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Book Review: Goblin Quest by Jim C. Hines

Genre: Comic Fantasy
ISBN: 0756404002
ISBN-13: 9780756404000
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 352pp
Publisher: DAW
Pub. Date: November 2006

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 dies 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 and takes place entirely within one dungeon. It has the feel of a role-playing game or early computer game. In order to both create an adventure story and create humor at the same time, Hines has blended together a does of pessimism and irony.

Take for instance Jig, the main character through whose near-sighted eyes the entire story is told. Jig is a goblin. 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 the story of 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. Now, in other situations, that pessimism might add a dose of doom and gloom, but Hines weaves it into humor. 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. This provides humor. It also provides irony, as Jig compares himself often to the other fighters, and then often one ups them.

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 on 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 the fantasy stereotypes. Hines� humor is dependent 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 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 within the fantasy genre.

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