Jepp, Who Defied the Stars

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars

Jolting down a frozen dirt road, Jepp wonders how fate took him from his tiny village to a royal palace to this prison on wheels heading north. If the young teen could just find his long-absent father, discover why he was born a dwarf, learn to change his destiny…

His family’s inn sees fewer and fewer travelers, as Spanish Netherlands wars with its rebellious Protestant north in the late 1500s. Elegant Don invites Jepp to become a court dwarf at the Infanta’s palace in Brussels, to own more than one tattered book, to be dressed in silks, to dine on rare delicacies, so the thirteen-year-old leaps at the chance.

But the luxuries come at a high price, for the five court dwarfs are essentially prisoners in their gilded rooms and must perform silly tricks to amuse the princess and her courtiers. Jepp is not happy to be a mere clown, but is even unhappier to see his friend Lia become sadder by the day. Their daring attempt to escape the palace together proves costly, and Jepp is shackled and sent far away from the Infanta’s court and his friends. His horoscope promised much better than this!

In a distant icy land, Jepp finds himself part of an astronomer’s astonishing household, full of amazing mechanical devices, researchers mapping the stars, and a chance to think and learn. Are our fates truly locked in place, as the star-readers claim? Can Jepp change his destiny? Will he ever find his father? Could his horoscope promising “a good marriage to one faithful and true” really come true, or will only the predicted disasters befall him?

Inspired by the real Jepp of Uraniborg and Velasquez’s paintings of court dwarfs, this historical novel pulses with energy and intrigue as our narrator traces his life journeys and indeed tries to defy the odds and live happily into the landmark year 1600.

Recommended by: Katy Manck, Librarian-at-Large (retired academic/corporate/school librarian), Gilmer, Texas, USA – blogging young adult books beyond the bestsellers at


Imagine for a moment that you are standing in an old stone castle somewhere in Europe and that hanging on the wall before you is an enormous tapestry woven painstakingly and elegantly with artistry and expertise. In your mind's eye you admire the careful stitching, the choice of subject, and the brilliant colors and threads that create a masterful work of art. This book holds the magnificence of just such a tapestry.

Katherine Marsh has a rare ability with words. She clearly sees Jepp's world in its entirety and with that vision, she pairs a gift for crafting beautiful language. Listen to this line: "I am but the dream of a dawn moment...." Her rich vocabulary, poetic descriptions, romance, and above all, the searching journey of Jepp, blend to deliver a sophisticated adventure of heart and mind.

This book is written for readers who want to savor a sentence and consider the main character's challenges for themselves. This book is written for readers who cherish storytelling and language.

Fifteen-year old Jepp is bumping along "bone-rattling roads" in a wagon, bathed in bruises and with his hands bound behind him. It is the year 1599 and the place is land claimed by both the Spanish Netherlands and the Protestant North. As the wagon rolls forward, Jepp is looking back at the circumstances that led him to this moment. Is this his fate as determined by the stars or does he hold his future in his own hands as a product of his choices and determination?

Standing three feet and one inch high, Jepp is decreed a dwarf. His life up to now has been spent in an inn just outside Utrecht with his mother. There amidst the tasks demanded to keep the customers satisfied, Jepp learns Latin and Greek. Then, the fates step in, and a Spanish nobleman, known as Don, happens to visit the inn and invites Jepp to the Coudenberg Palace in Brussels where he will serve the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia.

Jepp is delivered to the palace with all of its sumptuousness and intrigue. At first the life is alluring with all of its riches but it quickly shifts for Jepp into the feeling of being caged and trapped in elaborate plots he cannot read. Jepp falls in love with another dwarf named Lia and finds himself running for his life and trying desperately to save hers. But the net of the palace intrigue reaches wide and deep and Jepp is captured and sent north to an entirely new existence in the company of a learned man whose name we'll save for you to discover on your own.

Jepp is searching to discover his identity as the fates toss him about. He seeks the name of his father and he seeks to understand how he will make a place to stand in this world of fully grown men and women who see him as a plaything.

So, there's the basic plotline for you. The journey is also to uncover the power of the fates versus our own ability to control and create our destinies. Now, I'm going to open the lid of this treasure chest and tell you that this is not mere storytelling... not mere entertaining rise and fall and adventure. We are looking at a book that has been crafted. I believe Crispin (Avi) has a friend in the making here. Brilliant.

Ages 12-15   376 pages   9781423135005

Recommended by: Barb

User reviews

1 review
This story is so heartwarming and makes you want to cry at the same time. It is full of twists and turns, and surprises and every corner. It follows the life of Jepp, a dwarf, and shows his struggles and his quest to find out about his past.
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