Thursday, May 2, 2013

Review - "Goblin Secrets"

"All the world's a stage,/ And all the men and women (and goblins) merely players;/ They have their exits and their entrances;/ And one man in his time plays many parts..."

This is the second time I have begun a blog entry with this particular quote from Shakespeare, but who can blame me? It is a cracker jack quote. Here’s another, while I’m at it: “The play’s the thing…” Now imagine a world in which masks have been outlawed (for humans at least), and players are considered bandits of a sort, stealing away with their audience’s credulity. But on the fringes of society are rebels, considered outcasts, who go on with the show. This is the world presented to us in William Alexander’s rich Goblin Secrets.

Rownie has nothing. His family is merely a scrapheap collection of orphans, molded together by a Baba Yaga like witch named Graba. He used to have a brother, but said brother has disappeared. Rownie doesn’t even have a name, his own being merely a juvenilization of his older brother’s name, Rowan. Life seems to be going nowhere fast until one day he is pulled on stage during a goblin performance, and the whole world changes. Now Rownie has something to look forward to (illegal though it may be), a means of escaping Graba and new friends to help him along the way. Rownie lives with the goblins on the fringes of society and learns that he’s not the only one that’s been searching for news of his wayward brother. The goblins seek him as well, in hopes of enacting some ancient magic to save the city of Zombay from the rising waters that seek to consume them.

Goblin Secrets has some moments of levity, but on the whole goes into some rather dark places. Graba is a terrifying figure, perched on mechanical chicken legs and wielding inhuman powers and influence over her hoard of children. Rownie lives under an oppressive regime that has banned mask wearing and play-acting, led by a corrupt Lord Mayor and enforced by imposing Guards. Even the happy ending comes at the discovery of a huge and heartbreaking cost. I like that Alexander was not afraid to go dark, pulling the reader into the uncertain world of Zombay. Children can use a little darkness sometimes, as Lemony Snicket has taught us. And Alexander’s world creating is so richly detailed as to feel totally real, even quotidian; the goblins are more ordinary than the ordinary people.

I’m not sure what made me pick this title up. It doesn’t have a particularly remarkable cover, or catchy title, and yet I was drawn to it. This appears to be the case for others as well, because the book has gone out many times since I put in on the shelf, and it was awarded the National Book Award. Now that I know of the good stuff inside, I’ll be sure to try and get it in even more hands. I don’t think it will be a hard sell.

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander
2012, Margaret K. McElderry Books
Library copy

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