Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Goblin Secrets (Zombay, #1)” as Want to Read:
Goblin Secrets (Zombay, #1)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Goblin Secrets

(Zombay #1)

3.54  ·  Rating details ·  2,195 ratings  ·  477 reviews
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 actor. But acting is outlawed in Zombay, and Rowan has disappeared.

ebook, 240 pages
Published March 6th 2012 by Margaret K. McElderry Books (first published January 1st 2012)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Goblin Secrets, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.54  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,195 ratings  ·  477 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Goblin Secrets (Zombay, #1)
Montzalee Wittmann
May 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Goblin Secrets (Zombay #1) by William Alexander is a interesting steampunk fantasy book for kids. I don't find many fantasy that mixes goblins and steampunk and this worked great. A fresh mix. Good plot, great characters, interesting story all around. The best of both worlds mixed and mashed into something really special in this magical world. Loved it. I got this from the library. ...more
Oct 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Jun 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 06, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: young-adult, fantasy
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
Jan 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 22, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jan 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If s book is well written I will give it a try. It doesn't matter to me if its horror fantasy or nonfiction.
I do not care for serial killers cutting of faces. I can watch the news for grim stuff.
I read to be entertained.
Goblin Secrets has everything I look for. A good plot,characters I care about. And a creepy villain. It may be marketed as a young adult fantasy but it is more than just that. A great read highly recommended.
I wanted to love this, but had to settle for liking it. There are so many great elements in this book:
-Rownie, the young hero who has to find his lost brother,
-the clockwork creations,
-the prohibition against theatre and acting,
-the somewhat horrifying witch who keeps a group of young vulnerable kids with her to do things for her, controls all the birds, and who clearly owes a debt to Baba Yaga, and to Dickens' Fagin,
-the horrifying ways coal is created,
-the goblins and flouting of the rul
Apr 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
I wasn't expecting to like this book as much as I did because goblins, but I was pleasantly surprised. I can't say I am entirely certain it deserved the NBA more than any of the other eligible titles in its year, but it's well-written and enjoyable and had a quirky charm, and I think my sons will enjoy it when they get around to it. I am undecided about whether I care deeply enough to read the rest of the series, especially as the book seems to end on a relatively satisfying note, but I might.

Ozana Ozzy
I really expected to love this book, and trying so hard to love it.
Goblins actors, Graba witch...but I missing something from it. Maybe feeling, point or something.
John Cherry
Apr 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Shanshad Whelan
Mar 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Mar 14, 2015 rated it liked it
I read this purely because it had a recommendation from Ursula Le Guin on the cover. It wasn't bad, but I hate steampunk/clockwork stuff. ...more
Nov 11, 2020 rated it it was ok
This was a pretty average read. I liked it well enough. It just wasn't notable.

The best part about it was the worldbuilding. The divide between the goblins and humans, the regulations made by the Mayor, the body modifications, and the magical system all created this really immersive atmosphere. It wasn't the best I've ever read, but it certainly did draw me in. And more than that I could tell that the author wanted it to make sense and took pains to make sure it flowed together. I appreciate wh
Sinéad O'Hart
Oct 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 14, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: own
I don't exactly love goblins. Apart from their racist origins, I'm not really drawn to them bc I feel like they don't do anything. And they kinda didn't in this book, except for talking. A lot of talking.

The writing style didn't pull me in either, and I didn't come to care about the story, so this was just forgettable. A standard book for reading in public transport.
Aidan Jones
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is an okay book. Some parts of it were to detailed, and others were not detailed enough, but I still think it is pretty good considering I have never seen this author before. This isn't a popular book, but I like it very much. If you like adventure with lying, stealing, traitors, and random decisions, then this book is for you. ...more
Dec 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: middle-readers
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
Jan 02, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
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.
Amy Holland
Jul 12, 2014 marked it as abandoned
I tried to finish this for at least a year before I finally gave up and admitted that it wasn't my thing. I felt like I should read it since it won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature a couple years ago, but I guess the lesson here is that I shouldn't feel like I need to read ALL the award-winners (except for the Newbery - that's non-negotiable). It made me curious to learn more about the National Book Award and who decides which books win -- apparently, it's a panel of authors ...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
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
Kristen Harvey
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 brothe ...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,
Sep 16, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, young-adult
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
Jan 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 10, 2012 rated it liked it
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
What's the Name o...: SOLVED. World that ban acting (Fantasy) [s] 3 93 Jan 29, 2015 12:57PM  
Thoughts and Comments 1 6 Jan 27, 2013 04:00PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Search for WondLa (The Search for WondLa, #1)
  • The Dragonet Prophecy (Wings of Fire, #1)
  • The Dragon in the Sock Drawer (Dragon Keepers, #1)
  • The Boggart
  • Tristan Strong Destroys the World (Tristan Strong, #2)
  • The Crowfield Curse (Crowfield Abbey, #1)
  • The Creature of the Pines (The Unicorn Rescue Society, #1)
  • The Calling (Darkness Rising, #2)
  • Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel (Tyme #1)
  • Transformed: The Perils of the Frog Prince (Tyme #3)
  • You're Only Old Once!
  • Marvel Ghost Stories
  • The Crowfield Demon (Crowfield Abbey, #2)
  • The Hob and the Deerman
  • The Unlikely Ones (Pigs Don't Fly, #1)
  • The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (Tales of Alderley, #1)
  • The Gammage Cup (The Minnipins, #1)
  • The Spindlers
See similar books…
Librarian Note: There is more than one author by this name in the Goodreads data base.

William Alexander won the National Book Award in 2012 for his first book, Goblin Secrets, and the Earphones Award for his narration of the audiobook. He has since written three more novels for Middle Grade audiences: Ghoulish Song, Ambassador, and Nomad.

Will studied theater and folklore at Oberlin College, Engli

Other books in the series

Zombay (2 books)
  • Ghoulish Song (Zombay, #2)

News & Interviews

Need another excuse to treat yourself to a new book this week? We've got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the day. To create our...
15 likes · 4 comments
“Backstage was chaos distilled into a very small space.” 8 likes
“Our selves are are rough and unrehearsed tales we tell the world.” 0 likes
More quotes…