin delicacies they are served ” All the varieties of pickle the Plateau of Drume was known for, stored away for months when the snow was heaped too deep to grow any vegetables, or for the late summer when the firestorms blew through and goblins had to crouch inside their houses for days, going out only

    • Sorry, iPad malfunction… ” only if wrapped in aluminum caftans.” P 164. The goblins live in a punishing environment after the elfin takeover of their lands. And here’s Werfel trying to show Spurge the best his country has to offer– to a rude, disdainful guest who thinks his people have the superior culture. The characterizations are so clear. Werfel takes his hosting duties so seriously, I really feel for him.

    • I agree about the writing and the characterizations–poor Werfel!

  12. Susan, and others, I’m uncertain as to the descriptions of the goblin customs — from whose point-of-view are we to take these passages in? Are the readers supposed to be surprised, repulsed, or at least “amused” by these unusual (and thus unnatural or exotic?) practices? The 20-hour-long epic drama, the pickled food, the shedded and preserved skins: of a culture merely unfamiliar OR too extreme to foster connections? I don’t think these are meant to be unreliably presented – but they seem to emit certain “foreign” air that is meant for the readers.

    • I am taking the sections about Werfel at face value (as the truth) as they are written in third person.

    • Yes. That’s how I interpreted it. If it had been first person from the perspective of Werfel, I would have doubted its veracity– but the third person narration made me believe that what was being described in those sections was what was really going on.

      • I’d rather think that the Goblin world is also portrayed with some sort of viewpoint and thus not entirely truthful. Much more interesting that way. Agree?

      • I wasn’t sure which way it was intended, but I mainly took it to be Werfel’s POV, so not entirely reliable either.

    • After finishing my re-read, I still maintain my opinion that the 3rd person narration portions of the book represent what is actually happening. I think the book is much more interesting this way. I think the dialog in the 3rd person sections represent the opinions of the speakers, but don’t think these sections are equally unreliable.

      Spurge’s top-secret transmissions are heavily influenced by prejudice. His upbringing in his own dominating society, which has painted an untrue story of who the goblin people are is effecting his perceptions and relationships with the goblins until he gets close enough to see through all his propaganda-created prejudice. Spurge is also incorrect about what his people have done to the goblin people throughout history. It’s not just a “he-said/she said” or “let’s all just get along” situation. Elves stole the goblin lands from them, forced them into practically uninhabitable territory, then made up stories (the goblins are brutes, elves are superior– sound familiar?) to justify their actions. I feel that this is really important to the story.
      Spurge’s prejudice diminishes as his relationship with Werfel evolves. In his transmissions, the appearance of Werfel’s face changes– he looks kinder as they grow closer. Spurge is the one who needed to do the growing– and grew enough to need a new skin!

  13. I’m not totally sure on the pacing, it felt a little slow sometimes, but that could have been because I was listening to it rather than reading it. Certainly it was unpredictable–wasn’t sure where we were going!

    I agree with everyone that the theme is strong in terms of showing different perceptions, etc. But I also thought it got a little heavy-handed theme-wise, particularly towards the end. Just a little on the nose for me with the anti-war, etc., stuff. They were doing such a good job with it through the story that I don’t know that it needed to also discuss those things explicitly. I feel like that’s something I need an example of, but I don’t have one at hand.

  14. Katharine W. says:

    I feel that the pictures here are actually part of the text–they do not illustrate so much as play an indispensable role in the meaning of the story. If we define text merely as “writing” then that might be arguable, but if we define text as used in literary theory, then we can accept the entire book as a “text.”

  15. Jessica Lee says:

    The beauty of this book for me lies primarily in its humor. As Brangwain and Werfel trudge across the parched plains with nothing to drink except the pond water soaked into the goblin’s cloak, the offer to share is made with one perfectly chosen word. “Hem?” Yes, it is a dense story with some heavy-handed themes. But the use of humor throughout definitely raMPs up the kid-appeal and showcases the cleverness of the writers.

    Some reviewers criticized the “torture” in the book. I assume they were referring to the removal of Clivers’s fingers. I think this served two key purposes. One was humor, a dark humor. The other was a counterpoint to Brangwain’s impression of his own people. He saw the goblins as blood thirsty and brutish. But the cruelest acts we see in the book are actually committed by the Elven king. BYhis again reinforces the message that one can be blind or accepting of one’s fellow countryman’s cruelty but shocked by another’s violence.

  16. Samuel Leopold says:

    I really enjoy this book. But, like Katrina, I feel that the pacing is uneven and slow in several places. A really good book but I think we have at least six on this list that are more distinguished.

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