Are you bored with the typical Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy story? You know, the one with a party of adventurers of various kinds (there's always at least one person who fights, a wizard of some sort, a thief, and a cleric who can heal people) down in a dungeon looking for some magical treasure. Granted, these stories aren't as widespread as they used to be; many fantasy novels try to achieve a little more depth than that. But they are out there, and thus they are available for a bit of light parody. Jim C. Hines has written Goblin Quest for readers looking for that sort of thing, and he's done a pretty good job of it. The story is light and fun, though beware the blurb from Ed Greenwood, who claims that it's "a hilarious good read. One of the funniest dungeon-delving epics ever!" While it's definitely amusing and light-hearted, I wouldn't say that I laughed that much. Perhaps compared to most books of the ilk Greenwood's got a point, but I was a bit miffed that it wasn't as funny as it sounded.
Jig is a goblin with a problem. He's a near-sighted runt, so the rest of the goblins in his lair pick on him all the time, giving him jobs to do that only children are generally made to do. One day, his cousin Porak recruits him for patrol duty, which ends up with him being the scout so the other goblins can slack off. But when Jig happens upon a band of adventurers, things get a bit more interesting. After killing all of Jig's companions, they require Jig to show them the way to the "Rod of Creation," a magic item that's rumored to be buried deep in the dungeon Jig inhabits. While Jig has no idea where it might be, he knows more than they do, and he also knows that he can't go back to his people right now. Stuck between a rock and a harder rock, he decides to help them as best he can. Little does he know that what he finds will disrupt his life for good, possibly ending it in the process. Who knew adventuring could be this dangerous? Especially when most of your party wouldn't mind if you died, or might even help you along to that end.
I'm familiar with Hines' short story work from various magazines, but this is the first novel of his that I've read. He takes various fantasy adventurer tropes and turns some of them on their head while making good use of other ones. As there must always be, there's a dragon at the end of the quest, but Hines even turns that one a little bit, making him willing to give up his entire hoard for the freedom that he hasn't had for ages. Hines tells a light-hearted story about somebody who readers usually see as cannon fodder: a goblin. Hines does have fun acknowledging these stereotypes, even having Jig comment on how goblins are mainly just there for adventurers to hack and slash. He emerges from the book with new thinking, perhaps able to make goblins much more than mindless berserkers who go willingly (and stupidly) to meet their deaths.
Hines definitely has good characterization skills, making Jig a very deep protagonist despite his being a goblin. The entire book is told from his point of view, so we see all of his struggles for identity as well as his attempts to break out of the goblin norm. He's usually a coward but begins to idolize these people who have captured him after seeing them in battle. Oh, he still hates most of them because of who they are and what they want to do with him, but he sees in them a possibility for what he can become, and he sees how worthless the typical goblin can be. Another strong character is Riana, the Elven thief who becomes the closest thing Jig has to a friend, as they are both in similar situations.
Unfortunately, the rest of the party isn't explored quite as deeply. We do see various aspects of them in their interactions with Jig (I especially liked Darnak, the Dwarven fighter/cleric who feels some sympathy for Jig even as he doesn't entirely trust him), but it's not as good as it could have been. Then again, given the type of book Hines wrote, characterization of these men might not be as necessary. Still, given what happens to them at the end, it would have been nice to know more about them. Barius is the typical arrogant noble out to make a name for himself by finding the Rod, and Ryslind (nice nod to Dragonlance's "Raistlin," given the similarity in their natures) is the mad wizard with great power but a screw loose.
I enjoyed the book much more after I realized it wasn't going to be as funny as I thought it was when I read the cover. Some of the ideas are quite clever (the true identity of the Necromancer, for instance), but the book is more amusing than outright funny. Especially witty is the "god" aspect of the book, when Jig latches onto the idea of doing magic and decides that the clerical way of going about it is much safer than the wizardly way. When he decides upon a god to "worship" for this, the results are the best parts of the book.
Goblin Quest definitely takes a stab at parodying the typical "dungeon-delving" stories, but it's more of a light twist on them than a full-bore parody. As long as you keep that in mind, you can't go wrong in reading it for a change of pace. Alternately amusing and poignant, Hines has definitely written a winner, one that will make any plane ride bearable.