Goblin Quest: Light-hearted irony

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsYA fantasy review Jim Hines Goblin QuestGoblin Quest by Jim C. Hines

Joining the ranks of comic fantasy authors like Terry Pratchett, Robert Asprin, Esther Freisner, and Piers Anthony is relative newcomer Jim C. Hines. His dungeon delving novel, Goblin Quest, brings a jovial and ironic spirit to the ranks of fantasy fiction.

Jig, a young, scrawny, and near-sighted goblin is content to work with muck. It keeps him out of the way of the rougher, tougher goblins, all brave warriors willing to die to protect the lair. But through unfortunate happenstance, Jig finds himself the prisoner (although they call him a guide) of a band of adventurers seeking a magic wand said to guarded by a dragon and hidden in the tunnels beneath Jig’s home. Forced to be their guide, Jig uses his intelligence and cleverness to fulfill the mission, even against his own will.

Goblin Quest is a funny novel, but not in a ha-ha sense. Where Terry Pratchett uses word play and satire, Piers Anthony uses ridiculous situations and strange characters, and Robert Asprin mocks tropes to create comic fantasy, Jim Hines has chosen to go another way. His novel is an adventure quest which takes place entirely within one dungeon. It has the feel of a role-playing game or early computer game. In order to create adventure and humor at the same time, Hines blends pessimism and irony.

Generally not the hero of fantasy stories, goblins usually provide sword fodder for the real heroes. Usually stupid and clannish, goblins are a fantasy staple. Nearly every epic adventure has them, but they are usually used by authors to provide a small fight scene, or to add to the hordes arrayed before the true heroes. But that is not the case here. As Goblin Quest progresses we come to find that the real hero is Jig. It is his intelligence, quickness of response, and fortitude that best serve the adventurers through their quest. Neither the prideful fighter, the half-mad wizard, the detail-oriented dwarf, nor the elven thief really make success possible. It is only Jig, the lowly goblin.

While the rest of his clan lives up to the stereotypical goblin, Jig breaks the mold. Yet he cannot believe in his own success. It is here that Hines create the comic element of his fantasy. Jig is a pessimist — he always see the worst in the situation. Pessimism might add a dose of doom and gloom, but Hines weaves it into humor and irony as, at the very same time that Jig looks down on his own abilities, he does what none of the other stronger, supposedly smarter adventurers could.

At times, I felt that Hines was not descriptive enough of the setting. I couldn’t always get my bearings, or always understand how a character had moved from one place to another. This is a difficulty to expect when the author relies on only one point of view. While it has some detrimental effect on the novel as a whole, it does not ruin the story, or break the flow of the narrative significantly.

This novel is best read by those familiar with fantasy stereotypes. Hines’ humor depends on knowing the usual role of goblins in fantasy, and someone unfamiliar with this “dark race” will not get a large part of the irony. However, it can be read as a fun adventure story, a sword and sorcery story like Robert Howard’s Conan or some FORGOTTEN REALMS novels. The writing is good, Jig’s characterization is consistent and compelling, and the back-story is unusual. Best of all, Goblin Quest has a surprise ending that even the most hardened of fantasy readers might react to with shock. I recommend Goblin Quest for those looking for more light-hearted fare.

FanLit thanks John Ottinger III from Grasping for the Wind for contributing this guest review.

Jig the Goblin — (2004-2008)  Young adult. Publisher: Jig is a scrawny little nearsighted goblin — a runt even among his puny species. When Jig’s patrol is ambushed by a group of adventurers, he does what goblins do best: throws down his weapon and surrenders. Thus begins Jig’s quest, as the adventurers force him to serve as their guide through the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the mountain. Led by Prince Barius Wendelson, their goal is an ancient magical artifact, hidden here ages past. As the group moves deeper into the tunnels, Jig finds himself face to face with creatures of goblin legend: ogres, trolls, not to mention the long-dead servants of the dreaded Necromancer, all leading to one final, deadly battle. To survive, Jig will have to find a way to combine heroism with his own goblin ideals. The result is an unpredictable adventure that will leave readers cheering this unlikeliest of heroes and questioning some of the most basic traditions of fantasy quests.

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JOHN OTTINGER III, a guest contributor to FanLit, runs the Science Fiction / Fantasy blog Grasping for the Wind. His reviews, interviews, and articles have appeared in Publisher’s Weekly, The Fix, Sacramento Book Review, Flashing Swords, Stephen Hunt’s SFCrowsnest, Thaumatrope, and at Tor.com.

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