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The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge

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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 kingdoms. Uptight 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 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 kingdoms. Uptight 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 more than a 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 elf 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 history.


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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 kingdoms. Uptight 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 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 kingdoms. Uptight 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 more than a 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 elf 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 history.

30 review for The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge

  1. 4 out of 5

    Betsy

    If history is written by the winners then what happens when everyone loses? In 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 Fi If history is written by the winners then what happens when everyone loses? In 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 more 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 more fantasy and science fiction. Those are my sweet spots. So when I just can’t take it anymore 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, M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin have created what has to be the kookiest interpretation of Middle Earth-esque 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 you. Open 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 grotesque 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 equally 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 more 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 friendship. There 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 p.o.v. 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 more 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 question 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 (more 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 existence. For Anderson’s book to work he needed an artist that knew how to indulge in pleasant grotesqueries. 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 quite 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 sequential 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 telling. When 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 both. Because 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 antiquity 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 it. I’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 Quartet. 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 subsequent Tolkien imitators, the twist of making them more sympathetic than the elves is sweet. What upsets the applecart a bit is the fact that while the goblins may be more 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 equivalent to his Mighty Ghohg. Methinks I’m barking up the wrong tree with that, though. Methinks. As 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 more 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.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Denny

    This book was a delight. There’s weight to it as you hold it in your hands. The cover gives a hint of the humor to come. The illustrations are a wonder. Spurge and Werfel are my kind of heroes. Highly recommend!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    M. T. Anderson is one of my all-time favorite writers, and this latest, a collaboration with illustrator Eugene Yelchin, is a witty wonder. This quirky novel, a collection of letters and dispatches concerning the ongoing strife between the Elves and the Goblins, is a brilliant reflection on nationalism, racism, and the frames that distort how we see people and events. It is rollickingly funny throughout as the titular Brangwain Spurge travels as an envoy (and secretly a spy) to Goblin country, w M. T. Anderson is one of my all-time favorite writers, and this latest, a collaboration with illustrator Eugene Yelchin, is a witty wonder. This quirky novel, a collection of letters and dispatches concerning the ongoing strife between the Elves and the Goblins, is a brilliant reflection on nationalism, racism, and the frames that distort how we see people and events. It is rollickingly funny throughout as the titular Brangwain Spurge travels as an envoy (and secretly a spy) to Goblin country, where an earnest scholar named Werfel hosts him and attempts to accommodate this most ungracious of guests. Yelchin's Terry Gilliam-like illustrations record Brangwain's impressions of this new terrain and these new people. Ultimately, Spurge and his host realize that they are both pawns in a larger game of statecraft, and they form a friendship. The central device of the book surprised me yet is also essential to its form. That's such a cryptic statement, but suffice it to say that Yelchin and Anderson make their political point by drawing our attention to words and images as vehicles for and reflections of propaganda and prejudice. Anderson's linguistic gusto and satirical sensibility married to Yelchin's simultaneous ornate and exaggerated illustrations make the book lushly and comically pleasurable, while the imminent likelihood of mutually guaranteed destruction bears a grim resemblance to our own geopolitical moment (significantly less pleasurable). Against this grand narrative of vainglorious, autocratic leaders and corrupt, pusillanimous bureaucrats, Anderson and Yelchin hold out the slim hope of intimacy, companionship, and the power of friendship to undo old ills and teach new lessons. I also love--predictably for me because I study food in literature--the way that this encounter between nations plays out in the meals and tastes of the characters: "Spurge gagged. He pushed his plate away. He murmured that everything was to spicy. too smoky. Too heavy. Too greasy. All the flavors were too strong" (164). Racial difference is imagined as unpalatable. How meaningful, then, that by the end of the novel, the two friends share a pie and a bottle of wine: "It was not yet dinnertime, but among friends--friends who want to change the world togehter--new beginnings always call for a celebration" (518).

  4. 5 out of 5

    DaNae

    There is no doubt this is brilliant, but often I found myself as confused as an Elf in a Goblin world.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge takes me back to the whimsy and invention of classics like The Phantom Tollbooth, Willy Wonky, and The Yellow Submarine. A comedy of etiquette errors, of historical hilarities… it’s been a long time since I genuinely laughed out loud while reading a book. I might have snorted once or twice (no witnesses). It’s easy for me to say that Yeltsin’s iconic art style and Anderson’s wit make this one an instant classic in YA fantasy literature. For my full review: ht The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge takes me back to the whimsy and invention of classics like The Phantom Tollbooth, Willy Wonky, and The Yellow Submarine. A comedy of etiquette errors, of historical hilarities… it’s been a long time since I genuinely laughed out loud while reading a book. I might have snorted once or twice (no witnesses). It’s easy for me to say that Yeltsin’s iconic art style and Anderson’s wit make this one an instant classic in YA fantasy literature. For my full review: https://paulspicks.blog/2018/09/03/th... For all my reviews: https://paulspicks.blog

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    This is a *really* fun take on the unreliable narrator. As an adult reader, it didn't take me long to figure out why the illustrations and text weren't matching up, but this is such a great way to introduce this concept to younger readers (not to mention all the commentary on revisionist history, colonialism, etc). I'm curious how much appeal this will have with kids - I feel like the satirical elements will go over their heads - but there's enough overt humour and adventure to keep them hooked, This is a *really* fun take on the unreliable narrator. As an adult reader, it didn't take me long to figure out why the illustrations and text weren't matching up, but this is such a great way to introduce this concept to younger readers (not to mention all the commentary on revisionist history, colonialism, etc). I'm curious how much appeal this will have with kids - I feel like the satirical elements will go over their heads - but there's enough overt humour and adventure to keep them hooked, I think. My one hang-up is that the art is printed really weird. It's hard to explain, but some of the illustrations looked like they were too.. pixelated? It reminded me of a digital image that's been blown out too much. However, there were other instances where the art was very detailed and clear. I dunno, maybe it's just me. Otherwise though, I really liked this. Very relevant in our "post-truth"/"fake news" world.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Allison Parker

    An elf ambassador, Brangwain Spurge, is sent to the city of goblins to offer a gift of goodwill, a recently-found ancient artifact, after centuries of war and hostility. His goblin host, Werfel, is looking forward to the experience. He understands they both share a career and passion for history and learning, so he looks forward to bonding and founding an unprecedented, enlightened friendship with Spurge, while sharing the sights and sounds of his beloved city. But when Spurge arrives... things An elf ambassador, Brangwain Spurge, is sent to the city of goblins to offer a gift of goodwill, a recently-found ancient artifact, after centuries of war and hostility. His goblin host, Werfel, is looking forward to the experience. He understands they both share a career and passion for history and learning, so he looks forward to bonding and founding an unprecedented, enlightened friendship with Spurge, while sharing the sights and sounds of his beloved city. But when Spurge arrives... things don't go so well. Spurge seems disgusted with every new thing learned about the goblins. Werfel struggles to make him happy, but nothing works. Meanwhile, political forces are rising from both sides. Is it war, or peace, that is on the horizon? A super clever political satire. The awkward conversations between Werfel and Spurge are painfully hilarious to read. Eugene Yelchin's artwork is both spectacularly bizarre, and revealing in how our perception is shaped by prejudice and assumption.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Renata

    All of M.T. Anderson's books are so weird and I love them so much. He's such a funny, incisive author no matter what he's talking about. This book was a real trip. I also loved Eugene Yelchin's illustrations, and the whole conceit is so clever and so well-excecuted. I feel like this has appeal and accessibility for a wide range of ages--the language is pretty simple and straightforward but the story and concepts are complicated. I think it would be great to discuss in a classroom or book club se All of M.T. Anderson's books are so weird and I love them so much. He's such a funny, incisive author no matter what he's talking about. This book was a real trip. I also loved Eugene Yelchin's illustrations, and the whole conceit is so clever and so well-excecuted. I feel like this has appeal and accessibility for a wide range of ages--the language is pretty simple and straightforward but the story and concepts are complicated. I think it would be great to discuss in a classroom or book club setting.

  9. 5 out of 5

    J

    Having read enough of Anderson's books, I should realize by now that whatever I expect is not what is going to happen. I was also a bit dubious about the fact the book was listed as a finalist for the National Book Award in Young People's Literature. At first it was kind of ho-hum, meh, and feels vaguely familiar. And then it started to shift. I've been a fan of Eugene Yelchin's work for years, so this was a no-brainer in terms of me deciding to read it. The illustrated content and the written c Having read enough of Anderson's books, I should realize by now that whatever I expect is not what is going to happen. I was also a bit dubious about the fact the book was listed as a finalist for the National Book Award in Young People's Literature. At first it was kind of ho-hum, meh, and feels vaguely familiar. And then it started to shift. I've been a fan of Eugene Yelchin's work for years, so this was a no-brainer in terms of me deciding to read it. The illustrated content and the written content weren't quite coming together. Until I realized the point and that they were meant to play off each other in a way I shouldn't have expected. This book isn't going to be for everyone. This book is a meditation on perception vs reality and how much we let our preconceived notions guide our decisions. By breaking down our own ideas and attempting to look at the bigger picture, we may get a more real sense of the world and how things really are. Kudos to Anderson and Yelchin for creating a book that seems almost simplistic except is anything but. That finalist sticker is making a lot of sense after having read the book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Angie

    Want another illustrated story recommendation? How about this one? It's dark, it's humorous, and it is a lot of fun to read as you see one person's POV as illustrations and the other's POV written out. Two view points from two sides of an old, ongoing war (elves vs. goblins). Poor Werfel has to put up with so much shit!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Paula Lyle

    This is a silly book about serious topics. Who can you trust when you can't trust the leaders of a country? An interesting question at this particular time. My biggest quibble was that the super secret transmissions were not adequately explained early on and I was not viewing them with enough suspicion at the beginning. Good drawings and lots of fun.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Destinee Sutton

    My favorite part of this book is that a goblin's love language is insults. Honestly, I admired this, but it was not my favorite book of the year. Maybe I guessed the ending/twist too early, but it felt too long. I hope there aren't too many kids who fail to finish the story, because the pay-off at the end is worth it. This is an excellent exploration of prejudice and politics. Annoyingly, my library has put it in our Teen section, but I think it will work best for ages 10-12 (and it's sophistica My favorite part of this book is that a goblin's love language is insults. Honestly, I admired this, but it was not my favorite book of the year. Maybe I guessed the ending/twist too early, but it felt too long. I hope there aren't too many kids who fail to finish the story, because the pay-off at the end is worth it. This is an excellent exploration of prejudice and politics. Annoyingly, my library has put it in our Teen section, but I think it will work best for ages 10-12 (and it's sophisticated enough for adult readers). I also think it will work best if the child reader has the opportunity to discuss it. It's complicated and surprising and definitely begs to be discussed and dissected. I'm not a big fan of LOTR myself, but I got the feeling that this would appeal to Tolkienists. Finally, you can add this to a relatively small number of children's books that don't have child main characters. (THE TWENTY-ONE BALLOONS is another.)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    To all of my friends on Goodreads, "you clammy sweaty pedants" (how Goblins talk to their friends), put aside all your other books and read this immediately! Brilliant and very very funny, this collaboration between Anderson and Yelchin is a joyful challenge to readers everywhere. Can societal perceptions be trusted? Can we even trust the ones we form as eye-witnesses? As academics? As Open-Hearted Deliberately Culturally Sensitive (dare I say Liberal) Observers? And wait - what about those pesky To all of my friends on Goodreads, "you clammy sweaty pedants" (how Goblins talk to their friends), put aside all your other books and read this immediately! Brilliant and very very funny, this collaboration between Anderson and Yelchin is a joyful challenge to readers everywhere. Can societal perceptions be trusted? Can we even trust the ones we form as eye-witnesses? As academics? As Open-Hearted Deliberately Culturally Sensitive (dare I say Liberal) Observers? And wait - what about those pesky Unreliable Narrators? Thought-provoking in the best sort of way for me - a deeply interesting exploration of an fascinating theme wrapped in a gem of story. Part John Cleese, part inverted Tolkien, part Hieronymus Bosch. I needed more stars to award here. I LOVED this - every word, every intricate sketch, and I cannot wait to share it. Don't hesitate to hand it to high schoolers. Savvy middle schoolers will get it but it has an 7-12 grade feel to me.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Shauna Yusko

    I’m just going to let everyone else gush over this one. I’m not the right person for the job.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gianna

    I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Historian elf Brangwain Spurge has a very clear mission: travel to the land of goblins and present their King, a dark and mysterious alien, with a mighty present. Goblin archivist Werfel has his own mission: he is Spurge's host, and he's determined to please his guest and assist him in any way possible. Although things should have been very simple, those two will get in a lot of trouble. Facing hi I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Historian elf Brangwain Spurge has a very clear mission: travel to the land of goblins and present their King, a dark and mysterious alien, with a mighty present. Goblin archivist Werfel has his own mission: he is Spurge's host, and he's determined to please his guest and assist him in any way possible. Although things should have been very simple, those two will get in a lot of trouble. Facing hilarious, strange, and sometimes dangerous situations, the two scholars will struggle to ,like each other- but it's not so easy! Goblins and elves don't really get along; and that is pretty obvious from their countries' state of politics. Wars have already happened between them, and hate is strong between the two races. But maybe the two of them can learn more form each other than they have ever learned from their history books. Could they really be more similar than they are different? A story built expertly around two magical kingdoms, The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge is a witty, hilarious story full of adventure, action and laughter. But aside form the exceptional world building and the lovable characters (yes, you even get to love the grumpy elf historian in the end), what is most important about this book is what the authors have managed addressing: this is a very intelligent satire revolving around politics, racism, and the results of propaganda and intolerance towards other cultures. Did you think that this wouldn't be possible in a children's book? Well, think again, because the authors have managed to fit it all in; in fact they have done so in such a way, that the story never stops being funny or interesting at the same time! Through the difficult and strange relationship an elf and a goblin develop, we manage to see it all - and this makes the book an exceptional read for all children and teenagers. Accompanied by exceptional illustrations, The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge is an intelligent, pleasant read, fit for children and teenagers, as well as for adults. This is an enjoyable story, definitely recommended for everyone.

  16. 5 out of 5

    M. Lauritano

    This is a three star book for me, but I’m giving a bonus star for the experimentation behind it. In short, two historically warring races, elves and goblins, meet by way of a historian from each. Their perceptions are colored by prejudice. Hijinks ensue. The problem for me was that it was all rather predictable. As an adult reader, I could see the meaning and the resolution almost immediately. The pictures are the result of one unreliable elf narrator (worked into the story itself as some kind o This is a three star book for me, but I’m giving a bonus star for the experimentation behind it. In short, two historically warring races, elves and goblins, meet by way of a historian from each. Their perceptions are colored by prejudice. Hijinks ensue. The problem for me was that it was all rather predictable. As an adult reader, I could see the meaning and the resolution almost immediately. The pictures are the result of one unreliable elf narrator (worked into the story itself as some kind of magical telepathic transmissions), and the greater portion of the words come from a far more sympathetic goblin. I think the story would have been more effective if both narrators were equally unreliable, equally likable/unlikeable, creating an ambiguity that required the reader to form their own third point of view. Instead, I found myself hating the elves within the first couple chapters. The book drags a bit until the midpoint, when the plot becomes more personal and therefore increases the stakes. Although it mostly ended as I anticipated, there are still some moving character moments along the way. Some notes on the illustrations: their quality is varied. Some images feel like just the right mix of old engraving and grotesque caricature. But more often than not, they feel awkwardly cobbled together in photoshop, with noticeable differences in resolution quality. Maybe Yelchin didn’t feel like inking the same thing twice at different sizes or, more probably, he didn’t have the time. Just like in Selznick’s illustrated novels, corners have to be cut somewhere, I suppose. Another thought I had after finishing the book was that the more cartoonish style might have been something else that made the elf’s point of view seem less trustworthy. Regardless of all these nitpicks, it cannot be denied that this was a unique reading experience, which hopefully will inspire further works that play with the relationship between text and image.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jeweliana

    The elf was a guest. It was Werfel's duty to protect him. Okay, this is more like 3.5 stars. My feelings on this one are hard to explain. It's not the best book I've read, not ridiculously funny, suspenseful or outlandish. But it is nostalgic. Very reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings and really any fantasy story that involves an epic journey that takes you away. Plot: Werfel and Spurge make an odd couple who set off on an adventure together. Of course, there's lots of hijinks along the way an The elf was a guest. It was Werfel's duty to protect him. Okay, this is more like 3.5 stars. My feelings on this one are hard to explain. It's not the best book I've read, not ridiculously funny, suspenseful or outlandish. But it is nostalgic. Very reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings and really any fantasy story that involves an epic journey that takes you away. Plot: Werfel and Spurge make an odd couple who set off on an adventure together. Of course, there's lots of hijinks along the way and the story follows the predictable plot lines of most epic journeys. The plot could have been a lot more whimsical for how long the story is but it was enough to keep me reading. Characters: Werfel is my favorite! He and Spurge are really the main focus of the story and while I found them to be a bit...strange at first...eventually they both grew on me and by the end I was really invested in them. Writing: It's similar to the language in Lord of the Rings but less convoluted. There's a little bit of humor that might make you chuckle but it wasn't anything spectacular. The illustrations were beautiful though! Having those breaks every few chapters for pictures really helped move the story along. Do I Recommend? I would def recommend for fans of Lord of the Rings! Oddly enough, I wouldn't recommend it for actual children, the intended audience I assume. The book gets off to a slow start and even when it picks up, I still found it somewhat tame and boring. I can't imagine too many kids would be able to sit through this.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jonine Bergen

    This illustrated novel is really great. I love novels that are difficult to put into one box. The elf, Brangwain Spurge, is sent as an emissary to the goblin king with a gift of an old goblin artifact. He is also tasked with sending back visual images of his time with the goblins to be deciphered by the Order of the Clean Hand who will use this intelligence for the continued protection of the elves. In other words, he is a spy. Werfel, a goblin archivist, plays host to Spurge and tries to show him This illustrated novel is really great. I love novels that are difficult to put into one box. The elf, Brangwain Spurge, is sent as an emissary to the goblin king with a gift of an old goblin artifact. He is also tasked with sending back visual images of his time with the goblins to be deciphered by the Order of the Clean Hand who will use this intelligence for the continued protection of the elves. In other words, he is a spy. Werfel, a goblin archivist, plays host to Spurge and tries to show him the marvels of goblin society with the hopes that this will ease tensions between the two countries who have been at war, on and off, for centuries. Unfortunately, what Werfel shows and what Spurge sees are two very different things. The book is full of humour as Spurge continually misunderstands and misinterprets what is happening around him while Werfel tries to keep both of them alive and honor his responsibilities as a host. Spurge's bias colours everything he sees and makes him the perfect unreliable narrator as the reader is shown his visual transmissions sent back to the waiting elves. It is a fascinating look at how history is written or rewritten by the victors or the losers. In the end, the relationship that develops between these two who would have been friends if their countries didn't hate each other, is charming and fun. Great read on so many levels.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Barb Dixon Palmieri

    And they all lived happily ever after...? What a strange and interesting book. Werfel the Archivist is a goblin. Brangwain Spurge, also a historian, is an elf. When Spurge gets sent to the goblin's city by his former childhood bully, he assumes that he is there to spy. He doesn't know what the reader and the elf leaders know, he is actually there to assassinate the goblin leader. Werfel has opened his home to this elf ambassador. He takes pride in being the best host there is. That means also pro And they all lived happily ever after...? What a strange and interesting book. Werfel the Archivist is a goblin. Brangwain Spurge, also a historian, is an elf. When Spurge gets sent to the goblin's city by his former childhood bully, he assumes that he is there to spy. He doesn't know what the reader and the elf leaders know, he is actually there to assassinate the goblin leader. Werfel has opened his home to this elf ambassador. He takes pride in being the best host there is. That means also protecting this elf with his own life. Spurge doesn't seem to appreciate anything Werfel does for him and he quickly makes some powerful enemies. We follow the two through escape after escape. We watch them bumble through unplanned adventures. We also watch their dislike and distrust of each other turn into friendship. The book itself was written in an interesting way. There are 2-4 chapters of text. This usually includes a letter from Ysoret Clives, Earl of Lunesse. This is Spurge's former bully. Then there is a full chapter of nothing but illustrations. The illustrations are very much part of the story. They tell the story. Or do they? The illustrations are incredible. The cover is why I picked the book up in the first place. This is a YA book but I would recommend this for kids 10 and up. There is talk of war and death and there is some fighting but nothing graphic.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Padraig

    What utter joy: wish I was 10 or 8 and could fully feel the fun of a book about gnarly, gross out govlin culture and a fish-out-of-water comedy. This book tells its story through text w shifting points of view, and wordless first person narration through illustration. A shrunken elfin scholar Spurge is catapulted into the enemy goblin kingdom on a diplomatic mission, secretly sending visual pictures, the illustrations of an unreliable narrator, to his wicked home kingdom. Meanwhile he is treated What utter joy: wish I was 10 or 8 and could fully feel the fun of a book about gnarly, gross out govlin culture and a fish-out-of-water comedy. This book tells its story through text w shifting points of view, and wordless first person narration through illustration. A shrunken elfin scholar Spurge is catapulted into the enemy goblin kingdom on a diplomatic mission, secretly sending visual pictures, the illustrations of an unreliable narrator, to his wicked home kingdom. Meanwhile he is treated as a dignitary by his goblin counterpart Werfel, a bearded happy goof with a flying bat/amoeba as a pet. In goblin land insults are compliments, you old toad, food is delightfully gross, and their venerable customs are smile inducingly terrible. A misadventure of epic proportions of course arises. There’s a classic lesson here in countering learned hatred, the lies of victory written by the winners of these warring cultures revealed to be bogus propoganda, and the wiseness of tolerance. Perhaps crates of these books should be airdropped over both sides schools in the Gaza Strip as clearly it’s history of displaced peoples and war was an inspiration of this book’s Russian Jewish illustrator. Hugely enjoyable, the thick red hardback would make an excellent gift, and politically conscious in an entertaining way.

  21. 5 out of 5

    KWinks

    I have read enough M. T. Anderson to know I usually like his style. It's weird, off the wall, and you never know where he is going until it gets there. Feed is a book I read 10 years ago and still think about and Landscape with Invisible Hand was a wild ride. This one, however, gets tedious quickly and I just kept plowing along to see where it was going. I get the concept of the book (I read the interview in the back), sort of. I thought the illustrations were the best part of the story. And I g I have read enough M. T. Anderson to know I usually like his style. It's weird, off the wall, and you never know where he is going until it gets there. Feed is a book I read 10 years ago and still think about and Landscape with Invisible Hand was a wild ride. This one, however, gets tedious quickly and I just kept plowing along to see where it was going. I get the concept of the book (I read the interview in the back), sort of. I thought the illustrations were the best part of the story. And I get why Spurge is such an a-hole (I'm pretty sure he represents all of us and our misconceptions about those who are different from us) but man, oh, man did I want to see him actually get assassinated. And so many unanswered questions! I may have learned that a popular goblin opera is 29 hours long, but who (or what) was the Goblin king? Just.... WHAT? This is going to be a hard sell at the library. I can't think of who to recommend it to right now. Luckily, if such a reader should cross my path, I will be armed with this title. Great opening line.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    I am going to break one of my personal writing rules and start this review with a question: (view spoiler)[What if a book had two stories at war with each other? In The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin, that is exactly what happens, basically! Unlike the usual book where the writing and pictures work together to tell a story, this book "breaks the rules,"putting an illustrative tale and written narrative at odds with one another on many occasion I am going to break one of my personal writing rules and start this review with a question: (view spoiler)[What if a book had two stories at war with each other? In The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin, that is exactly what happens, basically! Unlike the usual book where the writing and pictures work together to tell a story, this book "breaks the rules,"putting an illustrative tale and written narrative at odds with one another on many occasions. (hide spoiler)] Not since Selznick, have I experienced this level of wonder and curiosity while reading. Thought-provoking, funny, and ultimately strange in the best possible ways, The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge is book you can't possibly expect but will not regret experiencing yourself.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Zulfiya

    Really enjoyed this one. This is a trend with me - I usually enjoy children's literature much more than YA. YA is mostly whiney, smarmy, and very annoying, or at least this is what I feel when I read modern YA. With children's literature, it it different. It is sincere, hilarious, honest, engaging, and inventive. This book is not an exception. Plus, it is also an eclectic book with picture narratives vignettes for the most dramatic moments of the book. I liked a lot about this book - its inventi Really enjoyed this one. This is a trend with me - I usually enjoy children's literature much more than YA. YA is mostly whiney, smarmy, and very annoying, or at least this is what I feel when I read modern YA. With children's literature, it it different. It is sincere, hilarious, honest, engaging, and inventive. This book is not an exception. Plus, it is also an eclectic book with picture narratives vignettes for the most dramatic moments of the book. I liked a lot about this book - its inventive structure, its plot, its messages ( oh, yes, there are more than one), its characters, its ingenuity, and its cheery tone despite the life obstacles. I highly recommend this novel even for grown-ups. It provides that much-needed fresh respite when you can still be a grown up but can also be a child.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kifflie

    What a unique collaboration! Anderson and Yelchin have told a fascinating story about an elf/goblin conflict through the use of alternating text and illustrations. Brangwain Spurge and Werfel are both historians who each have their own biases about what has gone on between the two races. Spurge is sent on a mission to the goblin kingdom thinking that he is to spy on them (his transmissions are the illustrations), although the spy agency (the hilariously-named Order of the Clean Hand) has hidden What a unique collaboration! Anderson and Yelchin have told a fascinating story about an elf/goblin conflict through the use of alternating text and illustrations. Brangwain Spurge and Werfel are both historians who each have their own biases about what has gone on between the two races. Spurge is sent on a mission to the goblin kingdom thinking that he is to spy on them (his transmissions are the illustrations), although the spy agency (the hilariously-named Order of the Clean Hand) has hidden their actual plans from him. Werfel (who I actually found to be more sympathetic) is trying to be a good host to Spurge, even though he senses that betrayal is a very likely possibility. Really terrific story about finding truth and establishing trust. I can't recommend it enough. It could be in line for several youth awards this year.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie (aka WW)

    (4.5 stars) M.T. Anderson is one of my kids’ favorite authors, so when I saw this book at the bookstore, I had to have it. A glance at the insides looked like the book would be a lot of fun, and it was. The story, which, very briefly, tells of the adventures of an elf and a goblin, alternates between chapters of prose and pages of graphic artwork. The prose is typical Anderson...the characters are interesting, the humor is sly and there is lots of action. The old-fashioned drawings are gorgeous, (4.5 stars) M.T. Anderson is one of my kids’ favorite authors, so when I saw this book at the bookstore, I had to have it. A glance at the insides looked like the book would be a lot of fun, and it was. The story, which, very briefly, tells of the adventures of an elf and a goblin, alternates between chapters of prose and pages of graphic artwork. The prose is typical Anderson...the characters are interesting, the humor is sly and there is lots of action. The old-fashioned drawings are gorgeous, with lots of detail that really “tell” the story. The graphics have an added dimension that I didn’t catch until I read the author-artist interview at the back of the book. This will have you flipping back through the book like me to give the pages a new look.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Travis

    Two history nerds from warring cultures find themselves at the heart of international politics and intrigue in a story told from alternating points of view (the main narrative, independent viewpoints told by beautiful black and white illustrations, and increasingly more desperate and hilarious missives sent by an elitist spymaster). This is a truly deft look at how differently the conquerors and the conquered view history and how Cold War style governance hurts everyone. Also, it's just really f Two history nerds from warring cultures find themselves at the heart of international politics and intrigue in a story told from alternating points of view (the main narrative, independent viewpoints told by beautiful black and white illustrations, and increasingly more desperate and hilarious missives sent by an elitist spymaster). This is a truly deft look at how differently the conquerors and the conquered view history and how Cold War style governance hurts everyone. Also, it's just really funny and enjoyable.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte

    gripping to the point of almost unputdownable. It's a long book, but with many interspersed sequences of illustrations that carry the story forwards, which make it a faster read. I might have given it a fifth star, except that my heart was too sad for the Goblin Historian, who was the so good intentioned host of the visiting elf historian, Brangwain Spurge. Even though it is a hopeful ending, all his nice life was destroyed and he didn't deserve it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    THIS BOOK IS SO WEIRD AND I MEAN THAT AS A COMPLIMENT. Take the format of Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the comedy of Monty Python and The Princess Bride, and the darkness of Neil Gaiman, throw in a dash of Classical Art Memes and you've got this book. On top of that, its themes of diplomacy, nationalism, and prejudice are HUGELY relevant but subtly played in this lovely book about warring goblin and elf nations. For added fun, imagine Kelsey Grammar as Werfel and Niles Crane as Spurge THIS BOOK IS SO WEIRD AND I MEAN THAT AS A COMPLIMENT. Take the format of Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the comedy of Monty Python and The Princess Bride, and the darkness of Neil Gaiman, throw in a dash of Classical Art Memes and you've got this book. On top of that, its themes of diplomacy, nationalism, and prejudice are HUGELY relevant but subtly played in this lovely book about warring goblin and elf nations. For added fun, imagine Kelsey Grammar as Werfel and Niles Crane as Spurge, it's perfect casting tbh.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Loved it. So hilarious, so different. One of my favorites this year. AMAZING on audio. This is one of those books I never would have read in a million years and only read on obligation, but I LOVED it. A true reading delight. This book is made to be read a loud. I see quick-witted upper elementary school kids loving it. Equally hilarious and touching.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tamsyn

    This is a delightful, hilarious and altogether entertaining story about an elf on a diplomatic mission to the enemy goblin’s kingdom to deliver an ancient and valuable artifact. He is a historian and is hosted by his goblin counterpart. Things do not go as planned. This is the first book done with alternating sections of illustrations and text a la Brian Selznick I have encountered that was not created by Selznick, differing in subject matter and the use of a separate illustrator in Eugene Yelch This is a delightful, hilarious and altogether entertaining story about an elf on a diplomatic mission to the enemy goblin’s kingdom to deliver an ancient and valuable artifact. He is a historian and is hosted by his goblin counterpart. Things do not go as planned. This is the first book done with alternating sections of illustrations and text a la Brian Selznick I have encountered that was not created by Selznick, differing in subject matter and the use of a separate illustrator in Eugene Yelchin. Thanks for all the laughs as well as the good ending, Tobin!

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