Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
No one can say that Goblin Slayer isn't good at his job – and that's why the unusual young adventurer and his party find themselves headed to the Water City on a very special quest. Sword Maiden, one of the greatest heroes the world has ever known, has personally requested that Goblin Slayer investigate a series of abductions and killings by goblins beneath the seemingly peaceful city. He and the rest of the group are up for the task, but why are goblins lurking in sewers that don't even have giant rats? Could there be more going on than Sword Maiden is saying?
It's official – the rogue adventurer known as Goblin Slayer has acquired a party. While this is fairly normal within the realm of standard fantasy, particularly when it takes on the flavor of a role-playing game, tabletop or otherwise, the first book in Kumo Kagyu's light novel series went out of its way to establish that Goblin Slayer himself was a loner. Given what we know about his past, that makes perfect sense: his family and most of his village was slaughtered by goblins, so keeping his distance from others is his way of ensuring that he never goes through such emotional trauma again. This has, of course, proved frustrating to Cow Girl, his remaining childhood friend with whom he lives, but even that fit with the character.
But then Priestess came along. In book one, Goblin Slayer saved her when her fledgling party was decimated by goblins and before he seemed to quite figure out what was happening, she became his adventuring partner. Later on in book one he also ended up teaming up with High Elf Archer, Dwarf Shaman, and Lizard Priest, and in this sophomore outing the five have officially become a party. While the book does work to flesh out those three later additions, more of its character focus is on Priestess and Goblin Slayer's relationship, showing how the girl is beginning to get under his armor in a way that he hadn't planned for.
Not that there's really much in the way of romantic development, although there is one scene that puts the two of them in bed together. (It's a healing ritual! Really!) But we do begin to see that Priestess is the person he watches out for the most, and not just because she's the weakest party member. He and the others absolutely rely on her skills (called “miracles” in the text) and treat her as valuable; however, if she's in trouble or needs even a little helping hand, it's Goblin Slayer who jumps in, whereas if High Elf Archer or Dwarf Shaman need help, he lets someone else do it. While we could read this as a result of two smaller parties merging into one larger one, the camaraderie between Priestess and the three newer additions to the group suggests otherwise. She and High Elf Archer in particular are developing a real friendship, and both Dwarf and Lizard treat her with fatherly concern. Goblin Slayer, on the other hand, seems more aware of her in general, and by the end of the volume there's a clear closeness between them that feels warmer than before.
This character development is intertwined with the actual dungeon delving that makes up the plot of the book. The party is summoned to Water City by Sword Maiden, a renowned hero who now functions as the high priest of a major sect. She has been trying to get to the bottom of a goblin invasion in the sewers beneath the city, but everyone she's hired before has failed to return. Now she asks Goblin Slayer and his party to investigate…even though she clearly knows more than she's letting on. Goblin Slayer seems aware of this, but the party goes down anyway and quickly learns that the goblins did not come to the city under their own power. That this story will tie in with a larger tale about the entire world is obvious, and there is a nice connection to the previous volume in the reveal about where the goblins are actually coming from that helps the book to build its world.
The major attractions, however, are the brutal battles and the evil cunning of the goblins themselves. Kagyu's basic premise for the series – that goblins are not the easy low-level monsters everyone assumes them to be – makes for a subversion of a very standard fantasy trope in both Eastern and Western fantasy, and it is used well. While there isn't as much of a shock value at their brutality as there was in volume one (although there is evidence of some true horrors), the fights are gruesome and the unrelenting viciousness of the monsters comes across keenly. As we learn more about what happened to Sword Maiden in the first place – and why she retired from adventuring – we can see not only the danger Priestess and High Elf are in specifically, but also why Goblin Slayer continues to be so adamant in his personal quest to eradicate goblinkind. There are a few fights where it feels uncertain who will come out the victor, and as we get to know the party better, there's more of a feeling of suspense as to who will live through the fights.
Kagyu is successfully building up his world book-by-book, holding back details until they're needed to make this as engaging as possible. It doesn't always work – High Elf and Dwarf's banter gets stale very quickly, for example, and Sword Maiden never quite feels like a real person, with a few of her actions seeming contrary to how she's initially introduced – but for the most part this is a grittier fantasy than some of the comparable light novels currently being translated into English. I'm still not keen on the naming convention, but it seems to be working thus far. The afterward indicates that next book will take place at a harvest festival, so we'll see if Kagyu can maintain the story in a softer setting – or if the festival will, like so many other things, become the stage for another tale of goblin gore.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Goblin Slayer, Priestess, and High Elf Archer all get some development in their characters and relationships with each other, nothing is spared in the battle descriptions, interesting world building implications
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