~by Jim C. Hines
For me, Jim C. Hines is, more or less, a local author. He frequently participates in the Kerrytown BookFest's SF panel, which is were I first learned about him and his books. (Hines is a really great guy, by the way.) While I started following his blog, I never quite got around to reading any of his books--I just wasn't that interested in goblins, and so they never managed to make it to the top of my reading pile. At least until Hines was in the area again for an author signing, celebrating the release of The Stepsister Scheme (the fist book in his "princess" series). I figured if I was going to show up, I should have at least read something, so I grabbed Goblin Quest for the bus ride over to the bookstore. It's really a pity that I hadn't picked it up sooner; the book was tremendous fun and I loved it.
Even for a goblin, Jig is rather weak and puny--not to mention that he's also nearsighted and his pet fire-spider, Smudge, has a tendency to set him aflame. So, it's a little surprising when instead of killing him outright, a band of adventurers (complete with fighter, wizard, cleric, and thief) instead take him hostage and demand he guide them on their quest to find the Rod of Creation--after which they'll kill him. Figuring its better to die later rather than sooner, Jig reluctantly assists the group. He just hopes that they don't realize he has no idea what he's doing. Not that he has any hopes of surviving the dangers they will encounter on the quest--he's only a goblin, after all.
The story itself is a fairly typical dungeon crawl. The humor is rather subtle and its appreciation mostly depends on the reader's familiarity with standard fantasy fare (bonus points given to those with knowledge and/or experience with dungeon-delving roleplaying games). Hines takes and uses the stereotypes in all seriousness and in the process shows how absolutely ridiculous they can be. The book is really quite funny. (A side note: snorting on a bus will earn looks from fellow passengers.) Jig is a fantastic character; telling the story from his perspective is brilliant and is what makes the whole thing work as well as it does. I'm not sure I entirely buy some of the ultimate fates of the other characters, but the ending as a whole is good and ties everything up nicely. I'm interested to see where Hines goes from here since I imagine the conceit would be difficult to maintain without resorting to a fair amount of repetition. But, I heartily look forward to the rest of the Goblin books.
Having previously read the first chapter through Hines' website, I enjoyed Goblin Quest much more than I had expected. It took me a couple of chapters to really get into, but then I was hooked. In fact, a book hasn't made me so incredibly happy to read in quite some time. I found it to be vaguely reminiscent of Terry Prachett's Discworld books (granted, it has been a while since I've read any), especially in terms of the authors' use of established fantasy tropes with fun twists and senses of humor. I will definitely be adding the next two books, Goblin Hero and Goblin War, to my collection. In the meantime, I suppose The Stepsister Scheme will have to tide me over.