Goblin is a story about a child, but that doesn’t make it a children’s book. It’s a tale of loss and rebirth, of learning to understand yourself and your place in the world, that will speak to both kids and adults.
I was provided with a free eARC of Goblin. The opinions I have shared are my own.
Goblin is a good choice if you want a story that’s both heart-wrenching and wholesome, or if you’re looking for something to read with a kid that doesn’t feel childish. It’s one of those books that can be read on a couple different levels.
On the surface, it’s a straightforward coming-of-age style story about a young goblin on an adventure to avenge his family’s death at the hands of a wandering warrior. That storyline is bittersweet and wondrous by turns. I think a lot of kids (and stressed-out adults) will appreciate the gentle growth Rikt the goblin goes through over the 188-page book. He navigates a series of overwhelming challenges with cleverness and heart, going from an angry grieving child to a youth who has a more mature perspective.
Dig down a little and you start to uncover deeper themes: the impatience and reckless courage of youth, the loss of wilderness habitats to encroaching civilizations, the tension between humans and “monstrous” races… there’s a lot here. I won’t spoil anything big, but we do also get some exploration of trauma and how it shapes people as well.
Full disclosure: I’m a sucker for a good “monsters are people, too” story. My current Dungeons and Dragons group is running through the Sunless Citadel campaign, which is heavy on goblins and kobolds, and we haven’t killed anything but rats yet. We’ve been talking our way through for the most part. It’s been fun to take on a classic adventure through the eyes of characters who don’t just plow through the “random monsters”, instead choosing to negotiate and only fight when it’s unavoidable. (For the D&D purists, yes, I’m aware we’re very probably going to have to kill Belak. Don’t @ me.)
That’s what Goblin feels like- a fresh take on classic fantasy creatures and tropes. I love when fantasy ecosystems are explored from unusual angles like this. Again, not dropping spoilers, but I appreciate how this world evolves over the course of Rikt’s adventures.
Rikt himself is a strong choice for a protagonist. Being so young at the beginning lets us look through his eyes when he runs into danger, which lends a lighter aspect to what might otherwise be a bit too dark for the younger crowd. I especially like the cartoonishly awful traders Rikt rescues Fish-breath from. They’re exaggerated, sure, but it underscores the vicious greed that drives them.
Anyway, exotic animal and component traders would definitely look like this to creatures whose parts might very well be valuable as trade goods. (Side note: Good DMs don’t force their players into ethical spell component quandaries unless that’s one of the themes of your game. Put that one in your pocket for later.)
The art by Will Perkins has a bright, warm, playful style. They put a lot of emotion and heart into every panel. I noticed that they don’t always choose the easy, traditional take on a scene. For example, when Rikt first meets the human who kills his parents, it might have been more traditional for him to see the warrior as a towering monster with a wide grin full of sharp teeth.
Instead, the human is shown in a fighting pose more suited to fighting smaller foes (legs bent, body tilted, shield canted downward). We see mainly his lower teeth, not sharp canines, and his overall appearance is that of a normal, ordinary warrior. At this point, he’s visually just a guy doing what he regards as a necessary job. It’s his words and actions that mark him as the monster he is.
I think this art choice is a powerful one. It underscores the casual violence of killing a whole little family, because it shows us that the warrior doesn’t see them as people. He’s enjoying the work, but it’s just work for him. Clearing out monsters so the locals have safer farming land or whatever sent him into the woods. (It’s also powerful that we never get an explanation for that. It doesn’t matter why he was there, just what he did.)
That’s one example of how Perkins and author Eric Grissom worked well together throughout the book. It’s a strong, consistent collaboration where story and art support each other to elevate the book as a whole, and I highly recommend it.
Goblin comes out from Dark Horse Comics May 26th at your friendly local comic shop. You can also preorder the book starting June 8th.
Real talk, though- buy it at a comic shop if you have the option. This is a rough time for small businesses everywhere, and you probably have an LCS closer than you think (check here if you’re not sure).
When you’re done (and it does go fast, I read it in one sitting and two cups of tea), come back here and let us know what you think!
Khai is a writer, anthropologist, and games enthusiast. She is co-editor (alongside Alex DeCampi) of and contributor to “True War Stories”, a comic anthology published by Z2 Comics. When she’s not writing or creating games, Khai likes to run more tabletop RPGs than one person should reasonably juggle.
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