Title: Goblin Secrets
Author: William Alexander
Rownie has always been with his brother Rowan, until the day Rowan disappeared. The fearsome Graba, an old woman they live with, is still looking for him. So is Rownie. So are a group of goblin actors. In the town of Zombay, acting is outlawed, which makes the goblins both daring and dangerous. Rownie is fascinated by the actors, but he’s not sure he trusts them. But they will help him look for Rowan, and he’d rather find his brother with them than let Graba get to Rowan first . . .
This had a more interesting setting than I was expecting, which makes it a shame the place never really felt grounded. Acting is outlawed and masks are forbidden, and it appears to be tied to a form of magic in the masks and the changes it can cause in the actors. Goblins, being already Changed, are thus safe, so they are the only actors allowed. The story offered so many glimpses of things gone sideways, from steampunk limbs (including eyeballs) to witchy magic to burning hearts for fuel, but the story never really drew back enough to give a fuller picture of what is going on or how it fits. For example, burning hearts seems like a terribly inefficient way to get fuel, but in context it seems more of a magical process than a physical one, as the previous owner does not necessarily have to be dead once his heart is removed.
The whole concept of Changes wasn’t really explored, though Rownie deals with several Changed. When he does ask one of them about it, that character brushes him off by saying it was too long ago to remember. Do all Changed become goblins, or are there other kinds of changes? It’s never stated.
The story never loses its focus on Rownie and his relationship with his now-absent brother. The characters are generally strong, from the steampunk Graba (who is a nod to Baba Yaga, with her metal chicken legs and a house that moves) to the rambling goblin Thomas.
Mostly, I liked the characters but found the world confusing or distracting, never quite offering enough to get a good picture of the place in my head other than dusty and likely full of gears. The city, similarly, was broken into a Northside, Southside, and a bridge, and the only real depiction of any of them is in how the streets are laid out. So it wasn’t a bad read, just one that could have benefited from a bit more description that could give a better sense of the world. I rate this book Neutral.