Goblin Secrets (Zombay, #1)
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Goblin Secrets (Zombay #1)

3.46 of 5 stars 3.46  ·  rating details  ·  1,120 ratings  ·  323 reviews
A boy joins a theatrical troupe of goblins to find his missing brother.

In the town of Zombay, there is a witch named Graba who has clockwork chicken legs and moves her house around—much like the fairy tale figure of Baba Yaga. Graba takes in stray children, and Rownie is the youngest boy in her household. Rownie’s only real relative is his older brother Rowan, who is an ac...more
ebook, 240 pages
Published March 6th 2012 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
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In the land of Zombay, clockwork and magic walk side by side and real hearts are turned into the coal that fuels automata. There is a witch with clockwork legs called Graba who collects orphaned children to do her bidding and whose youngest charge is a boy named Rownie. Rownie has no name of his own, having inherited the diminutive form of his older brother’s name, Rowan, who disappeared without a trace.

In the land of Zombay, you can’t pretend to be what you aren’t so theatre and acting are outl...more
I think it is time to declare the birth of the clockwork children's novel. If you have been watching the literary trends over the last decade or so, you will note that amongst adults there has been a real rise in interest in a form of pop culture labeled "Steampunk". The general understanding is that as the 21st century grows increasingly reliant on electronics, there is a newfound interest in books/movies/video games/costumes (etc.) that incorporate steam, gears, and other accoutrements of the...more
Barb Middleton
I struggled with this National Book Award winner. Not because it lacks originality. The creepy steampunk setting with gear-transformed people, witches, and goblins was well done. Not because it lacked character development. The weird witch, river spirit, goblins, and orphans with a plucky protagonist were engaging enough. And not because of a plot that plods. The 200 page book is concise and clues are slowly revealed. It was unpredictable and imaginative. So why couldn't I immerse myself in the...more
One of the things I liked about this book was that the author didn't spend a lot of time on backstory or hand-holding to explain the worldbuilding. You jump right into Rownie's story, picking up details as you go, from the clockwork guards to the mythology of the River to the layout and struggles of the split town. I've seen a few reviews that complained this was confusing, but I didn't have a problem with it. I really enjoyed the worldbuilding, and the thought Alexander had put into the magic a...more
Like many other reviewers, I picked up this book after it was given the National Book Award and was eager to get started with it. However, I was met with a very disappointing read. The plot has some interesting promise -- a steampunk world, goblins, theater and beautifully described masks, as well as a Baba Yaga-esque villain -- the story, setting, and characters all fell flat. While some elements of the story were compelling, including the use of interesting machinery and the imminent danger of...more
After reading rave reviews about this 2012 National Book Award winner, I was stoked to read a title that was a little dark and twisted with a fantasy/steampunk twist. Due, perhaps, to such high expectations, I found it challenging to fully immerse myself in the tale. The numerous odd names introduced in the first chapters as I struggled to get my bearings in the strange land also lent an air of Tolkien confusion. Soon, however, the story morphed into a rather plot line of traditional orphaned wa...more
Nothing at all wrong with this book, which barely managed to hold a shred of my interest because it isn't my kind of thing, but I didn't see a thing to distinguish it from many, many other good children's and YA books published this year and grant it a National Book Award. Say with The Penderwicks, I didn't think it was the best book of the year but at least I could identify some things it was doing that other books weren't doing, so I saw why it had come to the award's attention. This one, I ca...more
Shanshad Whelan
I love it when a book makes me throw out my presuppositions and biases and actually yanks me by the shirt into the story before I know what's happening. So I picked this up after I put my last book down and thought "oh, a goblin book. I really don't like goblins . . . and goblin books tend to be full of comic scenes and gross stuff. Sigh."

It's so nice to be knocked on my proverbial butt for making a judgement based on a title. It restores my faith in books and writing.

Goblin Secrets takes place...more
A juvenile steampunk fantasy that takes just the right tone; ominous but never terrifying; odd but never incomprehensible for the age group. Alexander pulls threads from a variety of fantastical/folkloric traditions to make his tale an intriguing blend: the witch Baba Yaga ("Graba")and her chicken legs (but in this case, they are clockwork and gears); goblins; a bit of Greek theater complete with masks; and a murky, rundown city with clockwork police. Rownie is one of Graba's "grandchildren," st...more
I didn’t feel the magic. There are some fantasy elements at the start of a book that arouse my interest and keep me turning the pages. It is not something I can specify but I know when I see it as I can’t stop reading. The Harry Potter series seized my interest and sustained it, and books 1-3 of the Twilight series did it for me too. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the urge to rush back to Goblin Secrets when I had put it down.

It could be because the gear-work legs and eyes etc. didn't work for me....more
I picked this book up to read based on the fact that it was a winner of an award. I like fantasy and so I thought it sounded good. I am not sure why it won an award. I felt like it was hard to follow and difficult to really visualize the characters. After reading the book, I am still left with questions about things that I just didn't understand. It kept talking about the masks and how putting on the mask changes you- as if something magical happens, but I didn't find that until at the end when...more
Sinead O'Hart
Perhaps it was because I expected so much of this slim little book, and perhaps it was because it had received so much praise from people who really know their literature, that even now, a couple of weeks after I finished it, I’m still feeling the sting of disappointment. There are lots of things to admire in ‘Goblin Secrets’, not least of which is William Alexander’s facility with language – he can write, and he can write well. His sentences are poetic and rhythmical, his images are arresting,...more
This was: good, but.

I really liked the world building and original setting with a lot of under-the-surface, unstated-but-implied history and culture and legends, but I felt like we barely scratched the surface of the potential.

I really liked the hints of atmosphere and Dickensian street urchin life, but wanted much more so that I really felt embraced by it instead of merely dipping my toes in it.

I thought the characters were interesting with decent personalities, motivations, and growth, but did...more
Rownie, a young orphan boy cannot seem to find his brother anywhere. The mystery is, why are so many people looking for him? Rownie's "Grandmother" Grabba, with her robotic chicken legs has housed Rownie and other orphan kids so long as the run errands for her. She is the town witch, and seems to actually posses her children on some of their errands. (um yeah, that's creepy) not only that, but there are performing Goblins who skate around the town's laws forbidding mask wearing and performing be...more
Fantasy Literature
My family and I were just quasi-playing a game called Booktastic the other night (quasi as in just reading questions from the cards rather than actually playing the game), when the question came up to name an award-winning book whose awarding you just didn’t get. I believe I chose an entire year of finalists one year for the National Book Award (All five. Every one.). Now though, I’d have to add this year’s winner for Young People: William Alexander’s Goblin Secrets. Alexander’s debut novel isn’...more
Diane Close
An odd little book about disguises and truth, the unknowable and the all-knowing. Written for the younger crowd, a lot of what's in it may pass over their heads, yet there's not quite enough here to truly engage the adult reader. It was a pleasant read to pass the time.

A fairy tale in the Neil Gaiman sense, but written with bit less polish overall, and definitely skewed younger. Dickensian-like ragamuffins roam clockwork cities, seeking an identity yet often hiding behind masks and mannerisms,...more
Short & Sweet: I must say, I was enraptured by this story. Set in a steampunk type setting, this book also involves goblins and witches along with clockwork parts. Rownie is looking for his brother who disappeared to find work further than the town they were staying in. Set in a world where you cannot entertain if you are not a goblin, Rowan (Rownie's brother) was an illegal entertainer and Rownie fears the worst. So Rownie leaves the witch who is watching after him to search out his lost br...more
I really, really wanted to like this book. Other authors had told me it was wonderful. Somehow I missed something. Don't get me wrong, there were definitely elements I enjoyed--Graba, who reminded me of Baba Yaga; the whole concept of putting on a mask and becoming the character; the split city...

There were just times in my reading where I felt something had been skipped or not fully developed. And that's why I didn't love the book. I think the concept and the story arc are fantastic, but it fel...more
Equal parts charming and dark this juvenile fiction novel entertainingly introduced me to a strange new world. The fantasy setting is both medieval and sci/fi, integrating magic and machines. The cast of supporting characters was colorful and complex, but the central character himself lacked...well...character; at least a unique character. He fit very well the street urchin stereotype: clever, resourceful, scrappy, burying pain of lost family etc., but I always felt a little startled when he did...more
Robin Kirk
There is a lot I like about this book -- the mechanical beings, the play with theater, the menace of the goblins -- but I came away (1/3 of the way through) perplexed. This doesn't seem to be an award winner and I'm amazed that it was even nominated. I wasn't drawn into the story at all, in part because the world of Zombay seemed so thin and textureless. And the main character, Rownie, just didn't come alive for me. I happen to be reading China Mieville's Perdido Street Station at the same time,...more
Because this is both innovative and thought-provoking, because the imagery is stunning, and because the author pulls the mask symbolism so effectively, I am not surprised this was a National Book Award winner. I didn't expect to love it, and I did.

A favorite quotation:
"As with a charm or a chant, the world might change to fit the shape of your words. Your own belief becomes contagious. Others catch it. You believed yourself a giant when you spoke as a giant, and so you became one. Your audience...more
I'm not entirely certain why my friend recommend I read this and I started it in anticipation of a great story, what I got was something not quite less. I've just finished it and I find myself a little saddened by it. I guess that's something, that I was involved enough in the main character that when tragedy struck I did a little 'oh no, not that' but I wasn't wholly moved by it. Not like other stories where I cried for the protagonist but more on the outside of the tragedy, twice removed or so...more
Rownie is a prisoner of Graba, a powerful magic-user, and controller of the Southside. Rownie's brother Rowan is missing, and he is trying to find him. He escapes from Graba and is sheltered by a troupe of goblin players, in a city where theater is against the law. Rownie sounds the mystery of his brother's disappearance, evades the clutches of Graba and Graba's servants, under the threat of the destruction of the city.

This book is beautifully written, and full of strange delights, and the endin...more
John Cherry
Goblin Secrets (Zombay #1) is a fantasy/science-fiction novel by author Willam Alexander. A young boy named Rownie (a variation of Rowan) is the main focus of the book. Rownie has run away from his "grandmother" Grabba, in search of his older brother, his only actual who has run away with an acting troupe in an area where acting is illegal. Now that the great flood is on it's way, Rownie has joined an acting troupe of goblins himself in search of his older brother, whom he is trying to locate an...more
Goblin Secrets
Burnt Pigeon Smell In My Socks Again

This is a neat book. It's a little odd and a little quirky, but in that colorful, fascinating way. It's written for kids and succeeds well as everything is easy to follow and the logic will resonate well with children. It's also a brilliant collage of myths and ideas. The idea of truth as only seen in fiction. Baba Yaga. Stealing hearts. The power of masks, the power of names. Archetypes. Clockwork soldiers. And all of it flows together seamles...more
Kindle Daily Deal sometime in January

It's a bit unfair, I know, but it's possible this book is getting 3 stars instead of 4 because I've given out so many 4 star reviews recently that it's starting to lose its meaning. When you hover over the GoodReads stars, they're defined as 1=did not like it; 2=it was ok; 3=liked it; 4=really liked it; 5=it was amazing. I give very few 5 star ratings, a book has to be a permanent favourite, really, to get that, but I've been recently defaulting to 4 stars f...more
Alyson (Kid Lit Frenzy)
Steampunk. Clockwork parts. Witches. A troupe of goblins. Magic. A missing brother. Adventure. For a Middle Grade novel this has it all. Characters you connect with and an interesting plot and setting. Beautifully written, and I can see why it won the National Book Award.

Now to figure out how to make it accessible for my English Language Learners. I think this one calls for a read aloud.
I don't know why I find audio books read by the author so delightful. Granted that not every author is a good narrator... it just so happens that William Alexander is both a good author and a good narrator. Goblin Secrets, a book written for children and a recipient of the 2012 National Book Award for Young People's Literature, is a magical story which drops you into its richly detailed world with very little preamble. I note that some find this element of the book some what off putting, but I h...more
Ms. Library
I really wanted to like this more than I did. I felt like it would be right up my alley, and the idea behind it and some of the concepts were so interesting, but it just never connected all the way for me. Something was missing, and I just didn't make the connection to the characters or the world like I wanted.
Great imagination at work. The story is immediately compelling and inventive. Lots of magic and folk lore. Our hero Rownie is in the grand tradition of young male heros. This book just won the National Book Award for Children's Literature. If you liked "A Wrinkle in Time" this book will appeal to you.
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Thoughts and Comments 1 5 Jan 27, 2013 04:00PM  
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William Alexander studied theater and folklore at Oberlin College and English at the University of Vermont. He currently lives, writes, and teaches in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His short stories have been published in many magazines and anthologies, including Weird Tales, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Interfictions 2, and Fantasy: The Best of the Year 2008.
More about William Alexander...
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