In Review: The Goblin Corps

The Gobiln Corpsby Ari Marmell
Publisher: Pyr SF
ISBN: 978-1-61614-377-0
Cover Illustration: © Lucas Graciano

The Book: Morthûl, the dreaded Charnel King, has failed. Centuries of plotting from the heart of the Iron Keep, deep within the dark lands of Kirol Syrreth—all for naught. Foiled at the last by the bumbling efforts of a laughable band of so-called heroes, brainless and over-muscled cretins without sense enough to recognize a hopeless cause when they take it on. Machinations developed over generations, schemes intended to deliver the world into the Dark Lord’s hands, now devastated beyond salvation. But the so-called forces of Light have paid for their meddling with the life of Princess Amalia, only child of the royal family of Shauntille.

Now, as winter solidifies its icy grip on the passes of the Brimstone Mountains, disturbing news has reached the court of Morthûl. King Dororam, enraged by the murder of his only child—and accompanied by that same group of delusional upstart “heroes” — is assembling all the Allied Kingdoms, fielding an army unlike any seen before. The armies of Kirol Syrreth muster to meet the attack that is sure to come as soon as the snows have melted from the mountain paths, but their numbers are sorely depleted. Still, after uncounted centuries of survival, the Dark Lord isn’t about to go down without a fight, particularly in battle against a mortal! No, the Charnel King still has a few tricks up his putrid and tattered sleeves, and the only thing that can defeat him now may just be the inhuman soldiers on whom he’s pinned his last hopes.

Welcome to the Goblin Corps. May the best man lose.

The Review: Marmell’s third original novel comes with a fine, if dreadfully rude and offensive, cast – Cræosh the orc, Katim the Troll, Gork the Kobold, a dim Ogre called Belrotha, Fezeill the Hobgoblin, Jhurpess the Bugbear and a shape shifter – and for me, it’s these characters that make Goblin Corps such a welcome read. The plot is very quest driven, clearly inspired by many a role-playing game session, as this dysfunctional army unit is assigned at first to gather various items for a dangerous spell; but what happens along the way, and the characters’ reaction to events, is often more enjoyable than the overall story, one of those fantasy novels told from the bad guys side of things.

Marmell’s humour has been compared with that of David Eddings and his storytelling with “Joe Abercrombie’s kick-ass grittiness“, comparisons I’m happy to echo, although I’d argue there may be an element of Terry Pratchett in there, too. But as the story unfolds, delighting in some gut-wrenching violence as it develops, it’s quickly apparent Marmell has his own inimitable and engaging style.

Plot aside, which cracks along at a great pace despite the book being over 500 pages, it’s character moments that really make Goblin Corps such fun and you soon forgive their unrelenting belligerence, vulgarity and evil ways in favour of enjoying their developing relationships. I particularly liked touches such as Katim’s quest to find slaves to serve her in the Troll afterlife and the unspoken, unrequited, impossible love Belrotha has for Fezeill. Cræosh is pretty much the glue holding this gang together and proves an unlikely ‘hero’ pitted against such enemies as yetis, yetis taken over by worm-creatures, troglodytes and more.

There’s nothing remotely likeable about these characters and yet, by the end of the book you can’t help like them (although I did find the finale left much unresolved and a tad disappointing, although if it means we might see some characters again, I’ll forgive that).

Goblin Corps is a fun, leave your brain-at-the-door read and well worth tracking down.

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Fantasy Book Critic
“Ari has his own style which he is perfecting, and if he can continue writing books like The Conqueror’s Shadow and The Goblin Corps, then I wouldn’t be surprised if exciting new fantasy authors were one day compared to Ari Marmell…”

LEC Book Reviews
“This is a book that took me by surprise – I simply wasn’t expecting to be taken in this type of story and at first glance utterly unlikeable characters. My prejudice only helped Marmell show me how little I know myself. I loved it.”

SF Signal
“Get ready to root for the bad guys to win the day. If they don’t kill each other first, that is.”

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