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Goblin War
Jim C. Hines
DAW, 352 pages

Goblin War
Jim C. Hines
Jim C. Hines began writing in the early 90s, while working on a degree in psychology from Michigan State University. His first professional sale was the award-winning "Blade of the Bunny," which took first place in the 1998 Writers of the Future competition and was published in Writers of the Future XV. His first published fantasy novel was Goblin Quest. He lives in mid-Michigan with his wife and children.

Jim C. Hines Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Goblin Hero
SF Site Review: Goblin Quest

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sherwood Smith

It's war between the orcs and the humans!

Only this time, we are on the side of the orcs.

Or . . . are we?

The humans are led by Princess Genevieve, daughter of the King Wendell whose elder sons Jig faced in his first adventure. She captures all the best goblin warriors in order to provide slave labor to protect the town of Avery against the rumored army of Billa the Bloody, an orc leading a massive army of monsters.

Jig, the runty, nearsighted goblin hero of the previous adventures (Goblin Quest and Goblin Hero) is taken along, even though no one, including Jig himself, thinks of him as much of a warrior... except that he's called Jig Dragonslayer because in a previous conflict between Jig and a dragon, it was the goblin who survived. And he did seem to outlive a host of other fierce enemies, from princes to pixies. And oh yes, there's Relka, the goblin girl who loudly proclaims Jig's greatness to anyone who will listen. Especially to enemies. Because she knows that Jig is first with Shadowstar, a god.

So Jig is forced along to help pluck thorny flowers from the walls of the city. Naturally he's miserably allergic. However, Jig has his trusty fire-spider, Smudge, riding in his clothes, and he discovers that his old friend, the dwarf Darnak, is present, advising the princess. Jig is also being telepathically advised by Tymalous Autumnstar, otherwise known as Shadowstar. The problem is, this god has lost most of his power, forgotten most of his past, and can only help Jig with healing powers -- some of the time.

Jig knows that in any war, the goblins are going to be targets to both sides. He figures his only chance of getting home is to capture the princess and force her to let them go. In the course of getting his sometime allies (Braf, his fellow-priest, Relka, who will not compromise as Shadowstar's and Jig's greatest devotee, and Trok, a big, ugly, mean goblin) to help him, Jig discovers bit by bit that Billa the Bloody has a lot more going for her than just monsters. Meanwhile, Shadowstar begins recovering his memory. And King Wendell, who will not listen to his smart, practical daughter, sends his elf-loving son Theodore to clean things up, and then comes himself. With his entire army.

Of course Jig is caught right in the middle.

I think new readers could figure out the backstory and thoroughly enjoy it. In this third book, Jim C. Hines solves the mysteries raised in the previous installments after he does an excellent job of sketching in the main points, but to appreciate some of the inside jokes and references, the reader familiar with all three will get maximum fun. Look out also for slyly dropped-in references to other works, and to common fantasy tropes, for instance, an aggrieved observation about how you just can't take humans prisoner. They just always miraculously escape, either by discovering some tunnel, or some overlooked farm boy will sneak in and spring everybody.

The characterizations are wonderful. Even Billa the Bloody has a personality and strong motivation for what she does -- besides being an enormous orc who loves to fight. Gratz, the anal-retentive barracks lawyer, Quickbottom, the walking tree, Darnak the Dwarf, Princess Ginny, Relka, and the gods are all wonderfully drawn, with believable goals and emotions of their own.

Midway through Goblin War, even though I was laughing out loud at the jokes, it occurred to me that Hines is a phenomenal world builder. It's too easy for some funny fantasy writers to resort to being silly, distorting character, situation, and plot in favor of the joke. Hines never does that. His goblins always behave like goblins. His humans behave like humans. The elves are suitably elvish -- though seen from the goblin point of view, their food is weird, they are cruel without the least compassion against life forms they obviously regard as worthy only of derision. Elves are definitely bad guys with a superiority attitude, despite their long glossy hair, slim forms, and pointy ears.

The humor partly depends on the vivid stinks, foods, and habits that you'd expect from a goblin story, but Hines does not confine himself to gross stuff. A surprising amount of comedy derives from the goblins' way of seeing the world -- their puzzled reactions to others' customs, and the others' reactions to the verities of goblin life. When you add in Shadowstar's point of view, Goblin War becomes unexpectedly complex and the wit can turn quite dry and dark.

Hines is not only inventive, and funny, his people and his world are convincing. That's amazing, when you stop to think about it. He makes you believe in, and care about, these muck-flinging, garbage-devouring, cowardly, yowling blue goblins. That's magic of the most powerful kind.

Copyright © 2008 Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith is a writer by vocation and reader by avocation. Her webpage is at

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