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Literature / Nine Goblins

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When she looked up, the elf was watching her. She was expecting to find an expression of contempt or hatred or something, but he met her eyes with unexpected camaraderie, like the only babysitter in a room full of children. How odd that our lives should bring us to this point, that look said.

Nine Goblins is a story written by Ursula Vernon under the pseudonym T. Kingfisher and published in ebook format. It follows a troop of goblins fighting in the Goblin Wars and their encounter with the elf veterinarian Sings-To-Trees. It is also a sort-of prequel to the earlier (unfinished) story Elf vs. Orc.

The goblin sergeant Nessilka and eight of her squad are magically displaced from the battlefront and dropped far behind the enemy lines when they attack a wizard during a battle. Their attempts to get home are cut short when they meet the elf Sings-To-Trees and discover strange things happening in the nearby human villages... like all the humans and animals suddenly vanishing, for example.

Might or might not feature trolls, elven rangers, psychotic wizards, a kitten, and a teddy bear.

Nine Goblins provides examples of:

  • All Trolls Are Different: Trolls look something like enormous frogs with goat horns, and are generally good-natured as long as nobody panics at the sight of them.
  • Ambiguous Innocence: All wizards are a little cracked. So a little girl with powerful magic, who wants her brother back after he left with the army, kills everyone in her village so she'd be taken to him.
  • Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad: Goblin compliments work this way. They'll only complain about something if they really appreciate it. For things they actually don't like, they go for a Stiff Upper Lip.
  • Beef Bandage: Offered to Mushkin after he gets a black eye.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Algol is an Arabic word for a kind of monster that can be translated as "ghoul", or possibly "goblin".
  • Compelling Voice: The second wizard can cause an irresistibly fascinating muttering, like a desperately important conversation just out of earshot. It's powerful enough to reach for miles. People will abandon children, crawl on broken legs, and trample each other to follow it. It's pretty horrific.
  • Consulting Mister Puppet: One of the goblins speaks exclusively through a teddy bear as a symptom of being a Shell-Shocked Veteran. He's still serving in the army since, according to Nessilka, the bear is far more sensible then he ever was. Displacing his personality onto a bear proves quite useful in the end.
  • Cross-Cultural Kerfluffle: A tragic case where one of these starts a war with the goblins. After being pushed to the edge of lands they could relocate to avoid humans, they send a diplomatic delegation to demand territory. The humans don't see coup-counters, elaborate paintings describing clan history, and lean dangerous battle steeds. They see bones caught in the hair of mud covered goblins riding bony pigs. The negotiations do NOT go well.
  • Cute and Psycho: The second wizard is a fairly cute looking little girl. She's found by the goblins cooking herself pancakes in a church surrounded by the corpses of the entire village, who she had killed.
  • Deliberately Cute Child: The second wizard is going to try to appear the sole survivor of a magical attack, as part of a completely insane plan to get her brother back.
  • Dem Bones: The cervidians, magical creatures which resemble animate deer skeletons, are very similar to this. Except they're specifically noted to still be ALIVE somehow, the bones held together with a fine organic webbing. They're not actually evil, but are distinctly sinister and are drawn to magical disturbances.
  • Face Palm: A common reaction both for Nessilka and Sings.
  • Fantastic Nuke: Never explicitly compared to a nuclear weapon except that powerful wizards are always drafted, but the effect of the Compelling Voice is to kill everyone within a few miles while leaving the buildings. For all practical purposes it's a Neutron Bomb.
  • Fantastic Racism: Against goblins, of course. The main reason for the war.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Sings-To-Trees. As opposed to the other elves in this universe, he even cares for the non-cute animals. (And the cute animals whenever they're not currently being cute.)
  • Full-Boar Action: Goblin generals and high-up messengers use pigs as Fantastic Mounts.
  • General Failure: The norm among goblins, which is why most authority is in the hands of the sergeants.
  • The Homeward Journey: Well, not exactly home, but back to their own people.
  • Horse of a Different Color:
    • Goblins ride pigs.
    • Sings-To-Trees at one point has to ride a cervidian, a skeletal stag, to his great discomfort.
  • Identical Twin ID Tag: Invoked. When the twins Mishkin and Mushkin tell Nessilka even their own mother can't tell them apart, she decides to fix that and has Thumper punch one in the face, giving him a black eye.
  • Insanity Immunity: Blanchett, being somewhat broken, is unaffected by the second wizard's spell.
  • Minion with an F in Evil: The goblins, in general. Nessilka has to remind them they are supposed to be fierce all the time. It turns out that goblins are actually nonconfrontational by default.
  • Mutant Draft Board: Powerful wizards are almost universally drafted, though it's by persuasion since only a fool would provoke a wizard suited to be on a battlefield.
  • Our Elves Are Different: Are they are better, or at least they like to think so. Sings To Trees doesn't have much truck with the general superior attitude though, finding it hypocritical.
  • Our Goblins Are Different: Remarkably similar to Pratchett's Discworld goblins, in that they are treated throughout the world as near-vermin, but have a far more cohesive society. Some hints of the modern "technical wiz" take on goblins, especially with Murray, who invents, for instance, a basic refrigerator.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: Any powerful wizard, particularly the second.
  • Power Born of Madness: Wizardry is simply a mental disorder that has symptoms including, perhaps, blowing up other people with one's mind. It seems that if one is sufficiently detached from reality, they create a reality of their own and are able to impose this on others, usually with unpleasant effects. As such, they're mostly useful in battle, but fielded with great caution, as nobody can be sure they'll only attack the enemy.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: The usual result of goblin engineering. It averages as (slightly) more dangerous to the enemy then to their own troops. The engineer in the squad was actual fired because his devices didn't blow up.
  • Team Mom: Sergeant Nessilka, who was the eldest of six children and brings much the same approach to guiding her Ragtag Bunch of Misfits.
  • Team Pet: Wiggles the kitten, though to Nessilka's reluctance.
  • War Is Hell: The war is depicted not so much as horrific (though it has its moments) as wasteful and tragic, and caused mainly by misunderstandings and meaningless discrimination.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: Most elves only extend Friend to All Living Things as far as being friendly to the cute and well-groomed creatures. Sings-to-Trees is left alone to take care of all the creatures that are not (currently) meeting the elves' haughty standards.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: All wizards are certifiably insane. Comes with the territory. It's not exactly a Power Born of Madness, but it seems you can't get one without the other...