Hey, guys, and welcome to another edition of You Should Read This. That’s right, I finally got off my butt and wrote another one of these things. Good to know I’m sticking to that “no schedule” thing.
Today, I’m going to be talking about The Goblin Corps, by Ari Marmell.
Here’s the summary, courtesy of Amazon.com:
Morthûl, the dreaded Charnel King, has failed. Centuries of plotting from the heart of the Iron Keep, deep within the dark lands of Kirol Syrreth – all for naught. Foiled at the last by the bumbling efforts of a laughable band of so-called heroes. Still, after uncounted centuries of survival, the Dark Lord isn’t about to go down without a fight, particularly in battle against a mortal! No, the Charnel King still has a few tricks up his putrid and tattered sleeves, and the only thing that can defeat him now… May just be the inhuman soldiers on whom he’s pinned his last hopes.
In case that didn’t make it clear enough, this book is basically your average Lord of the Rings knock-off, only told from the perspective of Sauron and his minions.
Wait, don’t go! It’s actually pretty good. Would I be talking about it if I thought it was bad?
Okay, so maybe the concept of a fantasy from the villain’s perspective isn’t all that original. It’s a wonderful way to deconstruct High Fantasy, usually by showing that the “villains” aren’t as evil as they appear. Heck, there’s even a trope for it. And what’s more, someone’s literally already done Lord of the Rings from Sauron’s perspective. Twice.
But that is not what Marmell does with The Goblin Corps. As a matter of fact, he does the exact opposite; at no point are the characters presented as anything other than totally, completely, and utterly evil. And damn if I didn’t end up rooting for them anyway.
Most of the story follows the members of a Demon Squad, consisting of an orc, a kobold, a gremlin, an ogre, a troll, a bugbear, and a shapeshifter, (no, I don’t know why the book is called “The Goblin Corps” even though no goblins appear in the book) with the occasional bit from either the “heroes‘” or Morthûl’s perspective. And once again, Marmell wonderfully subverts expectations: the members of the squad almost never get along, and they do not become friends. As a matter of fact, a few of them are either directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of their fellow squad-mates. Because, once again, they’re evil.
But it’s not all grim and gritty. You’ll almost certainly get a chuckle every now and then. I mean, what else do you expect when the main characters are arguing when they aren’t (and sometimes are) fighting for their lives?
To be fair, the book has it’s flaws. It’s a little on the long side (my paperback copy came in at well over 500 pages), and the plot does take a little while to get going, and even then it wanders a bit, as the protagonists are sent on various missions by Morthûl and his subordinates before they get down to actually dealing with the Charnel King’s enemies. Also, the world isn’t all that developed; yes, a lot can be inferred and assumed, but the book doesn’t even include a map, which is practically required for most Fantasy books nowadays.
Still, if you want a fantasy that turns the traditional narrative on its head without transforming the monsters into an oppressed minority, or if you just want to root for the bad guys for once, give The Goblin Corps a look. I think you’ll have a good time.