Jepp, Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh is a fascinating work of historical fiction.
a boy with dwarfism, has always been secure in his mother's love.
Though he meets a wide variety of travelers who pass through his
mother's tavern, he has always been cherished and protected. That
changes one day in Jepp's fifteenth year, when a stranger named Don
Diego arrives at the tavern. He offers to introduce Jepp to the court of
the Spanish Infanta at Brussels, where there are others like Jepp who
live a life of luxury. Jepp is torn between the comfort of life at the
tavern, and the excitement of life at court, but in the end he decides
to travel to the court. Life there is both good and bad -- the Infanta
has caused a special wing of the palace to be built for the "court
dwarfs," with specially proportioned furniture and fittings. However,
the dwarfs are expected to perform to the Infanta and her court in ways
that are often humiliating -- for instance, Jepp's first appearance
involves jumping out of a pie. Jepp soon makes friends with the other
dwarfs, particularly Lia, a lovely young woman near his own age. But
Jepp is naive in many ways, and life at court is full of intrigue and
danger for those without the power to protect themselves. Jepp will have
many adventures over the course of the story, and will often wonder if
the course of his life is determined by the stars, or whether he can
have a hand in creating his own fate.
I found this story
completely absorbing as I listened to the audiobook over the course of a
long car trip. It's not a fast-paced read, but instead draws the reader
into the richly detailed and carefully researched world of the Spanish
Netherlands, circa 1590. I was favorably impressed with the audio
production, and I'm sure I'd be mispronouncing the main character's name
if I had only read the print version (the "J" is pronounced as "Y,"
English speakers)! Jepp is a faceted and realistic character, very
believable as a teenage boy going from a small, familiar place to a
complicated court in a large city, and he definitely matures over the
course of the book as he faces a variety of experiences and finds his
place in the world. There are all sorts of interesting tidbits about
life in the Renaissance as well. If you enjoy historical fiction, I
highly recommend this book!
(Reviewed from an e-audiobook, borrowed through my library system.)