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The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge Book Poster Image
Funny, creepy tale of elf and goblin's uneasy friendship.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Offers plentiful lessons about propaganda, echo chambers, prejudice as both elves and goblins gobble up versions of history carefully created by those in power, keeping them in a constant state of fear, suspicion, distraction from actual dangers. Cultural differences complicate matters -- e.g., goblins insult those they love, but non-goblins don't get the fine points of etiquette and mayhem ensues.

Positive Messages

Things may be dire and evil forces may be everywhere, but kindness, patience, a willingness to seek common ground are the beginning of better things. Like many cultures, the goblins have a strong code of hospitality (and a guest seriously tests its limits).

Positive Role Models & Representations

Long-suffering goblin Archivist Werfel is sorely tried by his difficult guest and the fact that a lot of powerful goblins seem to wish death on them both, but he struggles to be kind and hospitable in face of challenges. A pawn in an evil plot, elf emissary Brangwain Spurge starts out as a nervous, self-important little guy in a unitard. But after several breathtaking blunders, he becomes a brave friend and determined (if bumbling) hero.

Violence

Lots of creepy, scary, funny illustrations of monsters, strange creatures, gruesome food and art. A recently ended war between elves and goblins has far-reaching effects, with destroyed towns and monuments to the slain everywhere. A villainous narrator gets a finger gruesomely chopped off every time he delivers bad news to his villainous overlord. Protagonists Spurge and Werfel are in mortal danger thanks to a treacherous plot and face many perils, including bandits, mortal combat, gaping chasms, flying glass, explosions, armies.

Sex
Language

Not really an issue, though one episode finds Brangwain escaping through a privy, with suitably gross illustrations.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Wine, ale, etc., including a creaky champagne fountain, are part of feasts.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, a tour-de-force collaboration between gothic storyteller M.T. Anderson and illustrator Eugene Yelchin, is the tale of an annoying, snooty little elf in a unitard (the title character) who's sent on a perilous peace mission (including quite a few perils he doesn't know about) to the kingdom of the goblins. Also of goblin Archivist Werfel, who gets the unhappy task of looking out for his ungrateful little guest, and a whole lot of treacherous plots in which they're both unwittingly involved. There's a lot of comically creepy violence, including grotesque illustrations and a character who keeps getting fingers chopped off every time the king's upset with him. Central to the story is the fact that in the wake of  catastrophic wars, the elves and the goblins have very different versions of recent events and who did what to whom -- which are being carefully manipulated by those in power to launch new conflicts, murders, and more. There's also quite a bit about cultural differences, and how they can get you into trouble if you're not paying attention.

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What's the story?

THE ASSASSINATION OF BRANGWAIN SPURGE finds the title character, a nervous, disagreeable elf in a unitard, dispatched to the goblin kingdom with a precious gem the elves hope will dissuade the Great Ghohg from attacking them. His goblin host, the Archivist Werfel, has big hopes for cultural exchange and scholarly discussions, but his kind hospitality is sorely challenged as his annoying guest refuses to be pleased by anything, and Werfel's life is on the line if anything goes wrong. Between Spurge's breathtaking social cluelessness and the fact that each side blames the other for past wars, there's a yawning pit of peril on practically every page -- and both the elf and the goblin overlords have evil plots in which our two reluctant heroes are pawns.

Is it any good?

Author M.T. Anderson and illustrator Eugene Yelchin deliver a tour-de-force tale of friendship between a self-important elf and a kindly goblin, imperiled by cultural differences and evil plots. The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge switches up narrative viewpoints as the storytelling veers between text and graphic installments, with plenty of opportunities to observe how different people can see the same events completely differently -- and perhaps figure out ways to develop a shared perspective. Along the way, there's a lot of comical gore, and lots of opportunities to observe how fear distorts your perspective, and how things get weird fast if you misunderstand cultural differences.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories that use both words and pictures to tell their narrative -- sometimes very differently. How do you think The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge would be different if it were only words, or only pictures?

  • Can you think of an example where someone's trying to manipulate or persuade someone else, and spins the facts in a way that might not be entirely truthful? What was the situation? How did it work out?

  • Cultural differences can really mess you up in social situations, like in the story, when the goblins insult each other as a form of endearment and the elf gets it very, very wrong. Have you ever had one of those moments? How did you deal with it?

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