Close Kin by Clare Dunkle is Book II of The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy.
The Plot: Seylin and Emily live in "the Hollow Kingdom," the world of the goblins. As human Emily discovered in The Hollow Kingdom, goblins are usually horrible looking creatures. The goblins have a long and proud tradition of kidnapping and marrying elf wives. It's why Seylin -- who is a goblin -- is so good looking. It's that elf blood. The tradition ended several generations ago, after the brutal war that left the goblins triumphant and the elves extinct.
But Seylin longs to find out more about the elf part of his heritage; and when Emily refuses his offer of marriage, Seylin leaves the Hollow Kingdom in search of any possible elf survivors. Emily soon follows, looking for Seylin. Both are shocked by what they find beyond the safety of the caves of the Hollow Kingdom.
The Good: The goblins are ugly. Hideous. Horrible. And I love that!! I love that its what inside that counts. And I love that what is attractive in one culture is not in another. This is not a simplistic "oh he's ugly so he's evil" world.
I love the setting that Dunkle has created. THK was a layered story; but Dunkle adds even more layers and depth here. If you want a simple fantasy, with clear examples of good and evil, this is not a book for you. Examples: the enmity between elves and goblins. The strange kidnapping/seduction of elf wives. The distrust that each race (elf, goblin, human) holds for each other. This is a fantasy world that is not a fantasy. The war scenes are short, straightforward, and brutal.
I liked what is important: family, traditions, learning, acceptance. And -- interesting enough in a fantasy -- acceptance is not just the obvious "accept goblins even if they are ugly", but also accepting that there is good and bad in cultures and in individuals; and accepting the reality of a situation, rather than dreams or fantasy.
The Hollow Kingdom series contains fairy tale elements, so readers who like fairy tale retellings will like these books.
The author's website is a treat. In addition to the typical author website stuff (info about books, reviews, author FAQ) there are "deleted scenes;" parts of the book that didn't make it to the final edited version.
For those of you wondering about reading this "in the right order": The Hollow Kingdom (Book I) is a great book and introduces the world and people of CK. CK stands on its own; the major players in CK were not the major players in THK. This is more than one story being told in the world of "the Hollow Kingdom." Whether or not there is one story underlying all three books of the trilogy.... I suspect after reading the yet unavailable third one, I will say "yes", but until then, this works as a stand-alone.
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