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A Good Read by Elizabeth Hawksley

January 21, 2013

I hadn’t realized that there are so many new publishers out there. In the few months since I’ve taken over the UK Children’s Editorship for the Historical Novel Society Review, several new publishers have been in touch, asking if I’d be interested in reviewing their books. One of them was Hot Key Books.

They publish books for younger readers, 9-19 year olds, and pride themselves on publishing ‘something a little different, a little bit special’. This sounded interesting and I got in touch. A few days later, four books arrived, one of which was Katherine Marsh’s Jepp, who defied the Stars.

It is a most unusual story, set in the 1570s and based on fact. The book opens: Being a court dwarf is no easy task. I know because I failed at it. Fifteen-year-old Jepp, a dwarf, is taken from his village home to Brussels, then in the Spanish Netherlands, to the court of the Infanta Isabella. He is an intelligent boy with an interest in astronomy; surely he will be able to learn about astronomy there? But all the Infanta wants is a dwarf jester to amuse the court by his antics – like leaping out of a pie. Nobody notices his intelligence – he’s just a dwarf, nothing more.

He rebels and, as punishment, is sent to Uraniborg, the castle-cum-laboratory home of astronomer Tycho Brahe. Even here he is viewed as a mere servant. Can he convince Tycho that he has intelligence and something valuable to offer?

I loved the unusual hero and setting. Jepp (a real life character) isn’t just a 16th century dwarf, living at a time when most courts in Europe had dwarfs to entertain them, he is also Everyman. He has dreams he wants to follow; a girl he loves – but could she love him back? – and intelligence he longs to use. He wants, as we all do, to be master of his own fate but he constantly finds that people can’t see beyond his diminutive size.

Jepp, who defied the Stars, is not only an intelligent and thought-provoking book, it’s also refreshingly different and a terrific read.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Alison Allen-Gray permalink
    January 22, 2013 9:49 am

    This review, like all good reviews, sparks my curiosity. I really feel I can see Jepp, whether he be leaping out of a pie or imprisoned in a castle-cum-laboratory. What’s the age group? I have a couple of keep readers in mind! It’s also great to hear about an exciting new publisher!
    Alison

  2. January 22, 2013 10:35 am

    Very interesting review. I haven’t heard of this publisher and will definitely look them out. Its always refreshing to come across a story that does not stick to tried and trusted story lines but takes the reader to really new worlds.

  3. Elizabeth Hawksley permalink
    January 22, 2013 5:50 pm

    Jepp is 15 when the story opens, so I think the book would appeal to children of 12 plus. Hot Key Books have have a helpful roundel on the back page labelled What’s In It? For this book, they say:: Historical, Romance, Science

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