Kingfisher wants to turn idea of goblins and elves on its head. Perhaps this is a side story to Lord of the Rings, where a band of somewhat lovable, somewhat gross goblins
There are some fabulous explanations of
grumpy people goblin psychology as well: “Wherever a goblin happens to live, he complains about it constantly. This is actually a sign of affection. A desert goblin will complain endlessly about the beastly heat and the dreadful dryness and the spiky cactus. He will show you how his sunburn is peeling and the place where the rattlesnake bit him and the place where he bit the rattlesnake. He will be thoroughly, cheerfully, miserable.”
As fun as that is, I can’t help but think that would be more fun to see this evolve in dialogue. In fact, it does, later in the tale during dinner, and the explanation happens as an aside in a few quick sentences. Nonetheless, the descriptions are charming, playing with our expectations of romantic views of soldiering, elves and healing:
“Goblins march badly… On a good day, they will stay in step for nearly a minute before somebody gets bored, or trips, or stumbles, or forgets what he’s doing and begins skipping. Small knots break off. Officers ride around on their pigs, shouting orders and leaving havoc in their wake.”
Still, despite the amusing descriptions and interesting world-building, pacing could have been improved. It isn’t until 25 to 30 percent into the book that a major event happens that sets up the conflict for the rest of the story. The conflict is interesting in a benign way, but then it takes an ominous turn once the goblins discover an abandoned farm and dead animals. It makes for an uneven tone, and there’s a weird little bit of storyline involving mental illness and power that made me just a tiny bit… squidgy.
Characters are fun and well… humanized, for lack of a better word. There’s Sings-to-Trees, the only elf who seems to enjoy getting dirty in the course of his healing duties, and Sergeant Nessilka who is doing her very best to keep the goblins alive. So: high marks for world-building and language, medium marks for storytelling, and lesser marks for plotting. Bonus marks for having a story that conveys the somewhat stupid–but sincere– and… organic charms of goblins. It’s a nice tale, but Kingfisher’s other works are even better–particularly those as Ursula Vernon.