The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin (Candlewick, September 25, 2018, middle grade/YA), is something of a tour de force.  It is a spy story/revolution/cross-cultural misunderstanding/what is history? fantasy, that keeps readers, and the main characters, on their toes and happy (the readers at least) to be there.

Brangwain Spurge, a scholar in Elfland (aka The Weed to his old classmate, now the Elfland's spymaster) is chosen to deliver a magnificent gift to the goblin king.  He will be the first Elf diplomat to travel to the Goblin realm in centuries; for a thousand years the two lands have been at war, with many atrocities and casualties.   His goblin host is Werfel, an archivist who does his best to offer magnificent hospitality and show off the best of goblin culture.

Things don't go well.  Brangwain Spurge is a horrible guest, and is blinded by his prejudices against the goblins; he sees them as the savage creatures he had in his mind before he met them, totally ignoring the bedside chocolates Werfel has set out with such care (jerk).  And he's more interested in spying then he is in having the historical conversations Werfel had looked forward too with innocent pleasure, which in any event would have been tricky, because goblins and elves have such very different ideas about the "truth" of their past hostilities.

And then Brangwain betrays Werfel's hospitality utterly, and the two become targets of the goblin secret police, and must flee for their lives, and Werfel's lovely, lonely home (his fiancĂ© was a warrior, killed a while back), full of small items of great personal meaning, is destroyed (and my despising-ness of Brangwain, and sadness for Werfel was great).   However, as is so often the case, fleeing for your life is a great way to get things out in the open, and talk more openly, and in this case, come to appreciate prejudice for what it is and start moving past it (good!), and they finally have interesting discussions about history (good!).  However, as is also often the case, fleeing for your life means that people are trying to kill you (bad.).

Final however--this being a fantasy book for young readers, it doesn't end badly, and instead there is hope for cross-cultural reconciliation, and new stories, shared by both kingdoms (very good!).

This is a fine plot, very thought-provoking and emotionally involving (Werfel....so poignant!).  Those who like somewhat whacky espionage stories, and those who like thinking about conflicting histories and those who like goblin archivists with endearing tentacled pets of great loyalty (such as Werfel has)  who do their best, damn it, to give difficult guests a good time (with bedside chocolates), will enjoy it lots.

What lifts it to the tour de force level is the way the story is told.  There are black and white picture sequences, many pictures, that show Brangwain's spy mission point of view.  They are complicated, detailed, and make more sense after you read the book (this could be my own particular problem, since when I'm reading I have trouble stopping for picture looking....).

There is Werfel's third person narration of his point of view.   And there are letters from the elven spymaster to his king, giving us a whole nother story brewing under the main adventure.....and it all works to make a cohesive, gripping whole!

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge is on the National Book Award Young Readers long list, the only fantasy there this year.  It is indeed a book for young readers, but it is not a book for every young reader.  10 and up into YA..., I guess, but if pressed I'd put it more in Middle Grade than YA, because the adventure and intrigue has that pure immersive excitement of MG adventure (or something), and even though it might seem that YA readers would be more likely to appreciate the Weighty Themes, MG readers should not be underestimated....

Kirkus liked the book lots too...

but gee, nothing gets me more than good people trying to do the best they can in all the small things because that's what needs to be done and really trying and it all going to hell and all the personal things that reminded them of their dead beloved being trashed.  Werfel and Brangwain are friends at the end, but still.  The adorable tentacled pet makes it safely to the end too, thank goodness.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


  1. Yup, this one's definitely on my TBR. Looks amazing!

  2. Wow. This book sounds like it has something for everyone. Thanks for your review.


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