Book Review: Nine Goblins by T. Kingfisher

Ever since my misspent teen years wandering Elfwood, I’ve been a huge fan of Ursula Vernon’s work. She did fantastic paintings, but I always preferred her prose, and it’s to my deep pleasure that she’s become Hugo winner and children’s writer. Her (under the name T. Kingfisher, though its hardly a secret) latest effort in Nine Goblins doesn’t disappoint for old fan like me and serves as good introduction for new fans.

In this world, Goblins are small and “stinking, slinking, filthy, sheep-stealing, cattle-rustling, disgusting, smelly, obnoxious, rude, unmannerly, and violent.” Once they lived nearly everywhere until human encroachment pushed them away. They tried negotiations, but cultural differences were too great. A war resulted and dragged the elves and others into the fray.

Our heroes, such as they are, are members of the Ninetieth Infantry (the Whinin’ Niners), and a more motley bunch you couldn’t find anywhere. From the ever deserting Whetherby to Blanchett who carries a teddy bear everywhere (the teddy bear is the brain of the pair). The only really sensible one is Sergeant Nessilka who has her hands full getting everyone to march at the same time.

During a battle they charge an enemy wizard, he panics and transports himself home. He takes nine goblins with him. When they wake up, they are far behind enemy lines, and human dwellings are ominously empty. Getting back is a risky proposition. Happily, they meet long time fan-favorite Sing-To-Trees, a practical, veterinary Elf who prefers trolls to unicorns, who helps them and they begin to figure out what has happened.


Sings-To-Trees with his favorite animal. Image © Ursula Vernon.

Its a funny story, but Nine Goblins never shies away from darkness, or real visceral horror. There’s some gruesome scenes in there, so if you know Ursula Vernon as a children’s author, I wouldn’t give Nine Goblins to Little Billy. However, if you want to give Little Billy an insight into how the world really works you couldn’t do much better; there is no real villain here, no black and white morality of other fantasies here. Merely people who are well-meaning, but working at cross purposes.

If you are a fan of Neil Gaiman, or Terry Pratchett, give it a try. Its slightly longer than your average novella, so it’s not a huge commitment of time, and for $3.99 you can hardly get a better deal for your money than a story like this.