The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Nov 2018

Member Reviews

Though described in NoveList as "quirky" and "whimsical", this book required determination for me to get through. I was amused initially by the illustrations of the communications Brangwain (a historian elf sent on a diplomatic mission) sends back from his trip to the goblin city of Tenebrion. I found the jabs exchanged between Brangwain and his goblin host, Archivist Werfel, to be amusing, but I just didn't feel as though the plot was moving me forward. I switched back and forth between an egalley and then the audiobook (yes, I took so long that I didn't finish before the publication date!), but never found a good rhythm with the book. Perhaps I'll revisit a physical copy, which might do better holding my attention. 
Overall, I enjoyed the underlying (and very relevant) messaging about how history can be so dependent on the perspective of writers. The plot and pacing simply didn't work for me in the formats I tried.

A galley of this book was provided in exchange for an unbiased review by NetGalley
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I laughed so hard, and so many times through this book. The writing style was witty and engaging, mixed in with sarcasm and an unreliable narrator. Thoroughly enjoyed!
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Unfortunately, I was unable to get into this title. It just wasn't a good fit for me. Thanks so much for the opportunity to read this title. I will not be posting a review online, in order not to skew the ratings.
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This was a fun book that snuck some life lessons in for good measure. It covers prejudice very well, showing how easy it is to be wrong about other people when one only goes by rumor and popular opinion, rather than getting to know one another. We also have some political satire at work, which I enjoyed. The friendship that developed between Spurge and Werfel was delightful to watch, and the growth of the characters, especially Spurge, was well done.. The story is a wee bit slow, and I'm not sure how I felt about the handling of the ruler of the Goblins, a strange creature called Ghohg, who just appeared from who-knows-where about 500 years ago. It's never explained where Ghohg came from, how it got there, why it came, etc, and this is both unsatisfying (because WHY?!?) and satisfying (sometimes things happen that we can't explain, that's life). The illustrations are fabulously odd creepy, and add so much to the story- not only visually, but in the reminder that we can't always trust our or other's perception of events. 4.5 stars.
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The illustrations inside this book really bring the story to life in such a fresh way. It's an excellent and compelling story that offers a lot to any child who gets to read it. I can't stop recommending this one to patrons.
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Given the combination of Anderson and Yelchin, it should come as no surprise that this book is complex and dense. It's clearly a fantasy world with elves and goblins and assorted mythical beasts. It's also a heavily political allegory. We have two nations at war for generations with a long history of invations, slaughter, subjugation, espionage, and misinformation. Both parties are forced to face their biases and the lens through which they view the world. The interplay between the way the narrated passages differs from the visual passages and the two perspectives those sections represent adds to the depth. This is a book that a middle grader could enjoy as a fantasy adventure and then read again as an older teen and get more of the political commentary.
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This was really unique and utterly charming, not to mention gorgeous. The publishers should be proud of the design and binding of this work because it is simply stunning from cover to cover. Anderson and Yelchin have created a marvellous world of goblins and elves, magic and intrigue, and a frankly charming friendship that is one of the best developed relationships I've ever seen in teen literature. I also love the subtlety by which he discusses foreign relations and unreliable narrators without getting too heavy. There is not a single sentence in this book that isn't either necessary to the plot or an important contribution to the humor. Finally, the Brian Selznick style mix of art and words added to the uniqueness and memorability. This one is pretty high on my list for best books of 2018. I don't think I've ever read anything else like it.
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Ahoy there me mateys!  I received this middle grade fantasy eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  So here be me honest musings . . .

the assassination of brangwain spurge (M.T. Anderson & Eugene Yelchin)

Title: the assassination of brangwain spurge

Authors: M.T. Anderson & Eugene Yelchin

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication Date: Available Now! (hardback, audiobook)

ISBN: 978-0763698225

Source: NetGalley

This be a goofy little book about goblin/elf relations as told through the experiences of two scholar-historians.  It sounds odd and it is but it is full of quirky delight.

On one side ye have the elf, Brangwain Spurge.  His nickname in school was "the Weed" but since his school days he became a rather upright fellow.  He has been tasked with taking a goblin artifact back to the goblins in the name of peace.  While Spurge has sworn to uphold his duty to the king, his superiors have ulterior motives that may actually lead Spurge to uphold his oath "to the death."

On the other side ye have the goblin, Werfel.  He has been selected to be Spurge's host and how he carries out those duties reflects on all goblin-kind.  From trying to procure food for the elven palate, to making sure the sheets are just so, to trying to show off the best that the goblin kingdom has to offer, Werfel is determined to do his utmost best.  It is endearing and fabulous to watch Werfel try to impress and comfort his elven counterpart.

Seriously, Werfel is adorable.  All he wants to do is swap stories with Spurge and become friends.  The story is told from his point of view.  The misunderstandings and shenanigans are delightful.  And yet Werfel does his duty, above and beyond really, when things all start to go wrong.

This book does have illustrations which are supposed to show Spurge's point of view but I didn't get to see many of them in me arc copy.  Yet what I did see was whimsical and silly.  Additionally there are excellent letters to the king from his spymaster updating Spurge's progress.  They crack me up.  I need to get me hands on a hardcopy.  Because this book does deserve a second look.

This silly story does prove to have greater heart and purpose.  The message is one of friendship, overcoming cultural misunderstandings, how historical events have more than one viewpoint, and above all trying for peace in an uncertain future.  Werfel captured me heart and even stick-in-the-mud Spurge is viewed fondly in the end.

So lastly . . .

Thank you Candlewick Press!

Side note: Also thank you to matey Millie @ milliebotreads for letting me know about this book's existence.  Arrr!

Goodread's website has this to say about the novel:

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.

To visit the authors' websites go to:

M.T. Anderson – Author

Eugene Yelchin - Author

To buy the novel go to:

the assassination of brangwain spurge - Book

To add to Goodreads go to:

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Full marks for sheer audacity, my friends. This book does all kinds of weird and wonderful things that make for an uncomfortably self-aware AND AMAZING junior fiction read.
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The insecure and frightened elf historian, Brangwain Spurge, introduces his audience to a reading experience not soon to be forgotten..  He is literally thrown over to the enemy goblin kingdom, from where no elf has ever returned alive, in an attempt to make peace.  
Brangwain and his archivist goblin counterpart, Werfel, have not-your-average adventures which will cause many cases of laughing out loud.  
The story that follows is clever and humorous while, simultaneously, providing  a serious social message for all  What's especially creative is the use of illustrations intermingled with print.  The collaboration of Anderson and Yelchin is a treat for readers for all ages.
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THE ASSASSINATION OF BRANGWAIN SPURGE by M. T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin explores the endless battle between elf and goblin kingdoms.

Told through a combination of illustrated sequences, letters, and short narratives, this unusual fantasy novel follows an elfin historian on his quest to survive in goblin territory. Packed with non-stop action, bizarre situations, and cultural misunderstandings, this novel is a unique combination of political satire and fantasy adventure.

Librarians will find readers among young adult readers who enjoy dark fantasy and social commentary. The quirky characters and witty humor will strike a cord with teens who may not understand all the underlying themes, but who will enjoy the outlandish situations. Recommend it for youth who enjoy a balance of witty, thought-provoking themes and goofy fantasy.

Published by Candlewick Press on September 25, 2018. ACR courtesy of the publisher.
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My 11 year-old daughter certainly enjoyed this rather unusual and clever book, and I think it is more for the teens market than for adults.

Beautifully illustrated, and reading on the Kindle isn't ideal as one misses out - would certainly recommend the paper copy to readers.
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I just finished The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge and it was such an awesome adventure. In an attempt to  mend the discord between the Elf and Goblin communities, a plot is devised to return the peace once and for all. Yet, no Goblin, nor Elf could have predicted wild and unexpected events that would unfold. This book promises to engage and entertain readers of all ages with outlandish dialogue and humor. While the writing is exceptional on it's own, the accompanying illustrations are absolutely awe-aspiring. A must read!
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This book is pretty brilliant. And clever and funny. And...depressing. The illustrations and text work really well together-- this book needs both of them.
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Clever fantasy tale combining illustration and traditional text. This is my first time reading the works of M.T. Anderson but, based on this experience, I would gladly try another of his works.
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Although classified as a book for 10-14 year olds, EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS. What a great book about differences and similarities and how we view "the other". It's funny and beautiful and strange and adorable. I haven't had such fun reading a book in a while and there are plenty of lessons to be learned - especially considering the things that are making the news every day. ENJOY!!!
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Plot in a sentence: Brangwain Spurge is an elf historian sent to the goblin kingdom with a gift, little does he know that he is also an assassin and his gift is meant to end the dark lord.


This review is based on an ARC given to me by Candlewick Press. This novel was released on September 25th 2018.

Recommended age: 10 and up

Who will love this book:

    Fans of humorous fantasy.
    Readers who appreciate creative use of images in novels.

What I liked about this book:

    The art is wonderful. This is a book that I will need to own physically to truly appreciate it. It is also fascinating because it is not a true representation of events in the novel but rather Brangwain’s twisted interpretation of them.
    Werfel, Brangwain’s goblin host, is so endearing in his love of goblin culture and his desperate attempts to be hospitable. I do not have his patience.
    The novel elegantly sets out how perspective can affect historical narratives and relationships between different peoples.
    Anderson’s dark and twisted humour was right up my alley.

If you liked this book, read: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik, which has a very different tone but an equally creative use of illustration.
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This book is full of illustrations, which sadly don't come across well on my black and white e-reader, but I enjoyed the story anyway. It's strange and some parts didn't make much sense, at least to me, but I think certain middle-grade readers (and adults!) who like convoluted, sarcastic fantasy will enjoy it.
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I liked the plot's premise, an elf on a diplomatic trip and his host in the Kingdom of the goblins who deal with their prejudices and with being pawns in the affairs of their world.  And I liked the book's style, with parts of the story told in wordless illustrations, parts in letters, and parts in straight narrative.  But I spent much of the book confused, and even when I finished, I still had unanswered questions such as who was Ghohg, the other-worldly king of the goblins.  Not for everyone, this book will appeal to the quirky sensibilities of certain middle school readers.   Review based on an ARC received through NetGalley.
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This is the first M.T Anderson book I've read since his Octavian Nothing series (must-read books) and it's great to see that he's continuing on the trend of writing subversive, challenging stories that ignore the usual conventions of YA, because The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge is a brilliant fantasy tale that tackles everything from cultural prejudice and historical biases to war and monarchical corruption, and all with a dark humour and wit that will 100% appeal to Pratchett fans.

The Elfin Kingdom and the Goblin Kingdom have been at war with each other since pretty much forever. They'd only reached a tentative truce five years ago and the elfin king has decided he would send a little gift to the goblin court as a gesture of goodwill. So historian Brangwain Spurge gets selected to deliver this token of diplomacy to the goblin ruler and report back on what he sees of the goblin city. And just so happens that Spurge's goblin guide, Werfel, is a historian himself--what fun!

We alternate from Werfel's POV, which is all in written form, to Braingwain's POV, shown as a series of illustrations which are "Top Secret Transmissions" that he magically creates and sends off to the Elfin kingdom as day-to-day reports. That's good and all except Spurge's view is hilariously, horrifyingly different from that of Werfel. His versions of the goblins look like they should belong in a horror house-- grotesque and barbaric with the occasional entrails and beheaded heads adorning the background. Glorious nightmare-fuel stuff. Werfel on the other hand shows the goblins as eclectic, but charming and mostly well-meaning. It's unreliable narration at its most fun and Yelchin does a wonderful job bringing the horrors to life.

There's also some really nice, subtle character development that I didn't expect in a story as parable-y as this one. Werfel goes from an eager-to-please, overly gracious host to being utterly frustrated and done with Spurge insulting his culture and making trouble. Seeing their rather one-sided relationship develop into one of mutual appreciation and friendship is an incredibly satisfying experience.

What I most loved about the book, though? All the myriad of topics it manages to address. I love YA/children's authors who don't talk down to their readers and Anderson's motto when it comes to writing seems to be, "kids are scary smart and they understand more of this world than adults give them credit for." And with this book he tackles subjects that we don't even see in many adult fantasy--things like post-colonialism and the construction and control of public belief via secret police.

At its core, though, the story is about history and how we interpret them. Werfel and Spurge both have different ideas on how the elf/goblin war went down. The former believes the elves were the warmongers, driving the goblins out of their homeland forests, and Spurge believes the goblins were the massacrers and the elfin government the arbiter of peace. This leads to hilarious debates and frustrations on both sides, and through these little exchanges Anderson makes a point of how countries tweak, shift, and erase history to fit the narrative they want to sell to their citizens. It's quite wonderfully done.

The story also examines the way we view other cultures--of how easy it is for prejudice to seep into our minds. At first glance an aspect of another culture's can be discomforting and strange. So do you cling to this shallow impression you have of them like a safety blanket, or do you try to step out of your comfort zone and get to know them better? Seek out their stories and traditions? Bridge the gap? I love stories that try to combat "otherness" and fear of otherness, and this does exactly that. And the best part is that it never gets boring or preachy.

From start to finish The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge blends wit, action, and dark humour to create a story that's not only full of depth but also a lot of fun. It's one I highly recommend to all readers, young or old.
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