Published by Knopf on January 19, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
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.
The Goblin's Puzzle is a delightfully clever read that breaks away from traditional fairy tales to encourage young readers to consider logical questions, fate, slavery, and gender roles. Appropriately, the Afterward teaches young readers about some basic logical concepts that are used in the story (and explains them in light of the story). Yet, it is far from a heavy read. It's funny, light-hearted, and memorable. While it made me think (especially trying to figure out the goblin's puzzle), it was in a way that is appropriate for younger readers as well. I can easily see older readers engaging in this book alongside younger readers through read-a-louds and discussions about the story.
The characters are all engaging and memorable in their own rights. The story alternates between various points of view as appropriate, and there's always a gem waiting to be found and chuckled over in each character's story. There are too many funny lines for me to share, but I hope the first line gives you a taste of what this book has in store for you:
“Bread, left untended, will steal itself, or so people liked to say. But the boy found that sometimes it needed help.”
What I love best about this story, is the wittiness of it all. While there is adventure, dragons, ogres, goblins, a king, a princess, sorcery, to name a few, this isn't your traditional medieval fantasy. In order to survive, a protagonist must outwit the villain before them. Sheer brawn will not slay the dragon. Many of the characters are two-dimensional, but I'm willing to let this because we do have more fleshed out characters in The Goblin's Puzzle.
The boy and Plain Alice rise to the stage as the main protagonists. Many readers will find themselves drawn to Plain Alice and her cleverness, which saves herself and others on multiple occasions. While she wants to be a sage, the council is prejudiced against female sages, and she relentlessly fights this discrimination with impressive determination. (She's also really pretty, going against the stereotype of nerdy, glasses-wearing smart girls). My personal favorite is the boy. Having been raised as a slave, he's hopelessly naive, but he has big hopes and dreams that he hasn't let himself contemplate in the past. His search for answers will make young readers really think about fate and free will, slavery, and justice.
In the end, the goblin's puzzle teaches us that, while our stories may bear similarities to old tales, we must take the initiative in our stories and forge our own paths. As the goblin says, "The past is written in stone, but the future is written in water." The future will come to pass, but our lives still influence its flow.
I very much enjoyed this read and will be saving my copy to share with younger readers.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review in return for my honest opinion.