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Book Review: Goblin Tales by Jim C. Hines

Genre: Collection, Comic Fantasy, Humor, Urban Fantasy
Paperback, eBook: 127 pages
Publisher: Self-Published
Publication Date: March 15, 2011
ASIN: B004RVSW3A
Author Website: Jim C. Hines

Goblin Tales, Jim C. Hines’ self-published collection of five previously published stories, is a must have for fans and an excellent introduction to Hines’ humor and style for newcomers.

The first story in the collection is “Goblin Lullaby”. In this tale the goblin runt Jig, hero of Hines’ Goblin series, is an infant kept alive because of a bet between the nurses Grell and Kralk. A battle between yet another band of adventurers and the goblin forces is disturbing the baby goblins and upsetting the ever-determined Grell. So she swaddles Jig and heads aboveground “To shut those fools up.” Upon reaching the surface Grell becomes a hostage for the heroes of the adventuring band and is forced to lead them to a magical treasure. This story is a particularly good example of Hines’ ability to invert reader expectations. Grell, an aged and cantankerous goblin, is the heroine, and she manages to outwit the silly adventurers. Hines’ entertains the reader by playing off our expectations and then twisting them by making racial cannon fodder into the heroine, making a mystical cave’s ability to put living things to sleep a way for goblin’s hunting game, and making the humans into the butt of the joke – all told with a dash of wry humor.

“The Haunting of Jig’s Ear” is a tale of a grown Jig the Goblin (before the fire-spider Smudge enters his life) getting involved with a goblin bully, a ghost sorceress, and a quest for a lost wizard’s wand. Once again, Hines twists heroic fantasy expectations by making the scrawny failure of a goblin into the hero and including a surprising climactic twist. It does make Jig a more hard-bitten, more goblin-like character than I expected, but it is certainly in character for that species. Still, the “wise” human once again gets their comeuppance at the hands of a “stupid” goblin, proving once again that a little guy can make up for in brains what he doesn’t have in brawn.

“Goblin Hunter” (previously published as “Goblin Hero”) is a must read story of course, especially because this gives us the back story for the relationship between Jig the Goblin and Smudge the fire-spider. It’s a hilarious tale of Jig, with the help of Smudge, once again getting the better of an overconfident human. If underdog stories are your cup of tea, than Jig is the character you have been waiting for and this one of the better stories featuring this character.

Veka, the wannabe goblin mage, takes front and center in “School Spirit”. Away at the magic school where she is the only non-human, Veka is lonely and unsuccessful. Rooming with the Mel Lapin, the most popular and accomplished mage in school, doesn’t help either. That is why Veka decides to raise the spirit of the evil magician whose home the mage’s school used to be. There are disastrous – but funny – consequences. Another tale of a failure-turned-winner, but one focused on the friendship between two unlikely helpmeets.

The final story in the collection, “Mightier than the Sword” is an introduction to Hines’ new Libriomancer series of urban fantasies. The tale includes Smudge (whose presence has a clever explanation), but he is now paired up with Isaac Sky, Libriomancer. At a sci-fi convention, Isaac is on the trail of a writer who has become so involved in his work that he is bringing his characters to life in our world. This is exactly what Isaac is charged with preventing. Unable to stop the writer quickly, Isaac is led in a merry chase through the convention hotel. Readers who have ever attended a con will enjoy some of Hines’ in-jokes. Readers will also enjoy the name-dropping, as Sky uses books from famous SF authors to provide the equipment he needs to face down the rogue writer. The best part of the story is the way that Hines uses humor and action to celebrate the reader-book connection. This story is a unique way to write a paean to the power of words. After reading this, I’m really looking forward to the Libriomancer novels.

This is a great collection for readers who like stories of underdogs, trope subversion, or exciting action-adventure. Jim C. Hines is an under celebrated author whose stories are entertaining, witty, and clever. If you haven’t encountered his work before, getting the eBook or print-on-demand version of Goblin Tales is a great and cheap way to dip your toe in the water.