Book Reviews

Review: How to Train Your Goblin King by Erin Vere

When I saw the beautiful cover of this book, and that cheeky title, I couldn’t resist!

Book: How to Train Your Goblin King by Erin Vere

Publication date: 31st March 2022

Ownership: E-ARC provided via BookSirens. All opinions my own.

Content warnings: Minor violence and injury; anxiety attacks; fantasy racism/oppression.

Floss is most definitely NOT marrying the Goblin King, even if it saves her a trip through the labyrinth.

Floss, an aspiring law student, has enough troubles to ruffle anyone’s bustle. Her school of choice won’t let her in because of her gender, her equal rights league is hopelessly ineffective, and there aren’t enough calming tonics in the world to stave off her panic attacks.

Now her niece is missing, the roguish Goblin King keeps proposing, and sinister forces threaten Floss’s city. She’ll have to brave a dangerous labyrinth and question everything she believes in to save not only her family, but an entire kingdom down below.

If only the Goblin King wasn’t quite so distracting, she might actually be able to do it.

If you like sensible heroines, ridiculously handsome heroes, fantasy creatures, and dreadful puns, you’ll love this romantic gaslamp romp by Erin Vere.

I really enjoyed this fun read! It’s obviously very heavily Labyrinth-inspired, which is what sold me on it in the first place, but I liked that it felt more like a wealth of references than an attempt to follow the film’s plot too closely – it’s got more than enough of its own original plot and world to really feel like a satisfying read. The interpretation of the labyrinth and the magical, slightly steampunky world was delightful!

I did find that the humour sometimes leaned too far into being twee and ended up feeling try-hard – in particular, not all funny fantasy needs or can sustain footnotes, and I found that they really detracted from my experience in the first few chapters, as my attention kept being pulled out of the story when I needed to be getting a feel for the characters. They lessened in both frequency and tweeness as the book went on, so I’m hoping this is just the author getting a feel for the world herself, and the try-hard feel will settle down in future books! A couple of tech jokes were slightly belaboured, too, like the GPS string, which it felt like the book kept saying “see? SEE? It’s a GPS!” when the initial mention was more than enough to get the joke. Again, though, this just feels as though it’s a slightly newer author who doesn’t quite trust their audience yet. I think the insistence on how funny it is will smooth out over time, leaving a nice lighthearted feel to the world.

Also, at times it feels a little uneven in terms of how well the themes are blended in – quite often the characters drop everything they’re doing to make heavy-handed points about social issues. The inclusion of the themes isn’t a problem at all (I loved that the characters wanted to make the world better) it’s just that they don’t come up quite as smoothly or in-character as they could, which can at times feel a little preachy. I think if this was a little more subtly woven-in, the message would be more powerful.

However, the characters are a real strength here, and I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Floss and her sister and brother-in-law, and the depiction of the Goblin King, who is very un-Jareth-like! There’s quite a large cast to juggle, but I feel like we got just enough time with each of the side characters to enjoy them, and Floss and Asterion’s growing relationship is lovely.

I feel like this review sounds overly negative for a four star, so let me repeat that I did have a really great time reading – it’s a very fun and cute story with some clever worldbuilding. There are just a few things that could have been smoother, but I do still recommend this book to anyone looking for a fluffy gaslamp fantasy!

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