Sundry creatures and an affable aspiring hero stumble and bumble around a magically infused landscape.
Skarper the goblin lives in one of seven ruined towers surrounding an ancient, sealed-up Keep. Goblin gangs (including Skarper’s) have overrun the towers, fighting each other and scrambling for treasures. As Skarper has learned to read the lettuce (letters) that make up worms (words) and form burks (books)—other goblins use burks as “bumwipe”—he’s declared “too clever by half” and launched sky-high from a “bratapult.” He survives and meets Henwyn, a rather dimwitted human boy who’d rather be a hero than a cheesewright and seeks “evils to fight: proper ones, not made of cheese.” Skarper, Henwyn and others—including a giant, three “self-styled sorcerers” and a gray-haired princess in her 40s who nonetheless needs rescuing (some things never change)—blunder around, fighting baddies while at odds with one another’s goals. Some workings go unexplained (how does a one-legged goblin move around? How do characters reach a ship atop a tower?). In a device that doesn’t always work, playful humor (Henwyn is “stout of heart and damp of socks”) contrasts with the formal epic-fantasy voice Reeve uses for background (“the lands of the west, where men are few and some of the old magic lingers”). That exposition feels far distant, yet it’s key to the climax, which features the Keep imploding like Tolkien’s Barad-dûr.
A bit overlong and slapdash-feeling, but amiable. (Fantasy. 8-11)