It’s a somewhat overused cliché readily found in most adventure fiction; as the villainous mastermind’s plans crumble thanks to his minions’ ineptitude, he’ll utter the well-worn phrase, “Why am I surrounded by idiots?” Just as true is the idea that villains are the most fun for the writer to write and the reader to read. After all, who cares for the dull hero when there’s an especially devilish baddie reeking havoc with relentless abandon? They get the best costumes, too.
Ari Marmell exploits these truisms to significant effect. The Goblin Corps presents the baddies point of view, but far from being a slick operation, our anti-heroes – no, our villains - are incompetent backstabbers, unreliable maniacs and enormous fun to be around.
The novel has a smart central conceit. It starts where the story should end – with evil doers defeated and the heroes triumphant. A band of warriors, formed by Morthûl, The Charnel King, and called The Demon Squad originate after the forces of good foil a finely wrought plan to allow him to take over the world. Fearing an attack by the heroes that will finish him off permanently, he formulates a last ditch plan to prevent his own demise.
The squad is made up of a diverse and well-characterised bunch of protagonists. Craeosh the Orc is the leader in all but name, and the rest of his band include an ogre, a bugbear, troll, doppelganger, Kobold and a gremlin. An imp demon serves to train them as they prepare for battle. Marmell wisely allows us to get to know each member of the team before they are placed together as a – somewhat dysfunctional – unit and this pays off enormously as personality clashes and differing outlooks create comedic tension later in the narrative.
As humorous as the premise might be and as funny as the characters are, there is also a gritty and, at times, very tough side to The Goblin Corps. The violence is extremely brutal in places and Marmell doesn’t spare us when it comes to the richly described gore which often flows enthusiastically from the page.
Of special note is the vivid and enticing cover, illustrated by Lucas Graciano. It’s a beautifully detailed piece that captures the darkly comedic tone of the novel perfectly.
With his third full length novel, Marmell is clearly having fun with a genre he loves. It’s a great pleasure to be able to join in the fun!
Review by Jonathan Wilkins
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