Jepp, Who Defied the Stars
by Katherine Marsh
"You now act as if the stars are everything, as if the accident of birth is the only measure of a man. The stars, your parents, your past -- none of them can tell you who you are. You know who you are by the choices you make and the feelings in your heart."
Jepp grew up the happy son of an innkeeper in the Spanish Netherlands in the 17th century. Jepp is a dwarf, but his mother has always protected him from those who would ridicule or tease him. One day, a man comes from the court of the Infanta in Brussels and whisks him away to a life of luxury as the court dwarf. He and his fellow dwarfs pop out of pies, dance, sing and tell jokes for the ladies and gentlemen, and in return they are kept in style. But when a tragic event reveals the true nature of his gilded cage, Jepp must struggle with himself and the world to find if fate has predetermined his life, or if he has the power to shape his destiny.
This book annoyed me in a way only good books can. I was forced to live inside the perspective of Jepp, whose limited vision made me truly feel his frustration and confusion as to who was friend and who was foe. I was angry with Jepp for not paying attention to the signs that something was clearly wrong at court. When his friend Lia becomes withdrawn, he believes she no longer likes him and selfishly pulls away from her, rather than seeing that she was distress. However, I kept forgetting how young he was, and his naivete and childish navel gazing in the beginning really give him an excellent baseline for his growth in the second half. And grow he does!
The book really kicks off as Jepp is thrust into a new place. After his experiences at the Infanta's court, he is suspicious of everyone to a fault. Jepp slowly begins to take command of his own destiny, and as he starts to get a firmer grip on his own abilities and his self-worth, the story gains traction. After that, I couldn't put it down. Jepp's voice rings clear and heart-felt, and Marsh gives us a strong, smart, determined female character with her own very human flaws for the second half of Jepp's journey. I championed them both to the end.
I did have some difficulty with a few plot points that felt like they were going to become a larger obstacle for Jepp, and never really resolved into anything, but I realize it is because Marsh was telling a different story. The final showdown for Jepp needed to be about the phantoms of his past, not the enemies of the present.
I am sorry to be so vague! Much of the joy in this book comes with discovery, and I don't want to spoil things for you.
Overall it is an excellent read! Thanks to the lovely Miss Megan at Hooray for Books bookstore for recommending it to me!