Goblin Quest (Jim C Hines, Jig the Goblin #1)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Goblin Quest is a fairly ingenious take on the traditional swords-and-sorcery style dungeon exploring quest.  The protagonist isn’t one of the swarthy adventurers exploring the dungeon, but instead, a puny hapless goblin who is captured along the way and forced to help the adventurers seek their fame and treasure.  This is the first in a series, and I will be interested to see how the author is able to continue his clever premise.  The writing is quite impressive; the author is able to write an entire book in the tight confines of a dungeon and yet it still feels quite unforced.  The characters are multifaceted and interesting.  This is actually one of the best examples of the concept of the “hero’s journey” realized in print that I have seen.  I would definitely recommend Goblin Quest to any fan of fantasy.

Greater Detail:
Jig is a cowardly, scrawny goblin who rests securely at the very bottom of the totem pole of the goblin hierarchy.  His life is one of constant pain, toil, and fear within the goblin den.  When he is bullied into going out and patrolling for adventurers, his misfortunes are compounded when he is captured and forced to work for the cruel adventurers.  Surrounded by enemies, he is forced to use his wits to survive, but he gradually comes to realize that maybe there is something to learn from the strange ways of these dangerous outsiders.

The author really inverts the usual expectations of the the traditional swords-and-sorcery novel.  Jig the goblin just wants to survive and be left alone, for the most part, like any sane being stuck in a similar situation would, whereas the adventurers are violent, vain, cruel, greedy, and uncaring.  You can’t really help but empathize with Jig’s struggles to survive against such adversity, even though he is a cowardly goblin with no actual moral compass.
Although the subject matter is fairly dark, the author is able to keep the tone light, and this is actually one of the more genuinely funny fantasy books I have read.  The protagonist has had such a limited exposure to anything outside of his tiny goblin warren that he serves as a perfect baffled rube to play against all the adventurer’s strange customs and expectations.  Even the environment plays into the humor a bit, as it consists entirely of a giant dungeon that really makes very little sense in terms how such a strange combination of traps and monsters could actually exist in a dynamic world.

I’m not sure if the hero’s journey aspect of the book is intentional, but from what I recall, the author follows the steps pretty much like clockwork.  It is nice to see a protagonist that isn’t fated to be great, or supremely skilled, or really even at the right place at the right time for some grand glorious adventure.  He is instead forced against his will into trying and difficult circumstances, barely manages to survive, and becomes a better person — erm, goblin — for his endeavors.

Comparisons to Other Authors:
This is a really hard book to compare to other fantasy novels, since it is doing its best to invert a lot of the expectations there.  I guess if I had to choose something with a similar tone and goal of being disruptive of swords-and-sorcery expectations I would choose Robert Asprin’s MythAdventures series starting with Another Fine Myth.  This series focuses a bit more on humor and puns but I suspect that fans of this book will probably like MythAdventures as well.

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