Appendix S: The Goblin Corps
I finished Ari Marmell’s The Goblin Corps months ago, but have been hemming and hawing ever since then about whether i wanted to drop something like a review on an unsuspecting internet. The reason i was hemming and hawing is that Ari and i have crossed professional paths on more than one occasion, most “Hell, yeah, i wrote that!” recently in 2010’s Tomb of Horrors super-adventure for Wizards of the Coast. As such, and because i’m a writer and thus suffer from rampant feelings of self-loathing and personal inadequacy, i worry about whether my really liking this book will be seen as some kind of shill job for a friend, despite the fact that Ari and i have never actually even met.
But after said hemming and hawing, i’ve decided to adopt the forthright attitude of any of the characters in The Goblin Corps and say… well, you’ve seen the quotation titling this post; you can probably figure it out.
That business is uniformly foul, running the gamut from retrieving lost relics of magic to infiltrating a human city on a mission of kidnapping and assassination (a mission featuring an escape plan whose reading makes a most effective appetite suppressant; you’ll know it when you get there). At the center of things, Cræosh is an antihero with a really bad attitude. Think Elric of Melniboné as played by Denis Leary in Rescue Me. And though the amoral antihero isn’t a new concept for fantasy fiction, Ari Marmell cruises past the Moorcock Avenue off-ramp at high speed to push The Goblin Corps beyond dramatic nihilism and into stomach-churning, violently dark comedy. (At a couple of points, when the Demon Squad find themselves dealing with the court of the duplicitous Queen Anne, Marmell manages to write a stomach-churning, violently dark comedy of manners, which is an interesting feat.)
As i much as i was pretty sure that i would enjoy The Goblin Corps, i was pleasantly knocked out by Ari’s ability to do something that i’m not sure i could have pulled off in the same milieu — solidly empathetic characters. The deft touch displayed in the handling of his uniformly self-centered, self-serving, and objectively unlikable cast ultimately makes the book. Given a narrative that announces its intention from the get-go to avoid any kind of center of morality, engaging the reader becomes a matter of creating a substitute center of ethics — a character story rich enough that even as we see the characters’ actions and respond with a shuddering “You have got to be freaking kidding me…” over and over again, the depth of the story creates the connection to character on which every great novel is built.
In the end, the book wasn’t without minor quibbles for me (chief among them some of the details of the ending, which i won’t get into for their massive “spoiler alert” potential). As well, as with a lot of fantasy novels, the story of The Goblin Corps is two parts narrative and one part setup for more narrative to come. However, despite crafting an awesomely cliffhanger ending, Ari manages to tie the variously important narrative threads of the book together nicely before all is said and done.
This is not a book for those who feel compelled to skip the icky bits in Game of Thrones, or who are put off by profanity (because the novel contains an awful fucking lot of it). But likewise, prospective readers shouldn’t be put off by The Goblin Corps’ dark tone, because the story that tone wraps is funny, exhilarating, and frantically memorable in equal measure.