The Goblin Emperor–A Rave Review

It’s July–which for many members of the science fiction community means it’s Hugo Awards Politics Time. But it’s worth putting up with the politics because of the trade-off: an inbox full of the best science fiction and fantasy from the previous year. And so I finally got to read The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison.

The Goblin Emperor

The Goblin Emperor is one of those books I’ve had on your to-read list since it was announced but wasn’t sure why. It’s a book with a first chapter so cumbersome that I almost put it down, but I didn’t because I’m trying to be an informed voter, and then it suddenly got better. It’s a fantasy novel that feels so contemporary you could swear it happened in real history, so well-developed you think maybe Tolkien helped write it, and just steampunk enough that those not familiar with the genre will go: “Wow, that was a cool element. I wonder if it’s called something.”

51wJBF+LbKL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Maia is the unwanted, half-goblin fourth son of the Emperor of the Elflands. Scorned as a barbarian and raised in exile by his cousin who hates him, he is utterly unprepared for a message from court informing him that his father, three older brothers, and nephew have all been killed in a freak airships accident. (Yes, I said airship.) The rest of the plot is political intrigue carefully balanced against court intrigue and military intrigue. Maia struggles with his lack of familiarity with the court, racism resulting from his goblin heritage, and the fear that whoever killed his family may come back to finish the job.

There are many reasons to love The Goblin Emperor. The biggest one is probably the exquisite, flawless world-building. The names and grammatical syntax which at first appear awkward and pretentious eventually resolve into a beautiful aspect of linguistic development that adds depth and meaning to every conversation in the book. Everything from the political set-up to the rituals surrounding death, birth, and marriage, to methods of transportation, to the much-debated impossible half-mile bridge is rich with detail, color, and excitement.

And yet it doesn’t bore. When someone says a world is “well-developed” I cringe away, fearing pages of boring description. The Goblin Emperor has none of those. Once you pick it up you daren’t put it down, because Maia might be assassinated while you’re gone and you’ll miss it. The characters are compelling and likeable. Half the court hates Maia, the other half doesn’t trust him. He’s young, scared and naive, but he has to gather power and learn to wield it just to stay alive. He hates ruling, but has no other choice. As he begins to care about his kingdom that choice becomes even more iron-clad, because he will not abandon his people to a tyrant. As a reader I sat on the edge of my seat fearing the inevitable–that so much power will inevitable corrupt this young ruler we adore for so many reasons. Watching Maia overcome those struggles is the second most compelling reason to read the book.

So are there any reasons not to go read The Goblin Emperor right this minute? Well…

  • Don’t read this book if you don’t like steampunk as a well-developed aspect of a world, rather than the entire plot point.
  • Don’t read this book if you don’t like political intrigue.
  • Don’t read this book if you don’t like fiction religions developed to be admirable, rather than ridiculed.
  • Don’t read this book if you like to be slapped in the face with social issues, rather than have them shown in a subtle and compelling manner.
  • Don’t read this book if you prefer your character’s ears to remain stationary, rather that twitch and droop to show emotion.

Do none of those reasons apply to you? Good! Then you’ll love this book!

Katie Lynn Daniels is the author of Supervillain of the Day, and the mastermind behind Vaguely Circular. She blogs about science and things that are peripherally related to science. You can read all her posts here.


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