Many thanks to Wednesday Books, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for the ARC. This book is being released today November 17 2020.
Warning: There will be spoilers for White Stag (Permafrost #1) in this review.
My Rating: 2 stars
I picked up the first book in the Permafrost series, White Stag, last year with high hopes and ended up disappointed. While I did like Janneke as a protagonist and think Barbieri had some great concepts, the plot fell flat for me and I disliked the way the dialogue was written. However, I did want to learn more about the Permafrost and see what happens to Janneke, so I requested Goblin King. The first thing I realized when picking it up is that I could barely remember the first book. I knew the main characters, Janneke and Soren, and the major plot points, but I couldn’t remember any of the side characters or the details of the story. This didn’t bode well, and I ultimately found this book even more disappointing than the first.
My biggest problem with the first book was that the plot consists of just jumping from one fight or crisis to another, and that continues in this book. Our main characters must journey into Helheim to free Lydian’s shade in order to keep Ragnarök at bay, and the whole book is just them fighting one thing in Helheim after another. It almost felt like a video game where you have to continuously fight small enemies until you reach the boss. While that’s great for a video game to build up level and experience, it doesn’t work for a novel. I got bored quickly and the stakes felt low. I never feared for their safety or worried how the fight would affect the main plot.
I might have been able to deal with the constant fighting if there had been meaningful dialogue and character development in between. However, I found it lacking on the front as well. The majority of the dialogue was just banter between the characters and didn’t contribute to the development of them or their relationships. I didn’t feel like I knew any of the characters; I didn’t understand their motivations, personalities, or relationships. At first I thought this was because I couldn’t remember so much of the first book. But it turns out several of the characters aren’t in White Stag; yet they are introduced in Goblin King as if we know them already. In the first book, I found that some of the dialogue felt too modern for the setting, and that carried over tenfold here. The characters are supposed to be centuries old and living in a Norse inspired world, but they sound like modern teenagers.
Janneke was my favorite part of White Stag. She’s endured all kinds of physical and sexual abuse and struggles with PTSD, suicidal ideation, and an eating disorder. I found her well-written and relatable. Barbieri discusses in the author’s note that she shares similar struggles, and I love finding own voices mental health representation, especially in fantasy. A large part of White Stag is Janneke working through her trauma and finding self-acceptance. Really, this was what made me want to continue with the series. But I felt all the issues were glossed over in Goblin King. Janneke’s eating disorder is mentioned once and never again. The way she interacts with Lydian made no sense to me considering her earlier reactions to him. This is someone who raped, tortured, and mutilated her and who she could barely stand to be around. But she quickly accepts that she has to deal with him and even engages in witty banter with him. It didn’t match what I knew of Janneke from the first book. It was as if she was interacting with an entirely different character.
Overall, I liked Goblin King even less than the first book and will not be continuing the series. The problems I had with White Stag were amplified and everything I liked was extremely downplayed. There’s an audience who will enjoy this series; it just isn’t me.