The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge

I grabbed this on sight from a bookstore table, attracted by the cover, and paging through the hefty volume I was drawn in by the sinister black-and-white artwork. But it turns out that the writing is good too: spare and witty, telling a story that is grows in meaning despite being so wacky on the surface. It's best to go in cold - you should go pick up a copy before reviews like this one ruin the surprises. And get the print version; I can't imagine the experience of an ebook being as fun as paging through the tasty hardcover, and I'm assuming that the audio version would miss half the meaning of the story contained in the pictures (this is a hybrid sort of novel / graphic novel after all).

Much of what happens in the story reflects the characters' mis-perceptions of each other, but what's especially clever is that the illustrations collude in this conceit. At first you may take the drawings at face-value, but in time you will find yourself comparing what is pictured with what is said. If that sounds heady, it doesn't feel that way, and any kid who sticks with this book will easily get it. The hardcover appears large at over 500 pages, but with the illustrations and the (beautiful) large type, the pages zip by. A kid reading this will soon feel quite accomplished.

I'm not sure how much a kid will pick up on the world-weariness of the authors, which they do not attempt to sugar-coat. For adults it adds to the humor. The tragic ridiculousness of history shows every sign of continuing the end of the book, but the change that matters most in this story is local, in the form of the friendship that stubbornly develops between the elf and the goblin, which in itself is hopeful and affecting. I hope this book makes it into school curriculums, because "The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge" is an object-lesson in cultural relations that's (really) fun without ever being preachy, and because that subject-matter is sorely needed more than ever.

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge
Author: M.T. Anderson
Illustrator: Eugene Yelchin

Note: this was adapted from my original Goodreads review.

Elizabeth Bird wrote a perceptive review of this book that I enjoyed.

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