My sister recommended this book to me--and I think it was only by virtue of her recommendation that I kept reading initially. The fairy-tale nature of the story was originally a little hard to get into, particularly since the book starts with a prologue of characters who don't appear in the rest of the book (except as mentioned in passing). But I'm glad I kept reading, because the story--particularly the characters drew me in.
Kate and her sister Emily have recently been orphaned and have gone to stay with their great aunts on Hollow Hill, at an estate that belongs to Kate. But Kate soon realizes that they are in grave danger: their estate rests on a goblin kingdom, and the goblin king is determined to have her. Of course, Kate's outspoken insistence of danger only draws pitying looks from her aunts and her uncle, who are convinced that the goblins are a product of her overwrought nerves. When Kate's sister Emily disappears, however, Kate swallows her pride and repugnance and goes directly to the goblin king himself to help win Emily back--knowing, as she does, that she's dooming herself to a life below-ground as the goblin king's bride.
I really loved the characters here: Kate is feisty and smart, and Marek (the goblin king) is, well, oddly charming. He's ugly, but he's forthright. Lots of the reviews mention being disturbed by the whole Stockholm syndrome thing (that Kate would fall for her captor), but Marek never made any pretences to be other than what he was. And in his world, he had no choice: goblin women don't bear children well--the only way to ensure the continuance of his line and the protection of his kingdom was to steal a wife. So, while I was initially horrified for Kate, I did understand why he could put his people above her preferences. What made this book fascinating, though, was the way that Kate and Marek came to understand and love each other. (That, or maybe watching Labyrinth as a teenager had a bad influence on my taste in romance. I still find myself dreaming about David Bowie's goblin king!).
The pacing and structure of this book was a little odd: there are really two different stories, tenuously connected. Despite that, I enjoyed this book. The storytelling is charmingly old-fashioned--it reminds me more of books by Lloyd Alexander and the fantasy authors of my childhood than current fast-paced fantasy retellings.