Book Review: Goblins at the Gate, by Ellis Skip Knox

Guess what? I found an historically-based, military style epic-fantasy on the backdrop of ancient Rome. Can you guess how quickly I jumped to read it?

Goblins at the Gate is a masterpiece blending historical and epic fantasy elements. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys military epic fantasy and ancient Rome.

What to expect

An epic fantasy tale on the historical backdrop of late 4th century Rome (or rather, the Eastern part of the Roman empire). The story starts with the remote invasion of creatures out of legend, and builds up on an epic scale to threaten the whole empire.

Knox masterfully weaves the plot to a rising crescendo, builds credible interactions between the various people of the story as they come to grips with the new reality, and doesn’t get bogged down in unnecessary scenery. The combination of perfectly executed epic fantasy tale and real historical backdrop makes this a very unique read.

What I liked

I loved the blend of real-world and real history with fantastical elements. Knox shows his education in history, with great attention to detail and a lively depiction of attitudes of the various people – Romans and barbarians, legionaries and slaves. His world is our world, and you can trace the (fantasy) plot amongst the geography of eastern Europe and its people, which gives everything a rich and real feeling to the setting.

Knox also has a deft touch with point-of-view, revealing the plot at just the right pace and from the right angle, switching at the right time to maintain tension and interest throughout. His characters feel real and realised, fully fleshed people. You may not always like them, but you can certainly see why they do what they do – smile at their wins and cry at their failures.

What to be aware of

With the enemy being almost alien monsters, the drama is based on the fight to survive rather than on political intrigue. This novel will appeal more to those who appreciate military fantasy, rather than deep character emotional arcs. (Not that the characters or story are flat – far from it, there are plenty of emotional moments – but the focus is always on the big external threat).

Summary

I absolutely loved it. If you enjoy epic fantasy and military masterpieces, and would love to see it done on an unusual backdrop, this is a novel for you.

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