Friday, 9 September 2011

'The Goblin Corps' - Ari Marmell

The Goblin Corps is a book I spotted while browsing Amazon. Ari Marmell has written quite a few books, not all of which are just fantasy novels. However, he has written stuff for Dungeons & Dragons, which makes me think that Ari Marmell knows his fantasy. It's a rather classic blurb, but with a twist. The forces of light have foiled the evil plans of the Dark Lord. He retaliates by killing the daughter of his enemy, King Dororam. In response, King Dororam assembles the greatest army ever in order to try to wipe out the Dark Lord once and for all. The Dark Lord creates a crack force of his very best men, I mean monsters, to execute a daring plan. Sounds familiar doesn't it? The twist is that the is all told from the goblins' point of view. I really liked Jim C Hines' books about Jig the goblin and Orcs by Stan Nicholls. Pyr very kindly sent me a copy of The Goblin Corps to review.

Cræosh is an orc. Standing at 6' and with shoulders almost as wide as he is tall, Cræosh is not someone to mess with. He is out on a patrol with a few other orcs from his clan when they come across an exhausted gremlin. After slapping some sense into the poor gremlin, they find out the gremlins attacked a caravan of humans only to be slaughtered by the guards. Cræosh is not too excited until he realises that the humans are still chasing the sole survivor, which means they cannot be too far away. He will not miss this opportunity to engage the human soldiers.

The orcs might be outnumbered, but the human knights that come crashing into the clearing underestimate their strength and skill. Cræosh slays one man after the other, his heart pounding with the thrill of battle. However, their skill and brawn is not enough. Several of his comrades have fallen with too many of the humans still standing. Arrows from the trees strike the humans and the orcs win the day.

Cræosh is the first member of the crew who will prove to be vital to the Dark Lord's plans. Most of the other characters are introduced in a way which displays their skills. They are all different races. From very small to huge. Each member is supposedly the best their race has to offer. Basically, they are a vicious bunch with a talent for killing without being killed. Some less intelligent than others.
A keening war cry rose to the uncaring heavens, and it took the startled Cræosh a moment to realize that it had come from the gremlin! "For King Morthul! For the Demon Squad!" Gimmol shouted, eyes gleaming with fervor and anticipation--and then, glistening blade a shining beacon above his head, he charged madly in the wrong direction. 
"Gremlins," Fezeill observed as the stunned party watched him go, "do not have particularly good night vision."
I really liked this introduction of the characters, along with their first quests. It's simply a great start. Ari Marmell shows off some excellent wit in how characters they interact with each other. Being monsters, the bigger members quickly enforce a pecking order by bashing the smaller goblins. It might be violent and not very nice, but it's fun. At this stage it's very much like the camaraderie you would see in Glen Cook's The Black Company.

At one point, The Goblin Corps turns into a game of World of Warcraft, with our anti-heroes running around like errand boys. They are not exactly killing endless amounts of wolves hoping for those 5% pelt drops, but it’s not far from that. It did drag on and I struggled to see the point of it. Yes, one or two important plot elements were seeded during their training, but it could have been done quicker.

Ari Marmell is better at making his inhuman character more likeable. If they were simply portrayed as slavering monsters, rampaging through the countryside, they would not be fun. Just like Jim C Hines and Stan Nicholls, Ari Marmell makes them more human by giving them certain moral values and codes, while still keeping their bestial side. This is not a happy fairy tale. They are fighting a war and that cannot be done without bloodshed and sacrifice.

Speaking of fighting, I did like the melee in The Goblin Corps. It's slick, gory and done at a high speed, which made it feel realistic. An all too common mistake in fantasy is to have the characters escape harm all too easily. It’s a credit to Ari Marmell for treating his characters without kid gloves.

My one big disappointment was the ending. At first I felt the pace had picked up again and that things were building up for a really cool sequel. Then, a bomb drops and all the loose ends are tightened up in the space of a few pages. I felt I was robbed of the true experience of some really interesting events. Less time should have been spent doing WoW quests, and instead put in on a sequel or fleshing out the ending.

The Goblin Corps is off to a flying start, with humour and captivating fights that get really up close and personal. I wish the book was shorter to maintain pace and keep the jokes fresh. Not without its flaws, The Goblin Corps was still an entertaining read and anyone who likes reading about the bad guys (or goblins), would enjoy The Goblin Corps.

The Goblin Corps weighs in at 575 pages and is published by Pyr.

Recommendation: read

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