RogerBW's Blog

Nine Goblins, T Kingfisher 19 December 2022

2013 fantasy novella. Goblins don't make very good soldiers, but there are lots of them. After an incident with a wizard, nine of them find themselves deep behind enemy lines. Fortunately, they run into a veterinarian…

Everybody's been saying I should read Kingfisher, and now I start to get the point.

Looking at the Bad Guy soldiers as poor bloody infantry has been done before, of course, sometimes well and sometimes less so. But this is the first time I've seen the "bad guy" part seriously questioned, not just at the level of the goblins themselves not being particularly horrible, but widening the view to look at the whole war of the goblins versus everyone else and why that war started and what, maybe, one day, might be done about it. And for that matter how members of the despised enemy race can hope to be believed when they say it was that human who killed everyone in the village and left them to rot, not them at all…

"So…" said Murray. "Say you've got people getting tired of the war. Then you get a bunch of goblins showing up and wiping out a whole human village. Do you think those people are still going to be tired of it?"

Nessilka scowled. "That's politics, Murray."

"Well, yeah. Lotta people die of politics."

And we get the idea of magic as a mental disorder: you wake up one day and can go foom, but your personality probably isn't what it was.

There are basically two kinds of sufferers of [Arcane Manifestation Disorder]—the high-functioning, and the rather less so. High-functioning wizards can live on their own, and while they tend to be shy and awkward in social situations, meticulously neat, and easily startled, they're not any worse off than the rest of us. The more unfortunate wizards generally require someone to dress them and can't be allowed near any sharp objects.

Meanwhile Sings-to-Trees just wants to be left alone to care for animals, which really doesn't give him time or energy for anything else, but something weird is clearly going on, even before the goblins turn up.

Even to someone who didn't much care for unicorns, at another time, this scene would be pure magic, a reaffirmation of everything good and noble in the world. But there was gunk from the hind end of a unicorn plastered clear up the side of his face, delicate hoof prints turning purple across his ribcage, and he felt about a thousand years old.

It is just a novella (all right, technically edging barely over the 40,000 word mark) and there really isn't room to expand on things as I'd have liked, but my word this is good stuff. In particular almost everyone we meet is trying to make things better rather than just being out for themselves, and this is thoroughly refreshing.

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  1. Posted by David Pulver at 05:12pm on 21 December 2022

    I haven't read this one -- it sounds interesting. I discovered TA Kingfisher about 3 months ago, and was impressed by her reworking of common fantasy tropes. I've just read Paladin's Grace so far; it was very D&D-adjacent, but in an "explore these tropes like they might really exist in a world." On the other hand, her Twisted Ones, which I'm part way through, seems to be a slow, atmospheric modern-day dark fantasy, but also well written.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 10:13pm on 21 December 2022

    My tastes don't generally run to fantasy unless there's something a bit special and distinctive about it, but I shall certainly be reading more by Kingfisher/Vernon.

  3. Posted by Shim at 04:00pm on 07 January 2023

    I've also enjoyed A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking, which has some interesting types of magic.

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