I think if I’d read this when I was 10, I would have enjoyed it more. I felt that the characters suddenly changed their motivations so quickly near the end of this book that it was clear she was trying to wrap the book up and get them all out the door. I enjoyed the nuanced look the author was trying to take at right and wrong, and the issue with flattening complex issues, but the ending pages made it all fall apart for me.
The Goblin Wood follows Makenna, a young (11!) girl whose mother is a hedgewitch in a small village. The Hierarch and the priests have banned all use of magic and so Makenna’s mother gets murdered by the villagers, in a pretty heart-breaking scene where Makenna swims under a dock hoping to rescue her mother from being drowned, only to realize there’s nothing she can do. Makenna flees the town, eventually befriends the goblins who are also being murdered and driven out of the land, and starts leading a guerrilla counterinsurgency in the Goblin Wood (hence the title). She hates all humans, but then after five years in the woods, Tobin shows up. He’s been sent to capture the mysterious powerful sorceress who’s controlling the goblins, and once their paths cross things get more complicated for both of them.
As stated above, I think Bell is a good writer and I did enjoy the bulk of this book. The dehumanization of the goblins by the humans was well done, and I liked Makenna’s slow realization that not all humans are evil either. The last 30 pages or so are just so rushed and Tobin’s final decision was a real stretch to me. I think this would have been better as a duology or a trilogy, honestly, which would have given her a chance to give some of the characters time to breathe. But again, if I was 10, I would probably have loved this. Now I have a lot more trouble believing that an 11 year old orphan can lead a thousands strong goblin settlement when there are lots of adult goblins around.
If you do have a fantasy loving kid, Tamora Pierce or Garth Nix are better ways to go.
Warnings for: several murders in depressing detail, children being killed, miscarriage, attempted genocide, violence (being beaten and whipped), near-drowning, drugging, falling down into a pit and breaking an ankle.