Sunday, November 4, 2012

"Jepp, Who Defied the Stars"

Katherine Marsh is the author of Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, the Edgar-award winning The Night Tourist, and a sequel, The Twilight Prisoner.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Jepp, Who Defied the Stars and reported the following:
Page 69 of Jepp, Who Defied the Stars:
As the weather grew more temperate—the Infanta’s small orchard in bud, the songbirds on the wing back North, Lia and I moved our lessons from her room to the palace grounds. So as to not to attract inquisitive eyes, we met twice a week in the early morning when even the Infanta’s gardeners were not yet at work rooting out toadstools and propping up wayward flowers and trees. Only the creatures of the garden were full of industry—the ants on a march, the robin darting for her worm—and Lia would narrate their labors as we danced, for she was much taken by even the smallest creatures.

Our afternoons were different, though not without pleasures. Freed from our lesson with Pim, we joined the others. When the sun bathed the gardens in dappled light, Maria and Sebastian would picnic beneath the small pear and apple trees. Hendrika encouraged us to join them in this activity—the Infanta enjoyed coming upon us all with her entourage and the servants made sure we had tables and chairs, and straw sun hats for the ladies, that complemented our stature. Robert joined us only when the Infanta was occupied inside the palace, for word was that she did not care for him distorting our tableau.

But it was the mornings that burn brightest now in my memory. I remember one such dawn when Lia and I danced among the pale yellow lilies and stalks of iris, still speckled with dew from their nightly ablutions. The moon was fading in the purple sky and an orb—perhaps Venus—twinkled faintly. Lia’s hands were snug in mine, her breath warm against my cheek. I held her close before she drew away and sighed.

“What troubles you?”

I feared that she did not care for my embrace, and wished in the urgency of youth to know the worst.

“I am thinking of home.”

That she was not thinking of me at all took me by surprise…
Page 69 of Jepp, Who Defied the Stars is wonderfully representative of my new book, a historical novel for young adult and adult readers. The narrator of the story—the “I” of the above passage--is Jepp, a teenager at the end of the 16th century who leaves his small town home to become a court dwarf. The court of the Infanta in the Spanish Netherlands offers Jepp new opportunities, friendships, and even his first possible romance. But there are hints of a dark side: We see an example of this when Jepp describes how Henrika, the keeper of the dwarfs, stages a scene with them for the pleasure of the Infanta. Such scenes are not fiction. Jepp’s story is based on both historical figures (including Jepp himself) and historical accounts that detail the ways in which court dwarfs were treated as possessions and playthings.

Jepp’s larger—and more universal--story is about the journey from innocence to experience. The Jepp narrating the story is older and more cynical but the self he describes on p. 69 is still an innocent, caught up in the promise of his new life and particularly of first love. Although Jepp glimpses hints of conformity and oppression (gardeners who roots out imperfection, the exclusion of Robert, a giant and friend of the dwarfs, from their staged tableau), like most teenagers, he is too lost in his own emotions, too self-centered, to truly see the world around him. This is why it surprises him to discover that Lia, the object of his love, is not even thinking about him. But Jepp is about to learn, in a terrible way, that almost everything he believes in and counts upon is not as it seems. As he struggles against powerful forces to control his own destiny, his story begins to merge with that of the new age of science and self-determination in Renaissance Europe.
For more about the book and author, check out Katherine Marsh's website or follow her on Twitter or on Facebook.

The Page 99 Test: The Night Tourist.

--Marshal Zeringue