The Goblin King
by Shona Husk, fantasy (2011)
Sourcebooks Casablanca, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-5985-2


The Goblin King is of course the first book in a series, a series called Shadowlands. We have Roan, a king of a distant past who had been cursed for the last 2,000 years to exist as a goblin that can be summoned by mortals to carry out their bidding. When Roan is summoned by Eliza Coulter who is desperately seeking a way out from her engagement to a villainous scumbag, he may have found the woman who can break his curse and love him for what he is - a hot hunk. Clearly, the last one is a tall order indeed. He'll solve her problems, she'll help him become the hunk he is 24/7, and oh, if only things are that simple.

The Goblin King will pass with flying colors if it is put under the "How many romantic urban fantasy clichés can the author insert into this baby?" test. Indeed, Ms Husk has done everything she can to make this book nearly indistinguishable from those books by Christine Feehan, Thea Harrison, Jacquelyn Frank, and other authors who seem to feed off each other when it comes to reinforcing the tired tropes of romantic urban fantasy series. When I put this book under the "Ah, but does it make sense?" test, however, this book fails from the get go.

For example, our hero is the Goblin King. Much ado is made about how he resembles Rumpelstiltskin's hobo mutant child... but he's only like that when he's in the human world. In his own world, he's gorgeous and hunky all over. Okay, there goes the novelty - Roan is just like every other hero in this type of stories, then. He even behaves in the same manner - when he brings Eliza into the Shadowland early in this book, he would have raped the unconscious heroine if he hadn't recognized her as a woman from his past. Apparently rape is best only when you do it to strangers... which is a cold but valid kind of logic, come to think about it, one of the very few halfway logical things in this story. In a genre when it seems like every author is obligated to top each other as well as her previous alpha males with each book, Ms Husk is however keeping in line just fine with the formula.

Also, after all that angst about the hero being cursed to be an unloved goblin, slowly losing his humanity (and since 2,000 years had passed, boy, he's losing it very slowly indeed), I learn that he's not exactly living in a sad limbo of loneliness in his world. He is the boss of a Band of Brothers! Three, or is it five, of them! This is, of course, a development necessary to create a series, but just like it is with the hero suddenly turning out to be ugly only when he makes a rare excursion into the mortal world, the hero loses another aspect of his unique trait and becomes another penis in another series. Because all heroes in this genre need to be oversexed turdballs, Ms Husk proceeds to tell me that, when our Band of Brothers are still human enough to spend their gold, they have fun bringing prostitutes into their happy goblin home to have all kinds of happy whoopee. Great, Ms Husk is right on track in making sure that her book is just like every other book in the market. Lonely goblins? Scratch that - they are goblins in name only, because where it really matters, they are just another bunch of oversexed angst-ridden whiny studmuffin turdballs.

They are goblins because an ancient wizard cursed them a long, long time ago. Okay, that's fine. But now the wizard wants to kill them! Why didn't he just turn them into toads and crush them under his boots in the first place? The cynical answer would be that, screw logic, the author needs a bad guy to keep things interesting. Eliza wants to become Roan's queen to escape her villainous fiancé, but her idea of escaping that man is to get Roan to recover some documents that keep her trapped in her engagement. This woman is going to live with Roan in another dimension, and she's concerned about getting some papers to sever her relationship with the villain? That's like moving to Mars and still wanting to make sure that the creep from downtown doesn't have your Earth home phone number. These are just some of the major head-scratching developments in this story. There are many more minor ones. Just one of those many bewildering minor details is Eliza thinking that Roan is a selfless creature with a degree of humanity in him because he wants to have children with her. How does this twit come to this conclusion? Isn't propagation a biological instinct? It will make more sense for her to conclude that he's a human by how he wants her to get him a beer while he watches his football game, right before fixing him his TV dinner and washing his smelly jockstraps, I tell you.

The point I am making here is that this book - this series - would be more credible and, yes, logical, if the author had gone all the way with her initially original premise. Imagine if the hero had really been a warty goblin and the heroine slowly learned that he is a beautiful human being underneath the hideous exterior, that would have been a far more interesting tale. But Ms Husk opts to instead dismantle her very own premise, even if it means making the whole thing illogical, so that she can play it safe and stick to the formula for the next 328 pages.

This is a great pity, because if the author had chosen another premise for her story and reduced the hero's reign from a ridiculous 2,000 years to perhaps 200 years, the hero's beautifully moody angst would be heartbreaking and glorious to behold. Roan doesn't behave like someone who has endured a curse for 2,000 years - he is too hot-headed and date-rape happy for that - but under other circumstances, he would be a very nice example of emo angst done well. He starts out like a contrived attempt to imitate every alpha male in existence, but eventually, he begins to show a desperation for Eliza's love that is pretty touching to behold. Eliza starts out like a train wreck in the making, helpless and crippled by all kinds of problems that force her to have no alternative but to turn to Roan, but she soon develops a spine that actually sees her willing to stand up and make Roan believe that she can love him for what he is. (As I've said, given that the author conveniently made Roan's real self to be a hot hunk that Eliza sees most of the time, it's not as hard to believe that she can love him as the author makes it out to be. But I guess it's the sentiment that counts, snort.)

The author can create some lovely melodramatic angst, so it's really too bad that Ms Husk is willing to go all out in sabotaging everything unique and risky in her story in her desire to be mistaken for Christine Feehan or Thea Harrison. But as long as she's happy, I guess I shouldn't complain. It's not like there's a shortage of other books to read, after all. Still, I'd always look at this book and feel a little wistful about things that could have been.

Rating: 67


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