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Goblin Quest

by Jim C Hines

(DAW, $6.99, 352 pages, paperback, first published 2004, this edition November 2006, ISBN: 0756404002/978-0756404000.)

Review by Martin Owton

cover scanGoblin Quest is the first novel by American author Jim Hines, whose short fiction has appeared in some good places (Realms of Fantasy for example) over the years.

The story follows Jig, an undersized, near-sighted and cowardly goblin, the clumsy runt of his generation. It is Jig's bad luck to get captured by a band of adventurers at the beginning of the story. The adventurers are exploring the caverns of the goblin realm in search of the Rod of Creation, and reckon that Jig will be a useful guide. This is the first clue that they are not the smartest. The adventurers are led by the young warrior, Prince Barius with his younger brother, Ryslind who is a wizard. The dwarf Darnak, their tutor, is along to provide wise counsel and make a map of the caverns. The elven thief Riana, who is another pressed and reluctant adventurer, completes the group. Their quest is Barius's coming-of-age mission; by returning with the Rod of Creation he hopes to win his father's favour and get one up on his older brothers. Ryslind, of course, plans the same outcome by beating Barius to the Rod. Between them and their prize stand daunting obstacles, fierce enemies, dreadful magic, a dragon and their own incompetence.

This is comic fantasy territory so let's talk about the elephant in the room. Terry Pratchett casts a long shadow: he's practically invented a new genre. But it is still possible to do comic fantasy and not be like Pratchett.

The other thing about comic fantasy that often drags it down is that authors seem to think that all you have to do is set up a 'default setting' quest adventure, and then take the piss -- wrong. You have to have a decent adventure story first then build in the comedy.

Jim Hines scores on both accounts.

The humour, mainly based on Jig's commentary on the quest, is character-driven and nicely done, not laid on with a trowel nor reliant on multiple absurdities. Barius the warrior prince is brave, arrogant and not too bright. Ryslind, the wizard prince, is arrogant, vicious and half-mad. Darnak, the dwarf, is the straight man and Riana, the elven thief, is another straight character and relatively underdeveloped.

The plot rolls along at comfortably brisk pace with plenty of unexpected turns, sufficient backstory is revealed without clogging the forward movement and Jig emerges deservedly triumphant at the end with a new pair of spectacles.

This book did not make me laugh out loud, but it did make me smile a lot.

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