Huzzah! for Middle Grade Fantasy: Goblins by Philip Reeve

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I tend to think that the phrase “delightful romp” is overused. However, I just can’t get it out of my head when considering Goblins, the latest middle grade offering from Philip Reeve.

Skarper is not your typical goblin. Hatched from an eggstone with a hint of magical slowsilver in it, he has always been more thoughtful and industrious than the other goblins. While his fellow younglings busy themselves slinging boulders and insults at each other, Skarper prefers visiting the Bumwipe Heaps. The heaps are comprised of mounds of paper (used for wiping goblin bums, of course) with fascinating squiggles that Skarper discovers tell fascinating stories, once he teaches himself to read them. As smart as Skarper is, he is also dumb enough to publicly disagree with King Knobbler one day, and finds himself “bratapulted” out of Blackspike Tower, narrowly escaping death.

Henwyn is not your typical son-of-a-cheesewright. While his sisters (who do not stand to inherit the family business) keep the cheesery going whenever their father must be absent, Henwyn prefers going to town and seeking out storytellers and traveling shows, which feed his thirst for adventure. Henwyn just knows that he is destined to be  a hero. So when three mysterious members of The Sable Conclave offer him a magic elixir to make his cheese world-famous (with little effort), he gladly gives them his eight gold pieces. The horrifying cheese monster that grows and terrorizes the town of Adherak earns Henwyn banishment.

Our two atypical characters thus become typical outcasts, who have a rough first meeting, but are reunited after a series of separate adventures, end up friends, and wind up on a quest to prevent the Lych Lord from regaining power. Reeve populates the world of Clovenstone with a variety of fascinating characters: cloud princesses, who hurl lightning bolts at Skarper and compliments at Henwyn; twiglings, who threaten everyone but have no real power; Princess Eluned (Ned), a forty-something-year-old who does not need rescuing; Fraddon, a friendly giant who grows down; and a full-cast of gross and querulous goblins and boglins. The book’s tone is lightly humorous, making it perfect for the middle grade set.

As fun and frolicky as Goblins is, there is substance here as well. Upon reaching the Lych Lord’s Great Keep, Henwyn finds that not only does he possess a medallion identifying him as the Lych Lord’s successor (picked up accidentally, of course) but he has the proper bloodline as well. Henwyn, who always felt he was destined for great things, is initially seduced by the thought of ultimate power and starts wielding it for good, or at least not evil. Readers will pick up on the idea that temptation to abuse his power might eventually prove too great, and they will breathe a sigh of relief when Henwyn agrees to abdicate and watches Skarper destroy the Stone Throne from which the power was emanating. Satisfyingly, our cast of characters live happily ever after, and Reeve’s final sentence hints that we might hear more from them in the future (which we will, as Goblins vs. Dwarves hit the shelves in the UK earlier this year).

Note: I read the e-galley from NetGalley. Goblins is due to be published in the U.S. by Scholastic on August 27, 2013. It was previously published in the UK in April 2012.

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