Goblin quest

Goblin quest / Jim C. Hines

Goblin quest is a Pratchett-esque fantasy satire by Jim C. Hines. I discovered Hines when I randomly grabbed Libriomancer off the shelf one day, only to discover that there wasn’t much else by him that was available through ILL. Goblin quest was pretty much the only other book held by the consortium.

Brief plot summary

Jig is a nearsighted goblin at the bottom of the local hierarchy. Struggling to avoid the constant bullying he receives, Jig is captured by a party of adventurers looking for the legendary treasure hidden beneath the caves where Jig’s people live. Forced to act as their guide, Jig encounters just about every classic fantasy monster, trap, and archetype.

So how is it?

It’s pretty good. As far as satires go, it’s a pretty toothless one, but the story is clever enough and throws out enough references to the standard genre tropes that there’s plenty there for fans to enjoy. It’s more a parody of Dungeons and Dragons or fantasy video games than it is fantasy fiction, so without that context (or a background in D&D-inspired novels) even a fantasy afficionado isn’t going to appreciate most of the satire. It is well done, an affectionate poke at the black-and-white heroes vs. monsters dungeon-delving mentality. It stands in direct contrast with something like the Half-Orcs series, which plays the tropes straight.

Like the “curse broken by true love’s kiss” trope, the “adventurers searching a dungeon/cavern/ancient ruin for treasure” story is such a cliché that it’s virtually impossible to play it straight at this point, as the audience will probably read it as either naive or satirical.* There’s a sequence in the Malazan book of the fallen series where one of the characters (who began the series as a naive, self-consciously “heroic” character and had gradually moved from there to “reluctant assassin” and then to “completely disillusioned”) narrates a “realistic” take on the cave exploration, complete with the ecological devastation wrought by the “hero”‘s unwitting introduction of diseases to which the cavern’s natives have no defenses. Goblin quest is in its own way a more lighthearted version of this conversation, deconstructing the journey by portraying it through the point of view of the “monsters”. For readers who find that kind of thing entertaining, Goblin quest is a great book. Others aren’t likely to enjoy it very much as it’s pretty thin outside of the satire.

It’s a book (and now a series, although this is the only one I’ve read) that gets compared to Pratchett fairly frequently. I see the comparison, as they’re both fantasy satires that present a more, for lack of a better term, working class interpretation of the genre, but they’re not so close together that I’d say they belong together.

The satire of the Discworld novels isn’t limited to the fantasy genre. Yes, Pratchett does skewer most of the popular fantasy tropes, but many of his works are more about satirizing “real-world” institutions that merely use the fantasy setting (see: The truth, etc.). At the risk of repeating myself over and over again and saying the same thing too many times, reiterating my points while only slightly varying the verbage, Goblin quest is more tightly focused, relying on the reader’s knowledge of the stereotypical conventions of Dungeons & Dragons and its spinoffs.

Pratchett’s work is also very, very British. Hines’s work is not. Not that there’s anything wrong with it one way or the other, it’s just a distinguishing feature.

*At least in a book or movie. Video games seem to still be able to get away with it as it’s an easy design choice.

Recommendation

It’s good for RPG players looking for something less bombastically self important than most of the D&D-inspired novels. It’s fun for people with even a passing knowledge of the conventions of tabletop RPGs and the video games derived from them, but outside of that audience nobody else is really going to appreciate it.

I don’t really have many cross recommendations here. The best cross recommendation is video games and tabletop RPGs, so there’s that.
The stepsister scheme / Jim C. Hines – Same author, different, more widely accessible series
Guards! Guards! / Terry Pratchett

Goblin quest is a fairly easy read. It might be a good transitional book for developing readers. An indication would be …
The dragonslayers / Bruce Coville – a fantasy satire for younger or struggling readers.

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