For almost as long as monarchs have held court, dwarfs have found a foothold – however humble – amongst their courtiers. More often for the amusement or the curiosity of their host royals, the role of a court dwarf was like to be as ignominious a position as it was privileged. It is into the world of this overlooked margin of court society that author Katherine Marsh first thrusts her appealing protagonist, Jepp, Who Defied the Stars.
Born to a loving mother and cosseted by the tiny close-knit community of Astraveld, Jepp has enjoyed a sheltered childhood. As the son of the village’s only innkeeper, Jepp has become accustomed to meeting strangers and hearing curious tales of faraway lands. Over time too, he has become accustomed to being considered a bit of a curiosity himself, at least to the inn’s less frequent visitors. One night in his fourteenth year, Jepp’s quiet and comfortable life comes to an abrupt crossroads with the arrival of a well-dressed stranger. The courtier, known to the reader as Don, offers Jepp what appears to be the opportunity of a lifetime – a position as a court dwarf at Coudenberg Palace, the lush seat of the Spanish Infanta. Jepp’s decision to follow his stars to court will forever alter his destiny, for good and ill.
Out of the sparse strands of the historical Jepp and those like him, Marsh weaves a startlingly graceful and poignant tale. Readers will come to care for this vulnerable yet strong, sensitive yet brave boy as he leaves his sheltered childhood behind to follow and mold his destiny. At turns heart-wrenching and gentle, suspenseful and reflective, Jepp’s story is one that will resonate with teens and adults alike.