The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Maturity Level: 3
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The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.
Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.
Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.
The Goblin Emperor was delightfully unusual. It was like nothing I had ever read before. Refreshingly free of action/fighting sequences, graphic romance scenes, or cliffhangers, it still grabbed my attention from the beginning and held it. The pace was a little on the slower side, but my regular readers know that I prefer it that way.
Instead of the typical action-fantasy, The Goblin Emperor focused on court intrigue and world-building. Elflands are a unique world where Elves, Humans, and Goblins all live in society together, intermingling and even intermarrying. However, as might be expected, elves are the elite of society while goblins are rather looked down upon, at least in the Imperial Court. But in the best sort of world-building, Addison never explains these aspects of court life outright. She just jumps in and expects the reader to figure it out as they go. I love this story-telling style, and she executed it superbly, never giving too much to keep up with.
This is court intrigue at its best. Maia has never been at court, so he learns with the reader. However, unlike the reader, Maia also deals with the difficulties of being emperor. His struggles were very real, and often dwelt on aspects often unaddressed by authors. For example, his lack of privacy, the difficulty of marrying by assignment, how nobody can ever really be his friend. But there were also plenty of juicy alliances and feuds to navigate. When disputes came to a boil I found myself devouring this book, desperate to know what was going to happen.
And guys, the writing and execution! Amazing! Every time I set it down I would just exclaim “This book is SO GOOD!” Eventually my husband started responding sarcastically, “Oh, are you liking it?” he just got so tired of hearing me gush. It’s easy to see why it was nominated for The Hugo Award.
The world-building is so outstanding. I really felt like I had a grasp of what it would be like to live in the Elflands, and at all levels of society. Practices that were bewildering at the beginning of the book seemed natural by the end. The political landscape was similar enough to ours for me to catch on, but still driven by its own strange governmental structures. There are so many little details, from the use of formal pronouns (which took some getting used to, let me say!), to the way elves’ and goblins’ ears give clues to their emotions. Addison takes the reader so deep into the world that you really feel like you’re THERE.
And Maia was so … nice! It was so unique to read about an emperor who was timid and afraid, but who always did the right thing. He was kind to everyone, even the servants overlooked by the rest of court. Hardly a cross word crossed his lips, though they often crossed his mind! In a world where women were considered only good for childbearing, he had the audacity to ask them what they wanted. Maia was easy to like, and he won me over just as surely as he won over his staff and subjects.
It was also a nice change to have a book with an ending that didn’t tie everything up in a nice little bow. While the story definitely ended, it was obvious that Maia’s life would go on. There is more to be told of his life, and it sounds like things might just get more interesting in his future. And you know what, I think that’s how books should be! Your own life would be boring if everything interesting that ever happened all took place in only a few months. I love imagining what happens to Maia next.
I always try to talk about the good and the bad in a book, but honestly I’m having trouble thinking of anything that was a problem in The Goblin Emperor. The only thing that comes to mind is that the names were difficult to keep track of. The pronunciations were crazy (there’s a pronunciation guide at the back, the names are just LONG, haha), and characters went by multiple names, so I would sometimes be confused who I was reading about. But really this just shows great depth of world-building, so it’s actually a part of why the book is so brilliant. What can I say, I was blown away.
I take it back. I have a HUGE problem with this book. THERE IS NO SEQUEL!!!!! Addison left it open enough that there’s room for one, but has no intention to write one. She says the story is over. *weeps* While it was refreshing to finally read a standalone, I just want MORE. I’m obsessed.
The Goblin Emperor is easily going to go down as one of my favorites. I highly recommend it to any fantasy lover.
The first four chapters are available for free on Addison’s website. To sample click here.