It’s not every day that two novels comprising the latter 2/3 of a trilogy are written but don’t complete the story, but are still a great deal of fun to read. Yet that’s exactly the case with Jim C. Hines’ GOBLIN HERO, the second book in the “Jig the Goblin” series, and GOBLIN WAR, the third and final book in the series.
GOBLIN HERO starts where GOBLIN QUEST left off; Jig’s heroism has been noticed, and he’s managed to keep himself alive due to three things: his fire spider, Smudge, who burns anyone who tries to kill Jig; his new spectacles, which allow him to see much better than before; and his god, Tymalous Shadowstar, one of the Forgotten Gods who, somehow, can make himself understood to goblins in general and Jig in particular.
But goblins are what they are: greedy, manipulative, short-sighted, and lacking in tactics. Very few survive to old age because of all this, and there’s very little, if any, family feeling to be had, as goblins are either all one quarrelsome family, or they’re a bunch of much smaller families that all hate each other, take your pick. (Tymalous Shadowstar wants that to come to an end, which is one reason why he’s so interested in Jig.) While Jig is far more intelligent than most goblins, understands the value of friendship, and he believes deep in his heart that more is possible than simply surviving to eat your next meal (even if this isn’t a fully-formed concept due to how alien a thought that is for goblin society), he has a long way to go if he wants to reform goblin society into a more ethical model.
GOBLIN HERO introduces an additional new heroine in Veka — a short and admittedly fat goblin who wants to be a sorceress. She sees Jig’s heroism and wants to emulate it; because she’s somehow come across a book called “The Path of the Hero (Wizard’s Edition),” she believes she knows how to duplicate Jig’s success. And she’s frustrated because she believes Jig is deliberately withholding his secrets from her (Jig can heal due to being Tymalous Shadowstar’s high priest); no matter what Jig says, she just doesn’t believe that heroism is in doing whatever you can to survive from day-to-day.
But Veka’s disbelief is not Jig’s only problem. You see, the head goblin, Kralk, doesn’t like Jig at all because Jig is considered a threat. (That goblins overall don’t work together, and even in times of great stress will kill each other off instead of temporarily uniting to throw off a common enemy first, is something Hines points out over and over again.) So Kralk comes up with a new quest for Jig to handle; a Troll needs help, and so Jig and two other companions — Braf, a very large, fit goblin who’s much duller than average, and Grell, one of the nursery workers and also one of the oldest goblins on record — go off to help the Troll.
Of course, Kralk really doesn’t care about the Troll at all; this quest is to get Jig, an acknowledged hero, out of the immediate vicinity. Jig understands immediately what’s going on (such is the value of his intellect) and asks Grell and Braf what Kralk offered them if they made sure Jig didn’t survive the quest. This was a nice touch; that Jig figured this out himself rather than consulting Tymalous Shadowstar fit well with Jig’s personality. And Jig confronting the problem rather than ignoring it as goblins usually do also was a nice touch; it showed that Jig has evolved, as in the first book, Jig wouldn’t have even thought about talking to them — he’d just have fatalistically waited for the knife in his back as that’s what goblins always do.
So they’re off to try to figure out why the Trolls are upset; they find that there’s a new incursion of pixies to worry about, and that’s why the Trolls need help. Pixies are tiny but can cause all sorts of problems, something Jig realized back in GOBLIN QUEST as one of the big, bad guys was a two-foot pixie with delusions of grandeur and a whole lot of noxious magic to back it up.
So, will Jig resolve this problem? How does Veka fit in? Will Grell and Braf help Jig, and if so, why? And why does Tymalous Shadowstar care so much about the goblins?
All of these questions will be answered, but some of the answers just lead to more questions, which is why Hines wrote book three, GOBLIN WAR. The book starts with Jig helping the new head of the goblins, Grell, by healing her as best he can (Jig was offered the position but declined it, preferring to be the goblin head’s top advisor instead as that’s less of a threat). But there is a new problem; some humans have come to claim the mountain the goblins and many other magical species live in. They want the mountain “cleansed” of these magical creatures (including kobolds, hobgoblins, ogres, and many others); Grell knows she can’t fight them, so she sends Jig to deal with them instead.
Of course, Jig immediately gets captured and has to figure out what he’s going to do next. He can’t bargain with them, because these humans are related to the two brothers he killed in GOBLIN QUEST and they’re out for blood. So instead, he escapes and tries to figure out what to do next.
We also find out why Tymalous Shadowstar has taken an interest in the goblins, why no one else outside of the goblins seems to remember him overmuch (save the dwarf, Darnak, who told Jig about him in the first place), and that there’s a big war going on in Heaven (or wherever it is that the Gods reside) and Tymalous was initially on the losing end. This is all relevant information because it shows that Tymalous, too, knows the value of hiding, running, and behaving in a manner others might call “cowardice” but goblins — and most readers, no doubt — would call good common sense.
So, will Jig win this war? If so, how is he going to do it? How does his God, Tymalous Shadowstar, fit in, and what will happen to Him? And what will happen to Jig’s friends, including Braf, Grell, and his newest friend (and potential love interest), Relka? (And why, oh why, was Veka missing from this adventure as her perspective would’ve helped a great deal?)
All of these questions, too, are answered in the course of the manuscript, yet there are so many dangling ends to the story that it’s obvious more books can be written. That’s why I say this series is enjoyable, but it’s unfinished; because of the latter, it’s not as satisfying to read as it could’ve been.
That said, the satire is spot-on. Jig is a winning, funny character that most readers will be glad to cheer for, so despite the lack of a definite conclusion, these books are well worth reading.
GOBLIN HERO — B. Solid, funny, and enjoyable, but not as good as GOBLIN QUEST. I really liked Veka and her belief in how heroes should be made, and her puzzlement that Jig ever became a hero as he didn’t “do it the right way” — the way Hines skewers this odd belief is well worth your time.
GOBLIN WAR — B-. Again, it’s solid, funny, and enjoyable, but the lack of a definite conclusion hurts this book and this series. The absence of Veka did not help, either.
Grade for series — Solid B. Hines writes well and his worldview is snarkily believable.
My recommendation is to buy these books in paperback; you’ll be glad you did.
— reviewed by Barb