Friday, April 02, 2010

The Jig Is Up

Goblin Quest is a fun little parody of D&D-style fantasy adventures.  It's a dungeon crawl seen from the perspective of a goblin: the weakest, most disposable obstacle thwarting the adventurers' path. 


This book will probably remind people of Villains By Necessity.  Well, it will remind those few people who have read it.  The scope of Goblin Quest is smaller: the whole universe isn't at stake, just a magical artifact in a single dungeon.  The setup is also a bit different: instead of a whole party of villains, Jig the Goblin is the only really "bad" person in it, although the thief comes close.  Still, both books offer the fun inversion of letting you cheer for the bad guys.

My favorite parts of the book were when Jig started ruminating on the nature of being a goblin.  As he observes the behavior of the heroes in his party, he comes to realize why it might not be a great idea for a tribe to constantly stab itself in the back, bicker over everything, and hurl themselves at opponents with no hope of winning.  Jig is a coward, and cowardice is an adaptive evolutionary advantage for a goblin.  His cowardice allows him to survive where others die, and by surviving he comes to learn more and thrive.

I also got a kick out of how shamelessly the author lifted the feel from D&D.  And why not?  If you're going to do a parody, parodize the most famous franchise there is.  He even gets down to details like the two paths of magic (divine and arcane), the importance of drawing maps, and the hierarchy of monsters. 


Eventually, things invert and the "morality" gets harder to follow.  The heroes are real tools, especially the two leaders of the party, princes Barius the warrior and.. the wizard, whose name I can't remember except that it sounded a little like Rincewind.  They're not just mean to Jig, but they also are violent, greedy, and even willing to lie when it's to their benefit.

The other two characters, a Dwarven warrior/priest and an Elven thief, are much more likeable.  They start out despising Jig as well, but come to appreciate what he does for the party, and sympathize with his bad treatment at the hands of the princes.

A few bits of the story feel contrived - the bracelet in particular - but for the most part I was impressed by how well it worked.  Things kick into high gear once Jig becomes a follower of Shadowstar.  I started to get excited once I realized what was happening; this has the potential to be a game-changer, something that upends the long-established monster hierarchy.


Apparently, there's an entire trilogy of Jig the Goblin stories out there, and after reading this first entry, I'll be interested to try the others.  It isn't high literature, but it is funny and clever, and that's certainly enough for me.

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