Spy thrills meet fantasy rivalries as an elitist elf and a bookish goblin strike up a cross-cultural kerfuffle in Anderson and Yelchin’s collaborative meditation on prejudice.
Scholar Brangwain Spurge of the Realm of Elfland is sent to deliver a historically significant gift to the ruler of the neighboring goblins—and to make some covert observations. Little does he know that his spy mission, related in multipage wordless sequences of black-and-white illustrations, is in fact an assassination. Meanwhile, in an interleaved third-person prose narrative, Werfel, a goblin archivist, is thrilled to meet and host the elf historian, sure that they will find fertile common ground to begin easing the 1,000-year-old tension between their two kingdoms. Dismayed, however, by Spurge’s lack of appreciation and downright snobbishness, Werfel is horrified to find his guest has betrayed his hospitality and caught the attention of the goblin secret police as their two kingdoms head, once again, toward conflict. Occasional letters from Elfland’s spymaster assist the two primary narratives. The book makes no secret about its own position even as it cheerfully asks readers to think critically about ideologies and their agendas and the manufactured barriers of misinformation and misunderstanding. Together, Anderson and Yelchin craft something that feels impossible, a successfully unorthodox epistolary, pictorial, and prose narrative that interrogates the cultural ramifications of unchallenged viewpoints and the government violence they abet even as it recounts the comedic blunderings of a spy mission gone wrong.
Monty Python teams up with Maxwell Smart for a wrestling match with Tolkien—splendid. (Fantasy. 10-16)