William Alexander was initially referred to me for a panel on ‘Writing Successful Query Letters.’ I was coordinating the panel for a Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writers Group meetup. A bit of online snooping revealed that William’s debut novel, Goblin Secrets had won the 2012 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Anyone whose first novel wins a National Book Award must have some success with query letters. So I asked William to be on the panel, and he was kind enough to share his query letter experiences with the writer’s group.
When William announced he was doing a reading/signing party for Goblin Secrets, (along with fellow MNSpec author Kelly Barnhill) I dashed out to pick up a signed copy of his award-winning book. It was a quick read. In two sittings, I breezed through a great YA tale filled with fresh, clean prose, and a simple, but effective plot.
Goblin Secrets is a great fantasy/steampunk/adventure for young adults, and an amazing debut novel by William Alexander.
Goblin Secrets of Zombay, MN
Goblin Secrets takes place in a town called Zombay, which has a northside and a southside and a river between them. The descriptions of the northside and southside of Zombay reminded me of Minneapolis and St. Paul, which Minnesota locals call the “Twin Cities.”
In Zombay, acting and wearing masks is outlawed. Only goblins can wear masks and act on stage. (In Minnesota, we have the Zombie Pub Crawl, where everyone is encouraged to put on masks and act. Or at least dance. Those who can’t act or dance are encouraged to drink until they think they can act or dance.)
The world of Goblin Secrets is different enough from our own world to make it interesting, yet it feels familiar. This New-But-Familiar feeling is the magic formula I’m told publishers (and audiences) drool over. Goblin Secrets has this formula in spades.
The story is part fairy tale, part young-adult-fantasy, part magical realism, and a dash of steampunk. Goblin Secrets goes light on the darkness. It isn’t as dark as the average Grimm’s Fairy Tale. It’s a good read for the younger of the YA market. The book website suggests ages 8-12.
The main character is a boy named Rownie, who runs errands (partially willingly) for an evil witch named Graba. Graba reminded me of the tales of Baba Yaga and her movable hut. Except Graba has mechanical, clockwork-chicken-legs. Rownie’s brother has gone missing, and everyone is looking for him.Rownie’s fascination with a troupe of goblin actors leads him on an adventure with magical masks, witch’s curses, chases, exploration, near misses and threats that “the Flood is Coming.” I had to laugh because it reminded me of the quote “Winter Is Coming” from the Game of Thrones.
There are areas of the story that could have used more depth. I would have liked to know more about the creatures which haunt the underground railcar tunnels, and the “changing”, and the mask magic. But none of these issues affected my enjoyment of the story, it only made me hopeful that there are more books coming to give more depth to Zombay.
Executive Summary Review of Goblin Secrets
Goblin Secrets is a great fantasy/steampunk/adventure for young adults, and an amazing debut novel by William Alexander. The pacing is smooth and smart. A new and interesting world reveals at a snappy pace. Goblin Secrets is a quick and enjoyable read that will leave you wanting more.