I love it when parts of a "trilogy" are self-contained, leading into one another in theme and concept but not necessarily because the main character is left hanging from a cliff. That's one reason I love Jim C. Hines' Goblin Hero, the sequel to the wonderful Dungeons and Dragons semi-parody Goblin Quest. Yes, Jig the Goblin (or Jig Dragonslayer, as he's known to his fellow dungeon-dwellers now) is back, but this is a new story that builds on the old one. It also helps that all of the little foibles in the first book virtually disappear this time around. I loved Goblin Hero even more than I did its predecessor and raced through it like a man possessed.
Jig has been attempting to keep a low profile in the year since Goblin Quest, using the magic of his newfound god, Tymalous Shadowstar, to heal his fellow goblins but generally keeping his head down. He's a rarity: a goblin with common sense. And common sense says that if you stick your head out too far, somebody's going to lop it off, most likely the current goblin chief, Kralk. But this all changes when an ogre comes into the goblin camp looking for Jig. It seems that the ogres need his help to deal with a problem down in the ogre part of the caves. Kralk, who sees Jig as a threat to her power, insists that he accept the mission and that he take a big, dumb goblin warrior and a crotchety old woman along with him. But Veka, a goblin with delusions of magic who is jealous of Jig, sets out to do everything first, and it all goes downhill from there. But that's okay. What's the difference between an ogre killing you, a pixie entrancing you, or one of your own kind sticking a knife in your back? You're still dead, no matter what. So what's Jig worried about?
One of my complaints about Goblin Quest was the rather slight characterization of the adventuring party that captured Jig and forced everything on him. Hines doesn't fall prey to that problem in Goblin Hero. He manages to make everybody who matters a three-dimensional character with hidden depths, or at least somebody who's willing to learn something. Jig has grown greatly from a year ago, but he's still a coward at heart. Unlike other goblins, though, he realizes that sometimes you have to do something rather than just run and hide. He's aware of goblin nature but ends up being trusting enough that it comes back to haunt him anyway. Not only has he grown since the first book, he learns a lot in this one as well. It's tough being the only goblin with common sense, but he comes through with flying colors.
In the same way, Veka, Bralf (the dumb goblin with a secret all his own), and Grell (the old crone) all have their little story arcs, secrets, and good characterization. I liked all of these characters, I cared about what happened to them, and there was no feeling of "I want to get back to Jig!" when anybody else was on the page. Even better is that they're all a lot of fun. They all change, and Hines doesn't leave everything at the status quo at the end of the book.
Which brings me to the writing. Another complaint about the previous book was that it wasn't as funny as the blurbs promised. Goblin Hero has two things going for it in this respect. First, it doesn't put forth the "false" advertising making it sound like it's funnier than it actually is. Secondly, it truly is funny; in fact, it's funnier than the first book. While Hines still uses goblin stereotypes effectively, it's not the parody of fantasy dungeon-crawlers that the first one was. Whether it's a one-liner or a truly hilarious scene (such as at the start of the book, where Jig has to remove Braf's fang, which is protruding from the side of his face through the cheek), there's definitely some funny stuff in here. Especially effective are some of the "quotes" that introduce each chapter, such as "No plan survives the first encounter with your enemy, so why bother to make one?" Hines has come up with some great ones.
Hines' prose is spare at times, making the book a quick read. But that doesn't mean it's shallow. It's a straightforward adventure story that has some points to make about the human condition and what it takes to be a hero. True courage is knowing what has to be done and doing it despite your fear. Jig is a perfect example of that, but Veka actually illustrates that even better with her story arc.
Not that Goblin Hero is perfect, but any faults are fairly miniscule and don't detract from the enjoyment one bit. The only annoying thing is at the conclusion, when Shadowstar actually makes reference to this being the second book of a trilogy. It doesnít fit the tone of the rest of the book, being too self-referential. In a total parody of the genre, it might have fit, but itís out of place here. Other than that and a few minor slow parts, this book is enjoyable from beginning to end.
Goblin Hero is just the perfect tonic for those who have had too much of overly serious fantasy.