Book Review: The Goblin King
by Shona Husk
At first thought, goblins seem unpromising material for romantic heroes, and romance author Shona Husk is counting on her readers to have that very reaction when they begin her latest novel The Goblin King. Celtic mythology (about which this book is cannily better informed than it lets on). Grey, withered creatures – that’s how such mythology portrays goblins: quintessentially Gollum-like beings who care only about treasure. Not a Byronic bone in their bodies, and certainly nothing like the strapping hero we see gazing out at us from Don Sipley’s eye-catching cover (featuring a familiar face – or is it a familiar chest?).
That hero is former human prince Roan – he and his brothers have been cursed by an ancient druid to wear goblin forms, live in the Shadowlands, and gradually, insidiously take on the nature of goblins, hoarding gold and lusting for treasure rather than glory or love. When we meet Roan, he’s caught in a horrible fate: whenever he’s in the ‘real’ world (Husk’s neat name for it is the Fixed Realm), he looks like a goblin, and the longer he’s in the Shadowlands, the more he thinks like a goblin.
When we meet our heroine, Eliza Coulter, she’s also at rock bottom – failed of all her dreams, engaged to a vain, boorish, and criminal man (he’s the villain of the piece, a satisfyingly despicable one). On the night of a big birthday party, she locks herself in her room and douses all of her fiance’s expensive suits in wine … and then, impulsively, she does something else: she calls upon the Goblin King to attend her.
It’s an act of desperation, and it’s something she’s done before. When she was sixteen, at a big party thrown by her brother, she’d fled the drunken advances of one of her brother’s friends and wildly, frantically spoke a book-learned summons for the Goblin King to save her. An instant later, the house had been full of shrieking forms – the guests had fled in terror, and the Goblin King had briefly taken her to a sunlit nether-realm called Summerland where he could shed his goblin form and show her the man he’d once been. Then they’d parted, and although she’d tried not to think about that insane night, he’d “felt her dreams on his skin” the whole time. When she summons him again, he at first doesn’t realize that she’s the same young woman who’d called him before – and almost immediately after he recognizes her, he recognizes what he’s wanted from her all along:
The child she’d once been was still there, full of fight she didn’t know how to direct effectively. But in the woman it lit her eyes with a fire that gold couldn’t match. She might have stopped dreaming of him, but he hadn’t stopped thinking of her and wondering what had happened to her – the girl who’d treated him like a person and not a monster.
Now he knew. And he wanted her to look at him like that again.
Fans of supernatural romance novels will find a great deal here to please them – and some surprises too, foremost of which is Husk’s easy, often graceful narrative voice (and the surprisingly solid and flexible Sourcebooks design is a plus as well). This particular sub-genre of Romance has been drastically over-populated since the gigantic success of the Twilight books and movies – readers have been presented with legions of sexy vampires, sexy werewolves, sexy dragons, sexy angels, and almost all of it felt as derivative as it was. The sexy supernatural lexicon now has a new addition (rock-trolls must wait patiently a little longer): in Shona Husk’s hands goblins – at least the of the johnny-come-lately cursed-human kind – now provide a treat to go with their tricks.
Note: readers too eager to wait for this book’s sequel can download a brief prequel for free – it’s a quick and very energetic read, and it certainly doesn’t mess with success, cover-wise.