This whole “book recommendations from authors” thing is hitting nothing but home runs for me lately. I’m on the fourth book of the last batch of six I bought and I haven’t wanted to slow down for a second. Today, I’ve got another of the big eastern-midwest crowd of SF authors. Seriously, it seems that everyone I’ve read this year, except Myke Cole, is in the Ohio-Michigan area or on the west coast. The latest author is Jim C. Hines, another Scalzi recommendation. He did a Big Idea post a couple years ago and I’ve mentioned stuff he’s talked about on his blog. So what has this highly recommended author written for my discussion today? Goblin Quest, a hilariously awesome book that turns fantasy genre conventions upside down.
Back of the book action!
Jig the Goblin was the runtiest member of an admittedly puny race. Jig was scrawny, so nearsighted as to be almost blind, and had such a poor self-image that when he chose a god to worship it was one of the forgotten ones – after all, what other sort of god would have him as a worshipper? He also had a cowardly fire-spider for a pet, a creature that was likely to set your hair on fire if it got into a panic.
Made to stand tunnel watch by the goblin bullies who’d been assigned the job, it was just Jig’s luck to be taken captive by a group of adventurers – with the usual compliment of a dwarf warrior, a prince out to prove himself, his mad wizard brother and an elfin thief. Forced to guild this ill-fated party on their search for the Rod of Creation – though Jig had no more idea how to find it than they did – he soon had them stumbling into every peril anyone had ever faced in the fantasy realms. And they hadn’t even found the Necromancer or the Dragon yet.
So right from the start of this enjoyable read, it reminded me of A. Lee Martinez’s Too Many Curses or Mary Gentle’s Grunts. All of these books take the traditional norms of the Tolkien-Gygax Fantasy and move the perspective 180. Jig is the goblin, the bad guy, the cannon fodder. In constantly skirting death, he realizes the whole cannon fodder thing and tries to do better than that. Jig’s world starts out limited to ‘my stick is bigger than your stick.’ He’s never even seen outside his own tangle of tunnels.
When Jig takes this small window of perspective and runs into the Adventure Group, his world view window is smashed open with a vengeance. The adventure and the compliment he’s stuck associating with, are ripped out of a classic Dungeons and Dragons module. I think if I was reading this from the point of view of Darnak, the dwarf, or Barius, the prince, it would easily devolve into the standard fantasy that was played out twenty five years ago. Riana, the thief who was also shanghai’d into the adventure, or Rysland, the slightly bat shit crazy wizard, could make for an interesting read but not nearly so much as Jig.
By writing the novel from the point of view of the outsider, it gives Hines the chance to poke at the tropes we would normally gloss right over as readers. My favorite one of these involves Jig’s epiphiany about why adventures always kick goblin asses. I don’t want to outright ruin it since I did enjoy it so much, but think about every DnD encounter you’ve ever had versus a bunch of goblins. How does it go? Not so well for the little guys. If you can think of why, you’ll have a facepalm duh moment. Hidden in plain view, no one sees the problems or solutions that Jig does because they are too close to the situation.
These outsider moments Jig has made me laugh. Frequently. Humor isn’t an easy thing to do. I wouldn’t try touching it with a ten foot pole, but Hines finds the absurd in the everyday. Well, I’m using the term ‘everyday’ loosely what since we’re all probably a bit nerdy and get what’s going on. The point is that Goblin Quest is like a hybrid of Gary Gygax and Jerry Seinfeld.
The plot points and growth are high points of the book as well. Jig starts out with the mentality of the runty and bullied. He’s picked on and lets it happen even though he’s smarter than the other goblins. He becomes that wily little survivor that’s buried deep within. There’s something ultimately satisfying in watching Jig’s character arc. The plot is hard to talk about because of the genre bending POV going on here. It’s seriously, journey through the cavers, fight the necromancer, slay the dragon and get the magic Maguffin. It sounds old and tired but remember, the whole point of this book is to poke fun at the tired and old.
Don’t take this book at face value because it’s all going to get turned upside down in the best possible way.