576 pp, Trade Paperback
Sample Chapter: http://mouseferatu.com/index.php/publishers/py/01_py_the-goblin-corps/
The rag-tag bunch of adventurers on a desperate mission for their ‘boss’ is a common trope in all of fiction. In fantasy, this often is enhanced by magical objects and perilous creatures on the way to fulfilling said mission, in other words, quest/fantasy adventure. In Ari Marmell’s humorous and engaging novel, The Goblin Corps, the characters on the quest are those typically feared by the heroes on the quest (in ground tread by Stan Nicholls and Mary Gentle) – a goblin, an orc (Cræosh), a bugbear (Jhurpess), a kobold (Gork), an ogre (Belrotha), a gremlin (Gimmol), a troll (Katim), and a shapeshifter (Feizell) whose boss is the (supposedly) evil overlord Morthûl, the Charnel King.
Having recently been defeated by the forces of good, whose primary power was Ananias DuMark, a half Elven wizard, Morthûl enacts revenge by killing the princess and King Dororam’s only child. Of course, this leads Dororam to launch an offensive against Kirol Syrreth, Morthûl’s land. While keeping his army prepared for the war is an important concern for Morthûl, he also assembles an elite force, one might even say a Black Ops squad, which in the land of evil creatures is known as a Demon Squad. This is where Marmell spends a bit of time introducing the aforementioned characters of Cræosh and company. Unfortunately, the introduction of each member of the Demon Squad was the least cohesive aspect of the novel. However, when the squad is assembled and the diverse creatures begin to mesh, first as a set of conflicting personalities, eventually as a functioning unit, the narrative power increases and the novel became much more enjoyable. The banter initially illicits chuckles because the words/phrases are humorous; but the banter becomes all the more effective as the characters become more familiar and the cadence of their dialogue is more fluid.
Marmell follows an episodic format, with long chapters (12 chapters divided over 551 pages) amounts to almost a collection of novellas. The narrative flow from one chapter to the next is strong enough, and cohesive enough, that The Goblin Corps works as a terrifically fun novel rather than the aforementioned collection of novellas. Marmell’s got a great sense of humor and snark, which he injects throughout the narrative, especially between members of the Demon Squad. Reflective of this are chapter titles as puns for either famous movies or quotes from genre/geek culture, like “These Aren’t the Druids You’re Looking For,” “The Liar, The Lich, and the Brown Robe,” and “Ogre and Under.”
What also works in the novel is that, despite goblins, orcs and the other creatures of the Demon Squad typically being on the evil side of the good v. evil battle, rarely does the term evil even come up as a descriptive for our protagonists. Much like he’s given the characters of Cræosh, Katim, Belrotha a unique and believable perspective from their side of the great struggle (in as much as I was rooting for them), Marmell doesn’t really play the whole good v. evil card, except to play with reader expectations and the general notions of the fantasy tropes with which Marmell is playing in the novel. Even the Charnel King Morthûl is painted sympathetically at points in the novel and his opposite number on the “good side” (again implied from genre/reader expectations) is a less savory individual than one would expect to be leading the heroic efforts.
Think one part James Barclay’s Raven, one part Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards, one part Jacqueline Carey’s Sundering duology, and a strong dash of Glen Cook’s Black Company and you might have a good feel for what to expect in Marmell’s feisty and fine novel. The only other minor complaint I can level at the book (aside from the scattershot beginning), is that while the novel itself is titled The Goblin Corps, never once is the group of characters referred to as The Goblin Corps, throughout they are called the Demon Squad.
The novel is a lot of fun and packs a great deal of knowing humor for fans of the genre. I also appreciated some of the narrative choices he made in the novel, showing how a story could be better served by things not happening than forcing a thing to occur. What proves even cleverer on Marmell’s part is how he chose to end the novel. There’s an epilogue that points to more adventures for (most) of the Demon Squad, and events leading up to the conclusion leave enough questions unanswered that Marmell can go in multiple directions with another story of these characters. In other words, I want to read more about these characters.
Good enough recommendation, no?