Review of The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, by M. T. Anderson, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge

by M. T. Anderson
illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

Candlewick Press, 2018. 530 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 14, 2018, from an advance reader copy
2019 National Book Award Finalist
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 Children’s Fiction – Fantasy

Wow. This book is amazing!

It’s a story about a clash of cultures – elfin and goblin cultures, specifically.

Historian Brangwain Spurge has been sent to the land of the goblins – flying through the air in a barrel – to present to them an ancient artifact found that they believe was made by goblin ancestors.

Werfel the Archivist, goblin historian at the Court of the Mighty Ghohg, has been eagerly preparing for weeks to host the elfin scholar. He worries – are elves allergic to chocolate? Will the hospitality chocolates placed on his pillow be appropriate?

It was Werfel’s job to host the elfin emissary in the city, to take the scholar in as a guest in his own home. It was a huge responsibility. Elves were used to a certain luxury. Goose-down mattresses and stained glass windows. My poor guest will be joggled to bits after slamming into the ground like that, Werfel fretted.

And, goblins had a strong code of hospitality. Once a goblin invited someone across the threshold into their home, it was their duty to serve and protect their guest, no matter what. Hospitality was holy.

Werfel sat up. He had to get to work plumping pillows and stocking the fruit bowl. It was no use trying to sleep, anyway. He was too excited.

Unfortunately, it becomes all too clear that Werfel’s efforts aren’t being appreciated as intended. In fact, periodically we see a series of images. These are what Brangwain Spurge has been magically transporting back to those who sent him. His view doesn’t quite match Werfel’s eager ministrations.

And some things go sadly wrong. Spurge learns of the goblin habit of insulting their close friends and misunderstands when insults are actually intended as a mortal combat challenge. Werfel knows he will have to protect his guest with his life – but that devotion is completely unappreciated.

As one misadventure leads to another, the two come to understand one another better. I love the way the images change as Spurge’s perspective on the goblins changes. But can they survive their new level of understanding?

This book is a lovely look at cross-cultural misunderstanding – but in the goblin-elfin setting no human reading it will be offended. And the story (and the goblin and elfin cultures described) is a whole lot of fun, too.

M. T. Anderson writes clever books, and this one is no exception. It’s told with humor and compassion. I like it that the goblin host ends up being noble and self-sacrificing and kind, whereas the elves who sent Spurge on his mission are not folks you’d want to live among.

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