I learned about this one when M.C.A. Hogarth posted some lovely fan art of a couple of the characters. However, T. Kingfisher is a pen name for Ursula Vernon, who is a friend of Hogarth's, so I initially passed Nine Goblins by. It's maybe not fair of me, but I tend to assume that rose-colored glasses are in play when authors recommend works written by their friends. Then I heard that Sings-to-Trees was an elven veterinarian, a very tempting detail. I tried the excerpt, liked it, and bought the whole thing. I'm so glad I did. This novella was wonderful, and I really hope the author publishes more works set in this world.
The story starts off split between two sets of characters: Sergeant Nessilka and her goblin troops, and Sings-to-Trees and his various patients. Goblins have been at war with humans and elves for some time, mostly because they don't have much of a choice. When humans moved into goblin lands, the goblins, preferring to avoid conflict, moved out. Eventually, though, there were no other places they could move. A few disagreements and misunderstandings later, and the war began. The elves joined in as allies of the humans.
When Sergeant Nessilka and eight of her troops accidentally end up trapped behind enemy lines, her goal is to get everyone safely home. Although Sings-to-Trees is technically an enemy, he's a very unusual elf. He's more concerned with taking care of his animal patients than with the war, and he has fond memories of the goblins that used to live near his home. He might be able to help, but first he and the goblins have to deal with whatever is mysteriously emptying out nearby farmhouses and villages before it gets them too.
It took a while for the story to really get going. All the characters' paths didn't cross until about halfway through the novella. However, not once did I mentally start tapping my foot, waiting for something to happen. I was enjoying the characters, world, and writing too much for that.
The story's wry humor and quirky details reminded me a lot of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. For example, on the one hand, Sings-to-Trees is a stereotypically gorgeous, nature-loving elf. On the other hand, when readers first meet him, he has his right arm up to the shoulder inside a pregnant unicorn's birth canal, is bruised from the contractions and being kicked by his ungrateful patient, and is splattered with unicorn crap. His home and his life were all arranged with his patients in mind, and his own people tended to steer clear of him, because they preferred nature that was clean and pretty.
Most of the goblins were fairly basic characters, with one identifying trait and not much else. Weasel stuttered and was good at catching small animals, Thumper was huge and liked thumping things (and people), Gloober always had his finger up his nose, etc. Taken as a group, they felt like a family. No nonsense, long-suffering Nessilka gave them direction and tried to keep them all together and safe. I liked Nessilka right away. Blanchett, who rarely spoke for himself and preferred to act as “interpreter” for his constant companion, a teddy bear, was another favorite of mine. His inability to function without his teddy bear was heartbreaking.
The ending was perhaps a little too light and fluffy, considering that there was still a war going on. However, after all that tension (creepy recently vacated farmhouse ::shudder::), all those bodies, and that tragically messed up “villain,” I appreciated it. I very much hope that the author plans to write more stories (or even novels?) set in this world. More exhausted, busy, pragmatic elven veterinarian would be especially nice.
- The Black Gryphon (book) by Mercedes Lackey - Those who want something else that deals with war and features an exhausted, dedicated healer might want to give this a try. There are gryphons! Just don't expect Nine Goblins' wry humor - although there is some humor from time to time, this book, and series in general, takes itself more seriously.
- Guards! Guards! (book) by Terry Pratchett - I mentioned Pratchett in my review, so it was pretty much guaranteed that he was going to be somewhere in this list. I used this reading order guide and started with the Watch novels, which I think might be most appealing to those who enjoyed the goblins.
- The Warrior's Apprentice (book) by Lois McMaster Bujold - Military science fiction. Another book in which the main character is in way over his head, although Miles Vorkosigan is better equipped to handle it than the goblins. I've written about this book.