Goblin Quest

This hilarious little fantasy misadventure by Jim C. Hines focuses on Jig, a near-sighted goblin runt who has only survived as long as he has by being smarter than the other goblins. When he is captured by adventurers and forced to lead them into the deep tunnels of his mountain, though, he figures his time is up.

Jig is a very reluctant hero, and because he’s so powerless most of the time he’s a lot of fun. He’s an interesting character, because had the author given him more power he would not be someone most people would want to read about (he’s quite happy to engage in some casual cannibalism or kill just about anyone if he thinks he can get away with it; these are healthy and normal attitudes given the goblin culture Hines describes, but still not terribly savory). However, he is forced to manage on his wits alone most of the time and is usually about one step away from a messy death.

Another reason I enjoyed Goblin Quest so much was because the whole book is pretty much satirizing Tolkien. It’s not often that someone is able to take Tolkien-style stereotypical elves, humans, dwarves, and goblins and turn them into something that’s this enjoyable while still sticking maintaining respect for the things that make the source material great (like the journey of the reluctant, underpowered hero).

Goblin Quest is kind of hard for me to categorize; it’s certainly a fun read for adults, and likely would be automatically classified as YA if the characters were a little younger. Depending on the kid, it would be readable for children, as well, although I would be a little more hesitant there since the level of violence can get pretty high (and as I mentioned, violence and killing is *very* casual for just about all characters involved). Probably one of those books you would want to read and then hand on to your younger ones at your own discretion.

Plot summary

The plot summary contains spoilers! Show it anyway.

Jig the goblin is content (if not happy) in his role as runt of the goblin lair, when a bully forces him to accompany some other goblins on patrol. While scouting ahead for them, Jig stumbles across a group of adventurers, and after kicking one in the vitals he runs off looking for his goblin friends. Who charge into battle and promptly get slaughtered, leaving Jig once more captured by the humans. Fortunately, the adventurers are not terribly observant about which goblin is which, and Jig talks his way out of being killed, instead getting recruited to lead them deeper into the caves.

The party of adventurers consists of four people: Barius, a prince who cares deeply about honor and not so deeply about anyone other than himself; Ryslind, another prince and younger brother to Barius who is also a wizard; Darnak, a dwarf who has sworn to take care of the two impetuous princes; and Riana, an elf petty thief captured by the others and forced to accompany them much like Jig. They are searching for the mythical Rod of Creation, a powerful magical artifact that Barius wants in order to make his father notice him (he has a lot of elder brothers who take his parents’ attention away from him). Jig’s only companion is his fire-spider Smudge, who gets extremely hot and flammable when he feels threatened.

They quickly run into trouble in the form of a hobgoblin trap, which dumps them into a pit with two giant carrion worms. Fortunately, they are able to subdue the worms, and continue on to the lake where they fight through poisonous spined lizard-fish, walk out to the whirlpool in the center on a bridge of magical ice (care of Ryslind), and jump into the whirlpool.

The whirlpool transports them into the realm of the Necromancer, a feared servant of the great dragon Straum who is said to guard the Rod of Creation. As they traverse through the hidden passageways, they have to fight their way through undead, and Riana loses a finger to a poisoned needle that flicks out of a lock she tries to pick. Jig cuts the finger off rather than let her be slaughtered by Barius (goblins have very good hearing, so he tends to overhear the others often). This makes Riana less than pleased with him, but such is life. In the warrens while leaving the undead to the others to fight, Jig finds a bracelet that he wraps around his ankle inside his boots.

While in the tunnels, Jig convinces Darnak to tell him about the gods because he wants to learn magic (Darnak has been healing the party consistently) but doesn’t want to risk the insanity that goes with wizard magic. In passing Darnak mentions the Forgotten Gods, including Tymalous Shadowstar. Jig figures that a forgotten god with no followers is more likely to listen to a goblin, and starts praying to Shadowstar.

They finally arrive at the end of the passageway, and they are right back where they started. Jig figures out that the Necromancer is playing with them, and must be hidden behind one of the panels in the room like those they saw the undead emerging from in the tunnels. The Necromancer reveals himself, and it turns out he is a tiny blue pixie.

Jig manages to kill the Necromancer (it turns out that his bracelet repels magic) and destroy his creations by passing the Necromancer’s wand through the bracelet (which unfortunately destroys both).

The stress of all the magic he has been forced to perform has driven Ryslind insane, unfortunately, and it becomes apparent that he is being controlled by parties unknown. The company finds a way forward underneath the Necromancer’s throne, but Ryslind runs off on his own.

The area they find themselves in is under an illusion to look like the out of doors, and the company explores for a bit (finding, among other things, some very dead ogres). Barius and Ryslind have a minor confrontation, and Jig makes up with Riana when he tells her that Barius wanted to kill her which was why he took off her finger. In revenge, she cuts off Barius’ finger when he is put into an enchanted sleep by Ryslind.

They finally find their way to the lair of the dragon Straum, but before they can go through the dragon’s hoard, Straum himself arrives and one of Straum’s “children” (magical constructs that look like dragons) traps them inside with him. Straum casually kills his child as an example of what will happen to the rest of them if they try to flee (and also because he says he can read his children’s minds and that one was planning to kill him and take his place).

It is revealed that Straum is a prisoner of the rod, and does not actually have it. Additionally, Ryslind is being possessed by Straum. When he was searching for power, his mind ran up against Straum’s, who offered to give him access to power in exchange for him bringing people down to Straum to find the rod and free him.

Left with little choice, the party heads back upwards to look for the Rod of Creation. Jig realizes that based on the description, the rod is being used by the feared goblin chef Golaka as her soup spoon, and with Riana’s help he is able to steal it. Unfortunately, immediately after he escapes from Golaka and the rest of the goblins, Barius takes the rod from him.

Back they go to Straum, planning to use the rod to kill him, and escorted by another of his children (a female this time).

Unfortunately, Jig gets mortally wounded and discovers that Shadowstar is listening to his prayers after all. He is sent back to his body to heal himself while the others distract Straum.

Barius’ attempt to kill Straum fails, but before Straum or Ryslind is able to kill him Jig throws a spear at Straum which lodges in his eye lid when he blinks at an inopportune time. Straum’s child, when instructed to pull the spear out, instead thrusts it through Straum’s eye in an unplanned action, killing him, because the child he had killed previously was her mate.

The party claims the rod and emerges into the upper tunnels triumphant. Unfortunately, they also decide to kill Jig and send Riana to prison in thanks for their help. Jig is able to get his hands on the Rod of Creation, and instead transforms Ryslind and Barius into fish (who immediately suffocate), Darnak into a talking bird, and (at her own request) Riana into a creature like the dragon children so that she no longer has to be afraid of them.

He then takes the fish corpses of the two brothers as a bribe to get Golaka to forgive him, and returns to the goblin lair with the Rod of Creation.