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The Goblin's Puzzle: Being the…
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The Goblin's Puzzle: Being the Adventures of a Boy with No Name and… (2016)

by Andrew Chilton

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An unnamed boy who is slave runs away from his master and stumbles upon a shackled goblin, who agrees to help the boy - after a fashion - if he'll help the goblin escape. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, an evil duke uses a magic spell to force a dragon to kidnap the princess, Alice, so that he can work out a nefarious plan to become next in line to the throne instead of the princess. Unfortunately, the dragon makes a mistake and kidnaps Alice, a local girl who wishes nothing more than to become a sage. Eventually the ragtag group of runaway slave boy, goblin, princess, and sage wannabe wind up together ... but are their combined forces enough to outpace the wicked Duke Geoffrey?

This book is a hodgepodge of Eastern and Western mythology and lore against a medieval backdrop -- although, of course, it's set in its own inventive world (complete with map) rather than in a historical past place. There is a TON of humor throughout the book, although some of it might be over young readers' heads (and perhaps arguably so, as in the case of snide remarks made about the boy's parentage which are, of course, sexual in nature). The humor combines with a variety of logic-type puzzles/mysteries to make for a very entertaining read that goes by quickly despite its length (nearly 300 pages). There are some deeper moments, including some rather philosophical ones regarding fate/destiny versus free will. It takes a bit of time to build up to it, but the almost flippant tone toward slavery in the beginning of the book is counteracted with some more serious -- although ultimately easily solved in this book -- concerns about slavery's unethicalness and untenableness. Basic black-and-white illustratiosn at the start of each chapter supply readers with just a small helping of visualization regarding the characters.

However, the thing that kept this book from sitting well with me was, of course, the gender issue. The boy is the hero of the story -- he is the one on a quest, and he is the one who must rescue the girls. (Yes, the word "rescue" is used repeatedly and ony in reference to the boy as the rescuer.) There are definitely moments that point toward a small hope for gender equality -- Plain Alice insistently strives to be a sage even though boys less wise than her are given the opportunities she is denied, the king is eager for Princes Alice to succeed him rather than passing over his daughter in favor of a male relative, and in general the two girls show bravery, fortitutde, and smarts throughout the long journey toward setting things right. Still, it is always the boy who is seen as the hero to the point that he is given the name Hero at the book's end while the girls are seen as possible romantic partners for the boy rather than heroes in their own right. Furthermore, the somewhat vague ending strongly implies that Princess Alice will have to marry some prince or other simply for monetary gain in order to save her kingdom ... unless Plain Alice or another sage comes up with an alternate plan, although that possibility is not suggested. Instead Plain Alice's "reward" after finally gaining permission to apprentice as a sage is to walk off hand in hand with the boy, not to use some of her wisdom to better her sex.

While I overall enjoyed this fun fantasy romp, the gender politics make me hesistant about recommending it. There are already more than enough books out there with male heroes and female bystanders. In 2016, I'd hoped for better than what this book provided. ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Jun 18, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553520709, Hardcover)

Brimming with dragons, goblins, and logic puzzles, this middle-grade fantasy adventure is perfect for readers who enjoyed The Princess Bride or Rump.

THE BOY is a nameless slave on a mission to uncover his true destiny.
THE GOBLIN holds all the answers, but he’s too tricky to be trusted.
PLAIN ALICE is a bookish peasant girl carried off by a confused dragon.
And PRINCESS ALICE is the lucky girl who wasn’t kidnapped.
 
All four are tangled up in a sinister plot to take over the kingdom, and together they must face kind monsters, a cruel magician, and dozens of deathly boring palace bureaucrats. They’re a ragtag bunch, but with strength, courage, and plenty of deductive reasoning, they just might outwit the villains and crack the goblin’s puzzle.

(retrieved from Amazon Sat, 04 Jul 2015 01:08:49 -0400)

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