Diversity in middle grade fantasy is hard to come by, particularly high fantasy featuring dragons, goblins, princesses, and kings. The Goblin’s Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton provides all of these, as well as a good dose of humor and plenty of logic puzzles.
A dark-skinned slave boy with no name finds himself suddenly free, and for the first time in his life able to choose how to live his life. His choice to free a similarly enslaved goblin may provide him with more adventure than he bargained for, as goblins are notoriously tricky creatures. When the goblin tells him that it was not the boy’s fate to be a slave, he sets off to find his true destiny. With the goblin in tow, he learns many things along they way, including how to catch bats with a sling.
At the same time, a dragon has kidnapped Plain Alice, a case of mistaken identity, as he meant to capture Princess Alice. As the dragon goes off to rectify his mistake, Plain Alice begins doing what she does best, thinking. The soon-to-be-captured Princess Alice is at the center of a royal mess, as her father is trying to make her his heir to skip over the obviously evil Duke Geoffrey. To pay for the costly process, Princess Alice is to be married to a suitably wealthy person, to be decided upon by everyone but Princess Alice. All of these plans go literally out the window when Princess Alice is captured by the dragon. If ever there was a need for a nameless hero in search of his destiny, it is here in the Kingdom of West Stanhope.
The boy volunteers to rescue both Alices, though finds he needs their help just as often as they need his. The multiple threads of the story are finally and carefully woven together in a rooftop duel, a royal declaration, and one last trick from the goblin. In another rarity in recent middle grade fantasy, the story ends without a cliff-hanger to lead us to a sequel. Final word: A fantastic, thought-provoking, stand-alone fantasy adventure.