Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Kidlit Reviews: Goblin Secrets

Goblin Secrets (Zombay, #1) 

Kidlit Review, Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander.  Middle Grade fantasy.  223 pages.
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2012
Source: library

Quick summary: young Rownie, an orphan in the city of Zombay, is
looking for his older brother Rowan, and along the way joins a troupe of Goblin actors and escapes from the witch Graba.

Review: Something like steampunk for kids, this book (despite some blurbs on the back cover) was not a classic fantasy tale.  Zombay is a city with a feel of being the ruins of a more mechanical age, with many things--including people--run by clockwork and coal power (well, a clock-work mule would leave less mess on the streets!).  But the overarching tale is classic: a young hero, a quest that isn't quite what he thinks it is, and surprising help and companions along the way.  I was a little put off by the setting (nothing wrong with it, just not my style), and the somewhat dark tone, but found myself caught up in Rownie's struggles, and read the second half pretty much non-stop.

The darkness and some disconcerting weirdness makes me think this is more suitable for about 11 and up, though the writing is accessible for younger kids.  And maybe today's kids are used to this.  I thought that the way the author played with the power of masks--an actor becomes what the mask he wears depicts, because he and the audience believe in it--was interesting and a littl creepy.  It didn't make me want to put on any masks!  So thematically we are looking at the nature of reality, the nature of family, and an underlying political commentary.  Not bad for maybe 30,000 words of kid lit.  There is also a lot that is undeveloped or only hinted at, suggesting the author has left plenty of room for more books in the same setting--the whole nature of the "goblins" is only partially explained and cries out for more, and I hope that Rownie develops a wider view of the city and the world traveling with them, so we can better understand the acting ban, the reasons for the decay and mechanism, and the river.

Four stars.

[Note: I have been learning a little more about the legalities of doing these reviews, and will be going back through my reviews and inserting the appropriate information regarding publishers, copyright holders, and the infamous FTC disclaimer (below).]

Full Disclosure: I checked out this copy of Goblin Secrets from my library and received nothing whatsoever from the author or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed in this review are my own and no one else's.


  1. Good review! I happen to love Steampunk so I'll be checking this one out.

    1. Hope you enjoy it! I had some mixed feelings, but it was well-written.

      Thanks for joining the blog!

  2. This looks so fun! Great review. Thanks for sharing it on the Kit Lit Blog Hop. :)

  3. Another great review. The premise and cover draw me in but I have the same feelings about the darkness for Middle Grade. I guess I will have to read it to decide but I know you are a pretty good judge. Thanks again for linking in to the Kid Lit Blog Hop. Cheers Julie Grasso

  4. Yeah, I think it's a pretty individual thing, what kid at what age is okay with dark themes and styles. I would probably have freaked out reading this at age 10, but then I cried buckets over "Black Beauty" and the death scene in "Little Women."

    And hey--congrats on your new release!

  5. I haven't read any steam punk yet and I'm not sure it's my think. Or maybe it is. It sounds like there is potential in this book that just isn't quite reached. I have to admit that I don't like it when things are hinted at and unexplained. It doesn't necessarily make me want to read more. Interesting characters and a really great story and setting make me want to read more, kwim? I find it frustrating...but that's just me. Thanks for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop! :)


We want to hear from you! Tell us your reactions, or whatever's on your mind.