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Review: Goblins at the Gates by Ellis Knox

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Nov 23, 2002

Goblins at the Gates is an odd book that mixes fantasy with Roman Historical Fiction. I expected a lighthearted romp, but the book quickly showed itself to be a far more serious work. There's something of L Sprague de Camp in a David Gemmell story to this, which is both a positive and a negative.

The setting is well-realized, with some great attention to detail in terms of historical accuracy - you know the author's done their research when you laugh at the Roman jokes in there. And there is a pleasant - almost ridiculous - quality to some of the characters, not least Metellus and his servant Avi, who demonstrate some great interplay.

But this is where I felt the story let itself down a little - I wanted to see more depth to the characters, yet the story is so focused on immediacy that there's little if any exposition to really explore the inner drives to a fully satisfying degree. This is especially true with the more serious character leads, and resulted in more tell than show as some of their experiences were summarized rather than lived in.

Aside from that, the story is pretty decent and often enjoys a strong atmosphere. The "goblins" have less in common with the wimpy creatures of role-playing games and instead are a monstrous dark horde that must be stopped by a combination of Roman soldiers and Dacian tribes - and their sorcerers.

Another curious point about the setting is that it's based in the later part of the Roman Empire - so expect more 4th century Constantinople than Rome.

Overall, there are more strengths than weaknesses to this story, but it's probably going to be enjoyed the most by those with a niche interest in fantasy, Roman and Byzantine history.

Available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
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There Are Always new Things to Learn.
Jun 29, 2014
Sounds interesting . Does the book set it set itself up for sequels ?


Well-Known Member
Jul 18, 2015
I've just finished it, all in all I'd have to agree with Brian on this with the proviso that I'd not consider myself a fan of (Eastern) Roman history. It did drag in a few places but it also managed to keep me interested and curious as to have many of the characters and/or events were real (the answer is quite a few).

One thing to say though is that at 540 pages this is not a short book in these days where anything longer than 20 pages seems to have been split into "thrillogies" (that was initially a mistype but I really do like that word!!)