Friday, June 11, 2010
Author: Jim C. Hines
Goblin Quest came to me as a recommendation from someone on an e-mail group. I don't often read the fantasy genre because it seems that the standard tropes are hard to break away from so it tends to feel like the same old derivative story. But this one is different. Yes, it is just another story of a character journey; one person's transformation from unimportant peon to dramatic hero.
But in this case, that character is a goblin. Jig is the nearsighted, runt of his tribe who gets no respect from his fellow goblins. One day he gets captured by a band of adventurers who are exploring the tunnels where his tribe lives, and then gets no respect from humans, dwarves and elves too.
Jig is somehow different from his fellow goblins. For one thing, he's observant. He pays attention to other people and understands their motivations. When he falls in with the adventurers, it would never occur to Jig, but we quickly see that he's probably the smartest member of the group. The group is led be a human prince who's ethics aren't very different from the typical goblin. The prince's brother, the party wizard, is half-crazed by his own power. The party's dwarven cleric is steadfast and uptight about his map-making. The party is rounded out with an elven thief who, like Jig, has been pressed into service by the prince.
At first Jig is awed by the level of fighting skill displayed by the adventurers and how they work as a team in combat. Of course, combat is about the only way they function as a team. We get to see the inter-party dynamics of a typical group of "heroes" who are on a major quest to recover an eons-lost magic item of wondrous power. And this group has issues.
The setting of the story is as interesting as the characters. It's a dungeon crawl of the most traditional sense. The dangers grow stronger as the party delves deeper, until they finally reach the monster at the end of the book. Then a hero is born as Jig rises to the challenge of becoming an adventurer in his own right.
Without getting into specifics of the story, in Goblin Quest, Hines turns the fantasy genre upside down. Here, adventuring groups are a dime a dozen, always wandering into the goblin tunnels and causing trouble. The goblins don't mind so much because it gives them something to do and makes for fresh meat in the communal stew pot. Through Jig's eyes, Hines explains why goblins are always nothing more than fodder for the standard adventuring group's sword practice. It's all due to goblin culture and attitude.
Goblin Quest was a lot of fun to read. The story is interesting, and the characters and setting are fresh takes on the standard fare. Even the evil necromancer gets a juicy twist. Hines' writing style is easy to read and he delivers lots of story details without using tons of exposition. The information flows from Jig's observations and interactions of the characters. Hines masterfully lets the characters' actions speak for themselves to tell us about their personalities and at no point does he have to tell us what kind of person a character is. I look forward to the other two books in the series.