by Katherine Marsh
Published: October 2012
Publisher: Hyperion Books
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Fate: Is it written in the stars from the moment we are born? Or is it a bendable thing that we can shape with our own hands? Jepp of Astraveld needs to know. He left his countryside home on the empty promise of a stranger, only to become a captive in a luxurious prison: Coudenberg Palace, the royal court of the Spanish Infanta. Nobody warned Jepp that as a court dwarf, daily injustices would become his seemingly unshakable fate. If the humiliations were his alone, perhaps he could endure them; but it breaks Jepp's heart to see his friend Lia suffer. After Jepp and Lia attempt a daring escape from the palace, Jepp is imprisoned again, alone in a cage. Now, spirited across Europe in a kidnapper's carriage, Jepp fears where his unfortunate stars may lead him. But he can't even begin to imagine the brilliant and eccentric new master--a man devoted to uncovering the secrets of the stars--who awaits him. Or the girl who will help him mend his heart and unearth the long-buried secrets of his past.
I should start our snark by saying this is the first time in the year we've been YAcking that everyone voted for the same book. You would think that this would mean we would fall head over heels in love with this one. But, as you will soon find out, that was Not To Be.
Donna: Okay, so perhaps this is indicative of my heart growing deader but am I the only one a little annoyed by Jepp? It's not that it's written poorly or that it isn't engaging but I'm a bit miffed that I keep getting cocked-teased with Lia's story only keep not getting it. It's been shoved off for slow-building backstory for like five chapters now and I'm kind of over it. As far as the writing it's definitely not bad but I rather tire of the one voice type of story-telling where every character takes on the voice of the MC. Meh.
Nicole: I mean, I just hit the beginning of Part II; I wanted to know what was happening, so I understand why it's told the way it's told -- you're dragged along for the ride, and by the time you get to Part II you want to know what happens to Jepp and not just what happened to Lia. So the cocktease was part of the writing style. Not sure if I liked it, but I'll know better when I finish the story.
Melissa: I don't think that Lia's story was really *important*, you know? She's not really important to the overall story, just a bump in the road. It's Jepp's story, and we get things at the same pace as he does. And as pointed out, by about 1/3 of the way through the book, I was invested in Jepp's story, so the lack of backstory on other characters didn't bother me. That said, your observation, Donna, on all the characters sounding the same is a valid one.
Donna: Score. At least I know I'm not going insane. Except right now I'm not all that invested in Jepp. Sure, his story is interesting but I'm not finding myself itching to know what happens at this point.
Nicole: I was never sitting on the edge of my seat for it; I was just curious.
Melissa: I agree, Nicole: It's not an edge-of-your-seat book. But, I did like Jepp enough to see where his story would lead.
Donna: I finished the book (and ahead of my own schedule! Woohoo!). This was one of those books where it was a nice read but ultimately I had other things I wanted to be reading. I didn't not like it enough to stop reading but I read to the end more out of an obligation to finish it than because I actually wanted to. I liked the world Jepp lived in more than Jepp himself and I wasn't a fan of his (and everyone else's) voice. After the moose I figured he had a touch of death and an all around sour outlook on life irrespective of those two specific events. I shouldn't say a sour outlook on life but more of a woe is me, self-pitying tone that I was over with about halfway into it. At times his situation did suck but it ultimately made him the person he became to be and considering the time there were far worse fates than being a pet to a rich person for someone like him. I wasn't a big fan of the lesson-teaching either but I guess that's indicative of these types of books.
Melissa: Agreed, on all points,Donna. I don't know if this makes me prejudice in some way, but I wanted more Tycho Brahe and less of everything else. Also,the thing that bugged me most was his attempt to find his parents. I know, it was probably pretty important in those days (and it gave him the money to marry Magdeline -- or whatever her name was, since I don't really remember), but it felt, well, tacked on.
Donna: That whole chase the parents part just felt really contrived, as did the Jepp falling for Magdalene. His gushing for her, I mean. It seemed one day he was pushing her away and the next he was gaga for her. I wasn't impressed with it despite I like how it did end for them. I prefer far more realistic endings to sappy, happy ones (black heart) but it was nice to see.
Melissa: I felt like, when it came to romance, Jepp was all wishy-washy. "OOOOH, I love Lia!" "OOOOH I'm so heartbroken, I can NEVER love another!" "OOOOOOH, I love Magdalene." Bleh. (I sound like I disliked it. I didn't. I just didn't like the romance.) Nicole: I'm halfway through the book - I JUST got to part two, so I haven't met Magdalene yet - and you guys are making me not like Jepp, who I was fairly apathetic to before.
Laura: This is a tough one...I have a clear hold on what I'm suppose to feel for everyone in Jepp's life except Jepp. I mean, it's the damnedest thing, I feel absolutely nothing for him. You could remove him from the story entirely and tell it exactly the same and it would mean about as much. I'm enjoying the colorful world and unique people but Jepp is so pointless. So far, everything feels largely incomplete and it would be really nice if there was a point to all this.
Laura: I just finished that damn book. IT WAS REALLY BORING.
Melissa: How boring, Laura?
Janice: I do find myself closing the book every 30-50 pages. I may have said "I'm bored" one of those times. :\
Laura: This boring
Melissa: That's pretty boring.
Janice: OK, I have just finished too. Well, I started of relatively interested, when Jepp is like a prince in his mother's domain and he's being whisked to a palace, but once he gets there, the story didn't really seem to have a goal. It ended up overall being a fictional biography, but in the end I had this sort of.. non-reaction to Jepp. Maybe because he's often reacting to what's happening around him and innocently believing he's in love with someone he really doesn't know much about (Lia), and in his own little dream world until reality crashes in. Even after his life goes badly, he's still just floating along. He doesn't make a decision about the direction of his own life until much further along, which picked up the pace for me towards the end of the story, but until that point, I didn't feel strongly one way or the other, and I guess this made reading a bit of a slog.
Janice: As for the romance - it was one-sided in one case. The second was better, but I never felt up-close-and-personal to it even though Jepp was narrating. Everything felt distant and clinical. The author says she uses words that existed prior to 1600, which I think gave the story a formal feel and may have added to this distance that I felt from Jepp and the other characters.
Melissa: I like your point about it being directionless, Janice. It needed a stronger anchor, I think, in the story. Jepp wasn't quite enough as a character. Also: I think you might be right about the formality of it all. Though honestly? I could have done with more Tycho Brahe being crazy. (My favorite character was the moose, I think.)
Holly: I've enjoyed reading everyone's thoughts so far and mulling over my own before adding my two cents. Despite the formal language and the unevenness of the pacing, I found JEPP effortless to read. Props to Katherine Marsh for her ability to write in an antiquated style without sacrificing readability. But then again maybe I read it so quickly because I picked it up during a weekend away from my kids. :) In the end, though I liked Jepp as a character, and the historical underpinnings of dwarf culture and astronomy in the 1600s kept me interested during some of the plot lulls. I agree with almost everything that's already been said. None of the other characters ever jumped off the page, and I prefer the Tycho Brahe half (Loved the moose too, Melissa!) - mostly because of the pointless, painful Lia infatuation in the first half and the stronger direction the story took in romance and theme (fate v. choice) in the second.
Melissa's review at Book Nut
Holly's review at Book Harbringer