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Book Review: The Goblin Corps by Ari Marmell

Genre: Sword and Sorcery, Epic Fantasy, Humorous Fantasy
Paperback: 575 pages
Publisher: Pyr
Publication Date: July 26, 2011
ISBN-10: 1616143770
ISBN-13: 978-1616143770
Author Website: Ari Marmell

Goblins are mean, nasty creatures. As a staple race of most epic fantasy, they usually exist for some sort of sword fodder, beings killed to level up the hero. But some authors like to turn the tradition on its head. Jim C. Hines has done that with humor in the Jig the Goblin series, R. A. Salvatore gave orcs more personality with in the Hunter’s Blades Trilogy, and now Ari Marmell mixes the best ideas of these two authors with the grittiness of Joe Abercrombie in The Goblin Corps.

Marmell begins with what is becoming his trademark. He begins at the end, sort of. Morthûl, the undead king of Kirol Syrreth and lord of the “evil” races, has been defeated by a set of heroes led by the half-elf wizard Ananias DuMark. In retaliation, Morthûl has killed Princess Amalia, the only child of the royal family of Shauntille. Determined to avenge the murder of his child, King Dororam gathers the so-called “forces of Light” to invade Kirol Syrreth and wipe it from the face of the Earth. It seems the Charnel King will not be able to succeed against the combined might of many nations, but he has yet another diabolical plan, that includes the help of a set of misfit goblins, the Goblin Corps.

Led by the orc Cræosh and including the thief kobold Gork, the red-suited gremlin Gimmol, the doppelganger Feizell, the dog-headed female troll Katim, the monkey-like bugbear Jhurpess, and the giantess ogre Belrotha, this Demon Squad packs a punch. This motley crew sets out on a series of epic quests where they face yetis, dark elves, and snake people– all the while discovering that there unheard of success is placing them squarely in the middle of political machinations both within Kirrol Syrreth and without.

There truly is never a dull moment in The Goblin Corps. The squad is constantly getting into various scrapes, each different from the last, but epically described in bloody detail for the enjoyment of readers. Our “heroes” are crass, small-minded, selfish, and unlikeable (as one would expect goblins to be) yet the reader cannot help but cheer them on as they face danger after danger with humor and mighty swings of their unique weapons.

Each character is more than a caricature, though some (especially Cræosh, Katim, Gork and Belrotha) are even deeper because they provide the primary character perspectives. The “good” character of Ananias, while seeming to be doing the right thing in killed the lich-king Morthûl, manages to be a slimy, unlikeable, selfish character. Marmell succeeds in turning reader expectations about racial characters completely on their head without denying the very racial characteristics that have defined them since The Lord of Rings was first published. It’s exceptionally clever and wonderfully enjoyable to read.

I haven’t enjoyed a quest fantasy this much since I read David Eddings back in middle school. Marmell has the wit and charm of Eddings’s stories coupled with the grittiness of Joe Abercrombie or Sam Sykes and a narrative style that is completely his own. If you ever wished that Brandon Sanderson or David Eddings could be a tad bitter more realistic in content, or Scott Lynch and Joe Abercrombie a tad bit funnier then you will love the way that Marmell has struck a wonderful balance between the two. I haven’t laughed so hard or been so into a book in many a year. Highly recommended!