An inventive, well-written fantasy, but one with disturbing aspects.
The underground Goblin Kingdom normally has little to do with the world of humans—except when the Goblin King chooses a bride. The young woman Kate is the chosen bride of Marak, the ugly but charming Goblin ruler. Kate learns to live in the fascinating Goblin kingdom and helps fight a threat to it.
If that were the entire plot, there would be little to quibble about, and readers could contemplate the worthiness of this book according to whether they take issue with stories involving magic and goblins (who are very originally imagined by this author as a civilized, even cultured race). But one key element of the story creates a profound moral dilemma for those considering this book for a young reader: in every generation, the Goblin King’s bride is captured by the groom and forced into marriage, and she has no choice in the matter.
The crux of the story is the fact that the Goblin King must always choose a non-goblin bride, or he will have no heirs. An unsettling prologue shows an earlier Goblin King kidnapping another human girl decades before the main story begins: “And arm around her waist, he led the sobbing, stumbling girl away.” This is a cleaned-up, junior version of the abduction stories offered for years in romances for adult readers. The fact that Marak, the Goblin King, turns out to be a sympathetic and even honorable character and an enlightened ruler only heightens the moral confusion of this premise. In a more favorable vein, various characters make and keep promises, even at great cost to themselves, and one act of revenge is explicitly shown to have terrible consequences to the person who initiates the revenge.
God is mentioned several times as sovereign over the universe, though no direct worship is depicted. At one point, Kate muses on why God wouldn’t make the goblin go away; at another, there is a remark about how dangerous it is to deal with “devils” for any kind of gain. In one gratuitous image at the beginning of the story a goblin’s large, dark eyes are compared by a young woman to a Greek icon of Christ. Also, this is a story set in a magical world. The Goblins, especially Marak, have magic; the lavish underground kingdom depends for its existence on continuous magical intervention, and the sorcerer who attacks the King has very powerful magic that he uses with evil intent. At one point a woman tells Kate’s fortune by reading her palm.
This is an adventure story, and various characters are put in jeopardy. There is talk of killing, people are tied up, Kate’s human guardian has a rather nasty comeuppance, and a particularly repellent villain imprisons the Goblin King. This villain captures and misuses animals, humans, and goblins, some of which are maimed or killed. Then there’s the King’s wedding to Kate, which involves Marak making ceremonial knife cuts to Kate’s palms and his own hand. Kate herself, who turns out to be no shrinking violet, encounters an enemy.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Possibly some ceremonial drinking; no drunkenness.
Explicit intimacy is not shown, except for kissing, though certainly there is a lot implied by a marriage. At one point right before her marriage, Kate muses that she will be sharing a bed with her husband, but nothing is said in detail. Childbirth occurs, though described very discreetly.
Crude or Profane Language or Content
No cursing or related language or behavior.
This book, the first and best volume of a trilogy, is exceedingly inventive, and the characters are diverse, memorable, and often appealing. In almost every aspect it’s an intriguing story by a talented author. This lady can write! But though there is much to admire in this book’s quality, I have never felt comfortable about recommending it to anyone younger than eighteen. As with Twilight, this book conveys the unpalatable idea that a girl is compelled to surrender if she becomes an object of some guy’s infatuation. There is the added complication here that the man is considerably older than the girl and has complete power over her from the first instant. This kind of relationship shouldn’t look as good and glamorous as it does here. I can’t imagine giving this book to a twelve-year-old and then leaving her alone with it.