Goblins, by Philip Reeve (Scholastic, August 27th, 2013) is a truly great pick for a nine or ten-year-old fantasy reader who likes humor and excitement--I highly recommend it.
It begins with a young goblin named Scarper being catapulted from the impossibly high walls of the ancient magical fastness of Clovenstone...not by choice--he's seriously ticked off his clan leader. I knew I'd enjoy it when I got to this line on page 2--"But after the first thousand feet or so he realized that he was just going "...aaaaaaaaaaaa..." from force of habit, so he stopped..." and my handy sample of Target Audience laughed at the very same line.
Clovenstone was once home to the incredibly powerful evil sorcerer called the Lych Lord, who ruled the whole world from his Stone Throne, high in the highest tower of the whole keep. Now it's home to clans of squabbling, thuggishly uncivilized goblins, who (horror!) are using all the scraps of map and manuscript they can find for bum-wipes (when they remember to wipe their bums). Scarper is not like other goblins--so much not like them that's he's taught himself to read...which is what gets him into trouble. But happily for Scarper, he miraculously survives being catapulted to his death...
In the meantime, a young would-be hero, Henwyn, leaves home after accidentally destroying his family's cheesemaking operations (he had now idea the magic potion would summon a cheese monster of doom). Henwyn comes to Clovenstone to rescue a princess held there by a giant, and he and Scarper cross paths on a troll bridge (complete with troll) and find themselves unlikely companions. However, Princess Eluned (Ned for short) turns out to be in her forties, and quite happy living peacefully with the giant, so rescuing her is off the table. And also arriving at Clovenstone are three would-be heirs of the Lych Lord's dark magic...men who can't actually do a spell to save their lives, but who dream big.
The goblins are restless (more so than usual), and strange creatures are experiencing the awakenings of old powers. If the Lych Lord's heir sits on his throne, his magic will once more flood the world...and Scarper the goblin just happens to know where a map is that shows how to get to the heart of Clovenstone... When Princess Ned gets kidnapped by boglins, the goblin and the boy set off together to (depending on which of them you ask) a. save Ned b. find treasure c. heroically uncover the secrets held in the fastness of the Lych Lord (although most of the exploration happens because they are being chased by things that want to kill them).
It's lots of fun, with many small entertaining details place and people. Really truly lots of fun, even for the grown-up reader who makes a doubtful face when shown a book called Goblins with goblins on the cover (naming no names), and most definitely an excellent one for its target audience. Philip Reeve is an author one can trust to deliver good writing and good story, and he doesn't disappoint here.
And it was kind of nice to have a princess closer in age to me than princesses these days mostly are...although my knees aren't as bad as hers and I'm sure I could climb multiple flights of steep crumbling stairs while being pursued with no problem at all...maybe? Perhaps I will practice at work today.
This one has been out in the UK for a little while, and my son and I were rather excited to see that the sequel, Goblins and Dwarves, is already published over there...we might not be able to wait for the US edition to come out.
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher (thanks).