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The Goblin Corps
Ari Marmell
Pyr, 552 pages

The Goblin Corps
Ari Marmell
Ari Marmell was born in 1974 in New York. A year later, his family moved to Houston. He went to college at the University of Houston, beginning in the Psychology program, then changed his major to Creative Writing. Graduating in 1996, he married the next year and, in 2001, moved to Austin in mid-2001 so his wife George could attend graduate school while he continued to work as a freelance writer. His first published novel, Gehenna: The Final Night, a World of Darkness book, appeared on shelves in January of 2004.

Ari Marmell Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Conqueror's Shadow
SF Site Review: Gehenna: The Final Night

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

'"Tell Me, Gork, do you always speak at such oblique angles?"

The Kobold shrugged. "Call it a bad case of non-Euclidean grammar. Now go away so I can report back without being hanged, burned, beheaded, and castrated for treason."'

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The Goblin Corps is a doorstopper of a book which seeks to reverse the bog-standard LOTR-style hero quest by presenting the story from the perspective of the bad guys. As we soon learn, the machinations of Morthul, dreaded Charnel King of the Iron Keep, have failed. Centuries of plotting come to nothing, due to a band of so-called heroes sent by good King Dororam. The price paid for thwarting evil, is the cold blooded murder of Princess Amalia, Dororam's only daughter. As winter falls upon the Brimstone Mountains, a grieving Dororam begins to assemble a mighty army, with the intention of finally destroying the great enemy of humanity. Morthul, however, is aware of the threat, and has a few tricks up his rotting sleeve. Principally, the Goblin Corps of the title, a Demon Squad, consisting of the best of the best, selected from among the hordes of ogres, orcs, kobolds, trolls, and others under his command.

Ari Marmell's big idea, viewing a classic good versus evil conflict from the dark side, is an intriguing one. There is clearly mileage in showing how the world looks through evil eyes. Morthul, the Charnel King, makes a credible, sometimes fascinating Dark Lord, and the scenes in which he appears are highlights. Similarly, the involvement of Queen Anne, Morthul's mad as a box of frogs beloved, is an interesting diversion from the main anti-quest. Less successful are Marmell's central cast.

Presented as an elite hand picked from among the "evil" races, the main players spend much of their time exchanging juvenile insults, and being bland. There is tension aplenty, thrills and spills, side quests, and distinctive characterisation. But, racial characteristics aside, the group are not significantly different to any other crew; the big one, the little one, the grumpy one, the slightly stupid one, and so forth.

In other words, the opportunity the really explore the mindset of an orc or an ogre -- and so reveal the detail of what makes evil tick -- is missed. To be fair, the author is not trying to present a deadly serious work, and humour is the major part of what is on offer. The problem for me was that much of this humour came across as puerile, and the central characters as veneers of what they could have been. Far too often culturally specific references such as tiddlywinks intruded, weakening the necessary illusion of a cohesive, believable world that is not our own. At times the dialogue also grated, mostly where Marmell allowed his cast to become vessels for speech patterns which parsed his own intellect, at the expense of characterisation. One example being the quote used at the top of this review. Call me old fashioned, but no kobold worth his salt should ever be talking about non-Euclidean grammar! Incongruously, while there was much slashing and hacking, the main cast did not do anything especially evil for almost 500 pages.

After which the plot hobbled through a rushed ending which did nothing to relight my fires. The epilogue, however, twisted things around again giving me hope that any sequel has at least the potential to realise the not inconsiderable promise.

In summary, The Goblin Corps is principally intended to raise smiles using the backdrop of a fantasy setting. As such, it will appeal primarily to those looking for a light, fun read, as opposed to something that advances or reinvents the genre.

Copyright © 2012 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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