Saturday, April 28, 2018

Review: The Goblins of Bellwater

Title: The Goblins of Bellwater
Author: Molly Ringle
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: October 1, 2017
ARC received through NetGalley

Bellwater, Washington has a goblin problem. Well, more specifically, the Sylvain family have a goblin problem, and Bellwater is the home the current liaison, Kit. Trapped by an ancient family bargain, he provides the goblins with gold every month... otherwise they start taking people.

Livy, the local forest ranger is pulled into the magical secrets of Bellwater when her younger sister, Skye, stumbles into a goblin curse, ensnaring Kit's cousin Grady along the way. Desperate to save her sister, who has been claimed as one of their own by the goblins, Livy, the only one of the four not touched by the goblins' magic, sets out on a quest with the help of mysterious group of fae known as "the locals."

Out of Ten: 7/10

Review at a Glance: An engaging standalone with folktale elements and an interesting take on the fae, enjoyable despite some stumbles with pacing and character.

Review: Okay so two confessions right off the bat: 1) this was one of the ARCs that I was supposed to finish and review before I had my... let's say "fit of melancholy" last year and decided to stop book blogging entirely... I've finally read and am reviewing the book... better late than never, I guess? Please bear with me as I do this review, I may be out of practice. And 2) I was initially drawn to this book because of it's cover. I'm shallow like that. I liked the premise well enough but the primary reason I went "ah yes must pick up" was because the cover is just really, really pretty and I like looking at it.

I found it interesting how this book approached the fae, as it's much more of a good/bad dichotomy than you often see in stories about the fae for YA or adult audiences. This book, I found, doesn't necessarily deviate from the framework but presents it in a very different way. There are a lot of stories where the fae exist in, at least to some degree of another, in courts with a sort of ruling body and nasty, back-stab-y court politics (which, don't get me wrong, I love), but here we don't so much get a sense of a sophisticated power structure. The goblins can lie, outright and to your face, and whether they actually have to keep their promises is... dubious. The goblins are likened to an invasive plant, creatures not native to the ecosystem of Bellwater, brought over to North America when they followed the humans they'd struck a bargain with, while "the locals" are a part of the system that grew from it, and that have been there essentially forever.  There are rival factions, which the main characters brush up against, but neither the characters nor the readers are fully involved in any real character-based dynamics- they know there's a conflict, but the particulars are left vague, and the fae are generally elemental, with undefined parameters to their magic, and for the most part unbound to any particular physical form. I think essentially it's a play on the fae much closer to interpreting them as nature spirits of a kind than I generally see in modern interpretations.

While I didn't necessarily dislike the characters I did feel like there wasn't quite enough time to get to know them throughout... or just that I didn't wind up connecting to them enough? While Livy and Kit both had enough time to at least begin to feel like people, Skye and Grady really didn't, as they sort of... lost any personality they might have had when the curse kicked in... that or they just weren't all that faceted to begin with? Or it is possible that I personally just didn't jive with either of their characters for reasons I can't explain. This, combined with the whole curse-taking-away-their-ability-to-actually-make-independent-choices thing, just made both of their points of view, especially their scenes together, really uncomfortable for me to read. (Some of which was probably intentional but there rest was probably due to personal preference... I tend to find all "mating-bond" stuff kind of creepy in general so perhaps this is not a surprise. At least Livy and Kit were uncomfortable right along with me, I guess?)

Pacing-wise, I felt that the build-up took a lot longer than the actual plot, but that may have been in part because I was thinking of Livy's quest as "the plot" when it's possible that the build-up was actually... meant to be the interesting part? But the thing about me is that I am always there for a good faerie quest with weird nonsensical instructions and even more weird nonsensical rules, and somehow always getting snagged into a promise or a trade, and being weirdly proprietary about your name because that's just how things are. I REALLY LIKE THAT STUFF. So the parts where Livy gave of heroine-in-a-folktale vibes were my favourites. I did really enjoy the visuals of Livy's quest too, I would love to see it illustrated- it was where the writing really shone, too, both tightly paced and very visual, edging toward poetic in some moments. I wound up far more interested in the second half of the book,with a little blip toward the ending just because the conclusion wasn't quite as tricksie as I was hoping for (mostly, I think, because at least one subset of the fae were a good bit more benevolent than I'd gone in expecting- it was both a strength, because it was different, and a weakness, because I apparently like when the fae are a little bit terrible at the best of times, with their logic runs rather counter to human logic... there were hints in this book but I would have loved to see more).

Overall, I had a good time reading this one, and it was nice to read a stand-alone fantasy novel! The interpretation of the fae was a little different than what I was used to and interesting to explore, especially with the more nature-spirit-y fae. While this novel didn't give me everything I was hoping for, and did give me a few things that I was kind of... not hoping for... I still enjoyed reading it and really liked some aspects of the world and enjoyed the folktale-like elements that it delivered.


  1. I totally picked this one up because of the cover too!😂 and I liked a lot of aspects too but the characters didn't stand out much to me either?! And I wanted more goblin things happening haha. But still! It wasn't bad. :D Glad you found lots to love about it!

    1. Good to know I wasn't alone in my super-deep reason for picking up the book. I still feel like I was teased with Goblin Happenings and then didn't get quite as many goblins as expected? I think part of it is that I just really like my faeries to be complicated political drama queens and these really were a different take? BRING ME THE GOBLINS