Jepp (pronounced yep) is a young man, growing up in the safe confines of his mother's inn on the edge of Austraveld, a small town in what is now the Netherlands. In the late 1500s, the Netherlands is a part of the huge Spanish empire. And the Infanta, ruler of that corner of the empire, has a taste for dwarfs. (As my loyal readers know, I always like to provide links to other websites that might be of interest ... if only to me. What I learned in my search for links this time is that the Infanta pretty much had her portrait painted by every painter of the late 16th and early 17th century [one of which is below]. But here's a link to a little bit of information about her.) Jepp has endured the occasional jokes and indignities at his expense at his mother's inn (indignities she always put an immediate halt to), so when a strange man with a long name -- a man Jepp decides to call Don -- entices him with tales of the Infanta's court in Brussels, he agrees to leave his mother and make his way to the Infanta's court at Coudenberg Palace believing he is destined for bigger things.
Uraniborg in Denmark. Jepp will become the dwarf and plaything of an eccentric astronomer, Tycho Brahe. Not only will Jepp continue to jump out of pies and sit at Tycho's feet at the dining table, he will now sleep with Brahe's pet moose.
Kind of a perfect subject for a novel for teens. And there are no surprises in Marsh's story. Still, I liked it. Jepp is a completely sympathetic character and his fate matters. I enjoyed her research (there really was a dwarf named Jepp at Uraniborg, and a moose). There is an old-fashioned quality to Jepp's first person narration that had moments of melodrama, but they didn't detract from what became a story of real pathos and triumph.
The novel is narrated by Paul Michael Garcia, who -- alas -- is not Maxwell Caulfield. I realize it is entirely unfair to ask one narrator to be another, but I found Garcia's reading to be almost too mature in a way. He makes no attempt to portray Jepp's youthfulness, although Jepp's longings and questions are nothing if not that of a young man. I also confess to missing the English accent (not necessarily of Caulfield), as -- in some ways -- it seems a more appropriate choice for a story taking place in 16th century Europe. (Why, you may ask? Nothing but personal preference.)
Interestingly, the author (in some cute little videos on her website) pronounces Jepp with the hard J.
Marsh is the second young adult author to use the quote from Shakespeare I've used as my post title as her novel's epigraph. The other?
[How to choose from the many illustrative possibilities provided by this novel. The portrait of the Infanta with her dwarf was painted by Frans Pourbus the Younger and is owned by the Queen. The image of Uraniborg is from Joan Blaeu's Atlas Major. Both were retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]
Jepp, Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh
Narrated by Paul Michael Garcia
Blackstone Audio, 2012. 11:07