Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
In an unnamed town in a fantasy land, goblins are considered the weakest of prey after sewer rats. Only one man is willing to take on quests to exterminate goblin nests, known to all as Goblin Slayer. But what is his story? Why is he so obsessed with destroying goblins? One young priestess of the Earth Mother is about to find out, when she gets taken under his wing.
Goblin Slayer stands alone among other fantasy light novels released in English (with the exception of the now out-of-print Slayers novels) in that it doesn't feature a world entirely based on gaming. Yes, there is mention of “experience points,” but author Kumo Kagyu is quick to explain that that's just slang for the number of kills that determines whether or not you're allowed to move up in the adventurers' hierarchy, not actual “points” or status updates. In fact, Goblin Slayer reads somewhat like a light novel version of a Forgotten Realms novel – pure sword-and-sorcery fantasy with touches that recognizably come from tabletop role-playing games. This gives the novel (and hopefully the series) a strong head start: it may be fantasy, but it isn't what we've been getting in series like Overlord, Sword Art Online, or even Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?.
The story follows the eponymous man who only focuses on slaying goblins. He's seen as something of an oddity by his fellow adventurers, who go out monster killing or exploring with a career focus on new challenges that bring high rewards or public adulation. As the threats from various monsters increase, even over the course of this book, Goblin Slayer's obsession with being less an adventurer and more a glorified exterminator earn him the bemusement and outright scorn of his guild fellows. Two women, however, quickly learn that there's more to him than the others assume: Guild Girl, the young lady who runs the guild office, and Priestess, who is saved by Goblin Slayer when the rest of her party is slaughtered. Both of them understand that goblins are not the weak and easy prey others assume them to be, which makes Goblin Slayer's wealth of knowledge about them surprisingly powerful.
As you may have noticed, none of the characters in the novel are referred to by their given names, but rather by their job titles. This can be a bit irritating, especially in cases like Guild Girl and Cow Girl, who might better have been called Farm Girl, although that wouldn't allow for the less-funny-every-time joke about relating her big breasts to a cow's udder. It also feels strangely like the author is preserving characters' anonymity, since it's made clear that Cow Girl and Goblin Slayer know each other's actual names. Their relationship is one of the more interesting as the novel progresses – their shared past has a lot to do with Goblin Slayer's obsession, and there's some question over what he feels toward her: guilt, gratitude, or something warmer. It's at least clear that they're completely comfortable with one another, making scenes with Cow Girl the only time we truly see Goblin Slayer relax and allow himself to be human.
Priestess may be giving Cow Girl a run for her money, of course. The sole survivor of an ill-fated goblin killing mission, Priestess was taken in by Goblin Slayer as his sole party member, and her strength, both magical and emotional, is increasing by leaps and bounds as a result. Again, we're not quite sure what their feelings are for one another, but we can see them growing increasingly comfortable in each other's company, which is a major facet of Goblin Slayer's character development. Priestess and Cow Girl also stand apart from the other two major contenders for Goblin Slayer's affections (there's a definite sense of a harem being built), Guild Girl and High Elf Archer, in that the other two are blatantly smitten with him, while the other two seem more concerned with him as a person rather than as a man.
Despite its harem trappings, this is much more of an action story. There are a fair amount of graphic fight scenes, and Kagyu doesn't skimp on descriptions of gore. Although there's much mention of rape and torture of women, none of it is actually described on the page. This doesn't make it less disturbing, but it's not dwelled on unreasonably, and the main cast of women are never assaulted. Interestingly, the book is written using multiple third-person points of view, although each chapter sticks to one character for the most part. (The final chapter is the exception.) The progression through the story is still linear, but these differing viewpoints do give us a fuller picture of the story's world, and the translation keeps each voice clear. The only issue is with the way Witch, a side character speaks: “You know, he once, made a rather strange request, of me, too,” is an example of a typically formatted statement from her. This is presumably meant to indicate that she has a breathy voice with many pauses, but if you're at all grammatically conscious, this gets old quickly.
Goblin Slayer's first volume positions the series to be a good read for those who enjoy fantasy but not so much the idea of a game-based world. With its varied cast, gruesome battles, and slowly building plot and character backstories, along with illustrations that aren't overly sexualized, this is an engaging novel for sword-and-sorcery enthusiasts. It has its translation issues and gets a bit eager to introduce too many guild members, but enough seeds have been sown in this book that future volumes will be worth keeping an eye on.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Varied cast of characters, doesn't rely on game conventions to build its story, plenty of action, character development, and plot progression
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