Twelve-year-old Sam Hill is in the Sumas, Washington police station's only jail cell for stealing fireworks, but officer-in-residence John H. Myrmidon isn't there. He's on a search and rescue mission for missing climbers and it is his seventeen-year-old, wisecracking son PJ Myrmidon who is watching Sam when the alarm of a police motion detector goes off. PJ and Sam take the police car to the U.S.-Canadian border expecting to find illegal contraband smugglers have left in the U.S. so that they can drive through the U.S.-Canadian checkpoint without being bothered by customs. Instead of finding tax-free cigarettes and bundles of cash in small denominations, PJ and Sam find a human-like figure with black fur, yellow claws, yellow eyes, and long tusks. It is a goblin. A goblin that they run over, tase, and take back to the police station.
Once PJ and Sam have the goblin locked up, two people in leather armor and gray cloaks show up and kill it with their rapier swords. They turn out to be part of the Guardians of UnderEarth, a group of humans who have sworn to protect the upper world from goblins, who live underground. And this is all just the start of PJ and Sam's adventures!
Sam is very curious about the brave and mysterious Guardians, so he seeks out their secret tunnel, but is captured by goblins and taken to their city called Argh. In Argh, Sam is sent to the goblin arena and made to fight to entertain the goblins.
The crowd went quiet. Sam clutched his sword white-knuckled. The gate was much bigger than the one through which Sam had entered. Up, up, up it went, and out of the shadows stepped . . . a bug.
The bug looked like a beetle and was the size of a mouse. Sam looked past the insect into the shadows for his real opponent, but nothing was there. The small bug reared up on it hind legs to it full height of five or six inches, indignant and ready for battle.
Sam walked directly to it, dagger limp in his hand. The bug squared off, its forelegs raised to fight. The crowd held its breath. Sam frowned, then he shrugged, lifted his foot, and squished the insect into oblivion.
The crowd erupted in rumbly goblin cheers.
That is one of my favorite parts in Goblins!: An UnderEarth Adventure by Royce Buckingham (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2008). Don't be fooled by how funny the scene is though. Sam's buggy opponents inside and outside the arena get bigger and more dangerous. After some time in the arena, Sam is whisked off to the meat room - so that the goblins can eat him.
PJ and the Guardians also have to fight goblins and really gross, giant insects. They are on a mission to save Sam and to retake a Guardian fortress that was overrun by goblins. In the end, Sam, PJ, and the Guardians all face General Eww-Yuk and his younger brother Captain Slurp, who are fighting over the goblin leadership. (I kid you not about all the goblin names. There's even one named Guh-wat. LOL.)
Goblins! has great fast-paced, almost non-stop action, very interesting creatures like flesh-eating grass and an acid slug the size of a bus, several likable human and goblin characters who are also easy to sympathize/empathize with (especially Sam, who always gets into trouble but is really a good kid), goblin politics, and much, much more. There is plenty here to entertain young readers. However, many times PJ's teenspeak seems contrived. And I thought the story was going to bludgeon me over the head with its message about responsibility. (Like a goblin attacking a human with its spiked club made of woodrock.) It didn't. But there were times it came close enough to literally make me wince. Still, this is a fun and funny story I would recommend, most especially to middle graders - in fact, I already have!
[My copy of Goblins! was provided by Planned Television Arts.]