This second installment of Wood’s fantasy series finds Princess Willow battling goblins and various demons even as she attempted by the attentions of her sworn knight, Brand, and an enticing faery, Theon.
As promised by the title, this story takes a grimmer tone than the first, but the author eventually lightens the mood with winning comedy from goblin children. This time Willow travels to the faery realm, but when Brand breaks the all-important rules by stowing away in her magical transport spell, the faeries turn the pair over to the dark lord Jarlath Thornheart, who throws them into the terrifying goblin’s gauntlet. Thornheart’s twins, Dacia and Theon, accompany them, but Willow doesn’t trust them even though their magical powers are held in abeyance during the game. Various magical beasts attack. When tiny goblins try to gnaw the adventurers to death, however, Willow takes control. With their fractured English and irrepressible spirits, the little goblins, especially Pitt, the heir to the goblin throne, steal much of the show. Wood takes her time getting to the gauntlet game as she builds a back story for the dark faeries and, curiously, keeps returning to a bodily waste–elimination motif. Finally in the gauntlet, Willow realizes her powers and makes major moral choices.
Although slower than the first installment this story remains entertaining; here's hoping the little goblins become recurring characters. (Fantasy. 10 & up)