The Goblin’s Puzzle: Being the Adventures of a Boy with No Name and Two Girls Called Alice makes good use of fairy tale tropes to tell an inventive tale of a hero growing into his role, a heroine finding her place, and a goblin being honorable in his own way. The boy is a slave; it is the only life he has ever known, and his beliefs tell him that he should accept his fate and be the best slave he can be. Only, he never quite manages, and when circumstances set him free, he can’t bring himself to return to his master. Instead, he finds himself freeing a goblin, fighting monsters, and setting out to save a princess. Plain Alice wants to be a sage, but she cannot even get to the first trials. Then she finds herself kidnapped by a dragon named Ludwig and getting mixed up in politics.
Andrew S. Chilton writes a clever, funny book that raises questions about gender and social inequality without losing a bit of its liveliness or humor. The boy has to be taught to question his position. The king has to fight to make Princess Alice his heir and to get her taught suitable subjects. Plain Alice and her father do not have the money to get her to the trials. Side remarks and odd touches bring laughter to the story. The kingdom’s motto is “Permuddlare, necesse est,” loosely translated as “We’ll have to muddle through somehow,” which is what everyone does. The goblin’s efforts to help the boy without compromising his goblin honor—which requires that he make difficult bargains—are good fro more than one chuckle. And anyone who is at all familiar with myths and fairy tales will gladly recognize various elements; they are comfortable, well-used pieces that help steer the story.
The Goblin’s Puzzle is an engrossing, enjoyable new tale for children who love fairy tales, myths, and humor.