Rating: 4.5 stars
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In the 17th Century, the ancient sprawl of Epping forest is bursting with magic and those who go unseen by human eyes: the elves who rule the summer court and the goblins who rule the winter court. It is said that if a human catches the eye of one of the fey, they are either doomed or blessed.
The Goblin King has seven sons, a number said to be unlucky. For most of his sons, home and duties are not enough and, when they go exploring, chance encounters with humans change their lives forever. Book 1 contains the stories of Wulfren and Quiller, goblin princes and the humans that changed their lives.
Goblins is a magical book on so many levels. From that cover that pulls you in with its haunting and haunted young beings, to the lyrical and imaginative descriptions of Epping forest and its dwellers, this book kept me awake thinking about the scenes and settings I found within.
Honestly this is a book that needs more than one rating because of all its standout elements, including that miraculous cover. But the characters and plots for each brother varied enough for me to rate each story individually. So let’s start with my least favorite and the first in the book, Wulfren and the Warlock:
Wulfren and the Warlock
Rating: 3.5 stars
Wulfren is the seventh son of the Goblin King and the youngest. Wulfren also has the least amount of magic, as magic increases with age. A very young spirit, Wulfren is half elf and half goblin. His mother is an elf banished for her passion and love for the Goblin King, and she remains the favorite of his consorts and the mother of two of his sons. Wulfren’s curiosity and youth get the better of him when Wulfren and his brother Garnet spy a warlock in their woods and play pranks on him. When the warlock turns the tables on Wulfren and captures him, both of their lives change forever.
I loved so much of this story. The plot is wonderful, the settings other worldly, and the descriptions of everything within so unbelievably magical that I never wanted to leave. So where is the problem? With one character, that of Wulfrin. Wulfrin is a very young spirit, so young in fact that his dialog and antics make him feel like a 12- to 14-year old. He himself says at one point to the warlock after being captured:
“I… I have over seven hundred seasons, now. Seven hundred and twenty,” I added.
“Seasons? The seasons … But that would make you …” He sounded surprised, his eyes widening. “Age aside, you must be a young spirit.”
“I’m not young!” I said, indignant. “I do everything the adults do.”
Yes, Wulfren is young, adorably so. He acts on impulse, doesn’t like doing his chores, and feels shuffled aside at his father’s court because no one lets him do anything. Anyone who has had a child or is familiar with children has heard this plaintive voice a hundred times or more. It’s the voice of a child and Tushmore has captured it perfectly. So why do I have issues with this? Because immediately the Warlock binds Wulfren with silver chains and drags him off to bed, introducing elements of BDSM and non con sexual activities to basically what is a baby goblin. No matter how I tried looking at this aspect of the story, the squick factor was just too big to overlook. Time and again, I picture Wulfren as Max from Where the Wild Things Are, roaring his terrible roar, claws included. Not an image Tushmore probably wants to evoke. Even after both admit they have feelings for each other, it still feels like a barely pubescent boy who wants to please an older man, doing small chores around the house and pleading for his attention. When they are parted, Wulfren writes a letter to his warlock and its contents are those that any tween writing to Tiger Beat would recognize. Even if you accept that these two characters have a loving relationship, it never feels real or believable, just terribly one sided.
And that is the fault of Ash, the warlock. We really never get a firm grip on his character. Who is he? Why is he by himself on the edge of the woods? He remains an enigma for the entire story, and that makes it hard to believe and connect with his relationship to Wulfren. Everyone else comes alive in this story with the exception of Ash. Had his character been more fleshed out and Wulfren made an older soul, then this story would have a completely different tone.
Still, the vivid descriptions and magical air that Tushmore imparts to her tale make this story a lush visit to hidden kingdoms. Here is a look as the goblins get ready for a celebration when Wulfren is brought home:
They led me downstairs. Random bursts of song filled the air as musicians tuned their instruments, and quarrelled over who played what. Outside in the dark, the court gathered amongst the inner ring, with the toadstools towering above us. Sprites had lit the dew drops that covered the toadstool heads, and they sparkled. Fires lit on twig ends were jabbed into the ground for torches. Brownies rushed about with acorn shells full of wine in their arms, sloshing liquid as they hurried.
“Father has even broken out the mead,” Garnet whispered to me. “Hurry, before it’s all gone.”
I dream of lit dew drops and fire flies tucked into cobwebs to light the great hall. Just so magical. Scenes like this elevated this story above the main relationship.
Quiller and the Runaway Prince
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Quiller is the third son of the Goblin King. He is half goblin and half bird spirit like his mother, another one of the King’s consorts. When winter is finished and spring comes to the woods once more, Quiller and the rest of the goblins are free of their duties for two seasons and its time to play. Flying through the woods, Quiller sees a fallen man and his injured horse deep in the forest. The horse snorts and tells Quiller he doesn’t think much of the young man, but Quiller sees and feels something for the human right from the start. When Quiller tells the young man that “all runaway princes are mine,” a journey begins for which neither is quite prepared.
This story has it all: great characters, believable relationship between beings of basically the same age (emotionally and intellectually), and the vivid, imaginative descriptions that make this book a must read on every level. This is how the story begins:
The start of spring, 1648.
Winter was over, at long last. Tonight we were all in our larger forms— as tall as elves— and dressed in vein-thin leaves. It was the celebration to welcome Eostre, goddess of spring. Our home, the rotten ring, had been decorated in her honour. Dewdrops were lit, and fireflies were hung in cobwebs. The musicians piped up and played as the first glimmer of Eostre appeared through the trees. Pale light played on her shapely edges, like it shone from within. The form she took to visit us was more elf-like than anything; tall and graceful, with long, sleek hair of many colours.
Hair that moved. As Eostre stepped inside our ring of rotten tree trunks, I could see her hair crawled with insect larvae. She paid it no mind, as she cast an amused eye over the ring, then addressed Father. “Goblin king. Your line was missing one pair of claws this winter.”
Father’s face twitched ever so slightly before he replied. “Yes, Goddess, we … We managed without.”
We know from the previous story that the missing set of claws belongs to Wulfren, the youngest son of the Goblin King. The King and his subjects are responsible for Fall and Winter. And during those seasons, the King holds Court but the scepter passes to the elves in the spring and there the Goddess will hold court through the summer months. I loved the image of the Goddess, Eostre, her hair full of larvae that writhe as she walks. Its mesmerizing, opulent, and yet somewhat repulsive. Yet, Tushmore is not finished with Eostre. Here is the scene as the Goddess leaves the company of goblins:
The ceremony was almost over; Eostre bid our ring farewell. In each footprint she left, fresh shoots and flowers grew, yet without her touch they soon wilted. All flowers died in the rotten ring.
Eostre inclined her head to Father. “Raedren, goblin king of the southern realm, thank you for the winter.”
“Goddess. Peace be.” Father bowed deeply to her in return, his cloak of cobwebs fluttering around him.
“Peace be.” Eostre smiled, then turned with a swish of hair and flowers. Her hair’s colour was ever changing, like the leaves in the trees. Butterflies and mayflies now crawled from her hair, spread their wings, and took flight. She left in a trail of flying insects and wilting flowers, on her way to the summer court, and the elves.
How wondrous, how enchanting! And the spell is set for the rest of the story. I loved the characters here, each a small treasure to be held and marveled at again and again. Quiller is just the start of a cast we will connect with and remember. Quiller is the third son of the Goblin King and therefore a prince himself. But his mother is a bird spirit, a crow, and his personality bears the hallmarks of a bird. He is flighty, scattered in his thoughts and attentions, and he recognizes that. Just his actions as he flies through the forest give ample example of this character and light-hearted nature. Cashel is also a prince, a human one. But magic aside, these two are each other’s equal in courage, in outlook, and finally in love. They are everything that is missing from the first story.
Tushmore also uses Quiller’s journey to bring a dark realistic look at the times and ways of humanity. Along the way, Quiller talks to a group of crows to see if they know where his mother resides. They reply to look near the gibbet:
“Gibbet?” I asked, puzzled.
“Wood the humans hang other humans on,” he explained. “We peck their bones clean. Nice when it’s dried in the sun.”
“How strange,” I said. “Where is this gibbet?”
“Find the human path,” the crow said. “East of here. Before you get to the human place.”
“Oh, fear not, I shan’t be visiting any humans!” I cawed.
But of course, he does, flying past human remains, evidence of the cruel nature of the times. Tushmore blends together the magical and the human worlds with a smooth, gifted touch. When Quiller meets Cashel, a human of royal blood, Cromwell and the Parliament are laying waste to the people and lands all around. None of that really matters to Quiller, but Cashel is mired deep in the midst of political intrigue and fears for his life. So into the castle goes Quiller (in bird form of course) where Cashel is living with his cousins. Black deeds abound inside, threatening Cashel’s life and those of his relatives. With a magical being in the middle, all sorts of things start to happen, and I loved every single minute. I mean, Tushmore gives us everything we could want and more. There’s poison, nefarious goings on, villains, a witch, and of course, love. And it’s all believable, and layered and complete. Well mostly.
These are just the first two books and there are seven sons, five more to go. So I expect to see Quiller and Cashel appear in the books to come. Quiller still has his duties to attend to in the fall and winter. Plus I don’t expect the Goblin King to willingly lose another son to the humans and that is not addressed here. Still this story is quite marvelous, worthy of the price of this book alone.
After reading Goblins, I can’t wait to see what the author does for the rest of the sons. I want more of her extraordinary descriptions and spellbinding imagination. I highly recommend this to you all even with my reservations concerning the first story.
Cover design by Ria Chantler. This cover is exquisite, one of the best of 2013. The more closely I look at it, the better it gets. just remarkable.
Note: Goblins will be released on September 25th by Less Than Three Press.