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 naive 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.
Maia is a half-goblin and the youngest son of the emperor of the elf lands. When his father and three older brothers die in an “accident,” Maia finds himself unexpectedly plunged into the role of emperor, for which he is almost completely unprepared.
The Goblin Emperor is not an action based book. There’s no battles or quests – this is a book centered around Maia and him learning to be emperor. However, The Goblin Emperor maintains good pacing and drive. I found it addicting and hard to put down.
The heart of the novel is Maia himself. He’s just so sympathetic and likable! He’s determined to be a good emperor, and he has such vast empathy for everyone around him. He’s also had almost no preparation or training, and he tends towards naive and awkward. He’s also isolated and desires friendship more than anything else. All of this combines to make him a fantastic protagonist.
The Goblin Emperor is also very well written. I will admit to being worried by the style at first – Addison uses “thee” and “thou” and more formal speech typically found in fantasy novels. However, this works excellently. Word usage such as with the royal “we” allow the dialogue to be divided into formal and informal and add another layer of meaning.
My greatest problem with the book was the confusing multitude of names. I’m used to fantasy names, but there were so many of them! And not just for characters either. Addison made up words for everything from the servants who dress the emperor to wizards (“maza”). I constantly found myself forgetting who characters were or having no idea what a word signified. The extensive glossary at the end of the book was not very helpful, and it would have benefited from a family tree as well.
I would recommend The Goblin Emperor for people looking for a more hopeful sort of fantasy book that goes against the grimdark trend. I would also suggest it for someone looking for a character driven fantasy novel or a fantasy of manners.
Originally posted on The Illustrated Page.
The whole of
Half elf and half goblin, Maia is the goblin emperor of the elves. This in itself causes problems for Maia. The world is a steampunk one, but you could be forgiven for not quite noticing because the imperial court is bound in ancient protocols and lives in a non technical sort of way.
Maia, the Goblin Emperor, represents a progressive threat to the established order at court. While uneducated in court he is not stupid, and his erstwhile mentor has trained some useful traits into Maia through his unthinking cruelty. Maia is adept at reading people and looking for their angles. He doesn't see all of it coming, but he is good at reacting when he needs to.
The world of the Goblin Emperor is well created. There's a steampunk feel to it and there are hints of unseen depths in the threads through the story. This impressive detail is borne out with the Q&A I read on the author's website after I was finished reading. Outside the rarefied court there is an industrial world with social problems and agitators plotting revolution. Mostly this is just glimpsed, but it's enough to make me want more in this setting.
That said the story of the Goblin Emperor is complete. The ending leaves little room for a sequel. It was a very good ending and I found it satisfying.
The positive buzz is well-warranted. The Goblin Emperor managed to make a cozy, positive read out of court intrigue. It seems like a contradiction, since court intrigues tend to be dark and delve into graphic sexuality or lewdness, like A Song of Ice and Fire. This one has dark moments, true, but the bright, hopeful outlook is what makes the difference. Maia is the emperor's fourth son and a complete outcast from court. He still mourns his mother who died when he was eight; his love for her adds a beautiful sentiment throughout, and her teachings guide his morality and character. When his father and brothers are killed in an airship crash, Maia is thrust onto the throne. The politics are nasty and Maia is clueless, but his genuine attitude makes all the difference.
For me, the biggest negative in the book is the sheer number of names. The world uses its own language devices to denote titles and gender and many character have more than one name--and they aren't common Earth names, either. There's a large cast. I was constantly confused as I read, and was grateful that the author usually supplied clues to add context to who was who. The unique names added depth to the world-building for sure, but I found it frustrating. I almost stopped reading early on and I'm glad I pressed through. (The end did have a guide to names and pronunciations but this was useless to me as I had the ebook and didn't even know the section was there, and flipping back and forth would have gotten tedious quickly.
It IS a very good book. If you're not name-impaired like me, you'll get even more joy out of it, too.
What would it be like to live a modest life, then to be suddenly elevated to such a position? The premise of The Goblin Emperor explores this very idea, following the life of the youngest, half-goblin son the the Elven emperor, a youth named Maia who has lived his entire life as a cast-off, far away from the business and affairs of the Imperial Court. But when his father and three older brothers all perish in an airship accident, being the next in line in the royal succession, Maia is plucked from exile to take his rightful place on the throne.
But for our protagonist, palace life and being emperor is not about the glamorous parties or eating fancy food and wearing fancy clothes. The Imperial Court is a whole new world for Maia, and his inexperience with running an empire is proving to be the least of his worries. Having been mostly forgotten in his exile, he arrives at the palace to find himself with no friends, no allies, and not even a clue as to how an emperor is supposed to act. Everyone seems to want something, and distinguishing obsequious flattery from genuine kindness is nigh impossible. Add to that, the airship crash than claimed the lives of his father and brothers turns out to have been no accident, and whoever assassinated the last emperor might be coming after Maia next.
Suddenly, being emperor does not sound like such a cushy idea anymore. The Goblin Emperor explores the role of a supreme ruler, but rather than focus on the glitz, Katherine Addison decides instead to paint a picture of uncertainty, frustration, and abject loneliness. Though he is surrounded by people at all times, Maia has no one to turn to and knows not who to trust.
And yet, the story also puts forward hope. Viewed as a character study, the book offers a unique perspective as well as a fascinatingly immersive experience. Maia is someone you can root for, and despite his moments of sadness and self-doubt, he possesses amazing strength at his core. A survivor of a horrible childhood who goes from being ignored to being the most important person in the empire, everything that happens affects and changes Maia, but his actions and feelings are always and ever guided by the goodness in his heart. There's something to be said about a character who can forgive past cruelties and betrayal, and instead look to the future with optimism and a mind to mend fences and build bridges. As the story progresses, the nature of Maia's relationships with others as well as his own reflections of himself begin to evolve, and that's when the depth of his character really shines through. Who needs glitz?
Clearly, so much care and thought went into the writing of this book. If I could make one suggestion to the prospective reader, flip to the end of The Goblin Emperor to familiarize yourself with the naming conventions as well as pronunciation of words in the Elflands before tackling this book. Someone gave me the same advice and it was a huge help. Otherwise, a lot of the similar sounding names and complicated forms of addresses might prove confusing. It still took me some time to get used to the language and style, but at least knowing some information beforehand made it much less overwhelming.
Powerful and touching, The Goblin Emperor is a strong entry into the high fantasy genre. I loved the world building, including Addison's inventive approach to elves and goblins as well as the intrigues of the Imperial Court. It's a setting rife with plots, politics, and powerplays, though most of this is handled at a much more subtle, muted pace. As such, this won't be a book for everyone, but readers who enjoy a more in-depth look into character portrayal and the setting will find plenty to love here. Highly recommended for fantasy fans looking for an introspective read and those who enjoy layers of complexity in their characters.
This is a really inventive political fantasy with a sympathetic main character in Maia. Because he doesn't really know what's going on, you learn the politics of the realm slowly as he comes to grasp the intricacies and details in language and how people are addressed give a real depth to the world. A glossary at the end helps you keep track of the many people and places, and I'd also recommend briefly looking at the "Handbook for Travellers in the Elflands" too, as it explains the honorifics.
BUT -- here's my main (and only) critique. By making the protagonist such a nice guy, thrown into a stewpot, Maia (the main protagonist, the Emperor) ends up feeling a bit of a Mary Sue. He is so perfect! He strives to forgive, everybody loves him (if they give him a chance), and he heals old wounds and new, and he is going to be a force for positive social change. This good-guy-wreaks-positive-change vibe was so strong that I was really reminded of Francis Hodgson Burnett (several of her children's books) or Mercedes Lackey (Arrows of the Queen trilogy).
But I didn't mind it, because it was just a delight to read. Sometimes characters don't need to be as flawed and fucked up as they were (wonderfully) in the Doctrine of Labyrinths series. Sometimes it's nice just to have a nice guy to root for, who's relatively safe, and is (ultimately) well-loved for good reasons, and is well-written about. In fact, I will probably come back to this book and re-read it, for all those reasons.
It is a story about learning adapting and growing. A story of hope. Some say that this is not 'doing' anything, and have critized the quiet and reflective tone as lacking in action. They miss the point entirely. There are any number of tales which glory in externalised conflict. A well written story, with a clearly 'good' hero whose struggle is internal, and with the self is a breath of fresh air.
Maia has been isolated from the rest of the family, hidden away as an unwanted son. Then the news comes, the royal family is dead, and Maia is the Emperor. This was never supposed to happen and Maia is fully unprepared for this turn of events. He returns to the center of the empire and is faced with hatred and intrigue from all side. However Maia is a good man, and he is going to try and do his best for the Empire. That’s when news is exposed that the death of the royal family may not have been a complete accident.
This is a beautifully written fantasy novel that is full of incredible detail and has a well imagined world. I am sure people who really enjoy incredibly detailed writing dealing with intricate court politics will really enjoy this.
I did not enjoy it. There are loads and loads of long complicated names thrown at you right from the beginning. This is the kind of book where you might want to write them down as you go so you can figure out who all the political figures are later in the book.
The story moves at a incredibly slow rate. In the first 25% of the book our character flew back to the seat of power and went through his coronation. That and he dealt with the numerous tiny details that an Emperor deals with.
Many pages are spent describing how the Emperor's jewelry and clothing are put on. We listen to things like the Emperor deciding what the menu should be for lunch. We listen to numerous letters of complaint from various political figures we haven't meet. The names are very long and strange and for me were difficult to keep track of. I had a very hard time sorting through the copious political details and names and deciding what was relevant and what wasn’t...and honestly in the end it was all just too tedious and boring for me.
While I appreciate the delicate work it took to put together this complex political scenario and world, I found it all to be mind-numbingly boring. At 25% through there was really no plot to speak of, nothing to really drive the story forward for me and engage the reader. I did like Maia as a character, he is a good man, but he was also very vanilla and just didn’t engage me all that much as a reader.
Overall a beautifully written, incredibly detailed world, with complex court politics...that just wasn’t for me. For me this was a DNF. I found it to be boring and tedious...and at 25% through there wasn’t really much of a plot going on at all. I just didn’t not have the patience for this book, I had trouble keeping straight all the long complex names, and got bored reading about how the Emperor’s jewels were applied. I didn’t find the characters to be interesting or engaging at all either. I guess I would recommend reading both some positive and negative reviews on this one and decided from that if this is the type of book for you.
2015-05-02/51%: Enjoying this but finding the fancy elf names really annoying. I have no idea who
2015-05-04/100%: It turns out there may be a cheat sheet in the back of the book. Regardless, I finished without one and often didn't know which side character was being discussed until I picked it up from context. Sometimes I didn't.
* Enjoyable. Light.
* Not too long
* Almost no action. That's a plus in my book because I'm tired of "heroes" saving the world every fucking week. Holy shit, can someone just tell a decent story where some stuff happens and some people grow up a little and... that's it. Yes! It turns out that Katherine Addison can tell that story.
* Almost no action. Yeah, I know, but really the conflicts could have been a little more.... important? Not bloody or action packed but at least drawn out enough to be interesting. As is they were resolved so quickly that they didn't feel important at all. The action doesn't need to be life threatening or even physical but it should be important.
* Language: Constant use of the plural to make things "formal" and especially the damned elvish names. The plural was bearable but the names were annoying. I very quickly lost track of characters and just shrugged and kept reading without bothering to sort them out. They should have a put a character list IN THE FRONT of the book.
All in all, nothing world shattering, but an enjoyable read about a fish out of water learning how to be emperor.
Hugo Summary/2: At least it's different. I also bet it makes Whiny Puppies cry since there aren't any laser battles or anything.
I usually don't like high fantasy, because as a medieval historian I
I also really like the fact that this is a standalone book, and that I won't spend the next 20 years hoping the author doesn't die before she finishes the series.
It tells the story of Maia, a half-goblin half-elf who is one of the younger sons of his emperor. The emperor and a whole bunch of his heirs die simultaneously in a suspicious airship accident, and Maia finds himself crowned emperor. He must deal with learning his way around the court and convincing his detractors that he is capable of ruling.
Most of the book is actually about court bureaucracy. This sounds incredibly tedious, and it really ought to be. What makes the book entertaining is the character of Maia - he is basically an everyman, and has more or less modern sensibilities, and since he grew up in exile, the court is totally foreign to him. In other words, his response to the situation is the same as yours or mine would be: bafflement, need for friendship, dislike of court culture, and a desire to see a more just society. This makes the book a quite satisfying read.
I listened to the audiobook, and found it to be quite engaging.
Maia is the disregarded half-goblin fourth son of the emperor, and has been brought up in isolation. So when most of the rest of the royal family, including the emperor and his first three sons, are killed in an airship crash, Maia is suddenly - against all expectation -
This was the story of Maia's arrival at court, and his first few months on the throne as he tries to get used to being at the top of the pile instead of the bottom, with all that entails.
This was a relaxing book to read - it's more about character than action. Maia is a nice young man, and you get to see him growing into his position, and trying to do the best for his family and his people.
Loved it. :-)
I'd view the story as court intrigue or fantasy of manners, with an
Although there are goblins, elves and magic, the fantasy elements in this book are lightly touched on: they serve more to explain cultural differences than being shoved in the reader's face.
It was an easy, fast-paced read. My main niggle was with the (imo) unnecessarily complex naming conventions. I didn't make the effort of keeping a list, so a lot of the time I wasn't too clear on exactly who was doing what, which might mean I've missed some clever connections.
Still, it was overall an enjoyable read.
Now, it's probably confusing why I
My problems all stems from the handling of Maia's character. I love everyone in this book who was worthy of loving. The characters were all so wonderful, but the author's treatment of Maia's internal issues was . . . discomforting. I mean, we basically have this boy who's basically suffering from PTSD and seems to have a good bit of internalized self-hatred, but that was never dealt with. I was so excited to see him come into his own and learn to love himself, at least a bit. I'm sure that's hard when one is an emperor, but I was so sure that when the Avar came to visit, that he would undergo at least a bit of appreciation of his people and himself. I know he already kind of had that in terms of his appreciation for his mother and what she taught him, but he was referring to himself as ugly a lot and that never seemed to change. Also, as much as I hate racism, the way it was downplayed in the book itself was really weird because it seemed as though it was going to be a really big part of the book, but it wasn't really. It was also never really emphasized how exactly unfortunate it was that this boy who had PTSD from being abused his entire childhood, was unable to really find any healing. I felt so sorry for Maia, not because of what necessarily happened in the book, but just the poor treatment of him by the author.
That is all aside from the REALLY wishy-washy reasoning for more of Maia's progressive views, mainly the intense sexism and homophobia. Like, I'm glad he felt those ways, but the reasoning, especially his kind of acceptance of homosexuals was not very concrete and I felt like he could definitely change his mind.
And it's a very good book.
It's a detailed look at the
It's as if tolkein's elves didn't go across the sea, and instead evolved to a victorian level of technology, but still kept all their affectation and manners and names (the book opens with a four page pronunciation guide). It is so detailed and rich that the lack of much plot to follow is almost a relief.
No? That doesn't sound compelling either?
This book is often praised as a breath of fresh air - an optimistic story during a time when much of the fantasy being published is some version of grimdark, violent and depressing. And it is. And it is without being silly or childish. And I like that. But I think it's also it's failing. It's a court drama book: who is loyal to whom, and what are they plotting and who is only pretending to be your friend to get what. And the answer is -
(spoilers I guess?, but I really think the book is better if you go in expecting this. It's not a 'reveal' per-se)
The answer is nobody. There are antagonists, who do not-nice things, but they all make their opinions clear from the get go. Honestly, I found it a bit of let-down that nobody was double-crossing anyone, as it felt rather unrealistic anywhere power is handed around the way it is here.
But it's still a fascinating book, pleasant to read, and utterly, utterly unique.
The difference, of course, is that this book has one of the most winning main characters I've ever read -- Maia is humble, stubborn, unbroken and absolutely charming -- and he is extraordinarily engaging from the first few pages of the book.
Beautiful world-building, clever and intricate court intrigue and a mystery at the heart of the story. Not to be missed.
Did you read The Princess Bride? Do you remember the bits that got cut out because they were purportedly too boring for children? Court etiquette, packing and unpacking scenes, politics, etc.--and I'd
So this is a perfect book for me. The exciting plot bits (mass murder, kidnapping, attempted murder) take a back seat to all the courtly intrigue, the manners, the paraphernalia of this new and unusual kingdom. It's wonderful, and a complete respite from all those books where the focus seems to be who can we kill and how many and in which way. Here the drama comes from who to appoint, who to placate, who to admit to chambers, who to dance with at a ball.
I kept waiting for Addison to drop this stuff and dive into the plot, but it advanced slowly and peripherally--the entire book was really composed of all the bits I love but almost never get to read about.
Give it a whirl--you'll know in the first 20 pages or so if this is working for you. For me, it was manna.
Everyone told me I was going to love this and guess what, I loved it! One of the most complex, well done, rewarding fantasy novels I've read in a long time. The brilliance of this book is that we spend all of it in Maia's head, being very lost right along with him; that's also the part that might turn off some readers, as for most of the book Maia's head is a very lonely place to be. But this is balanced by Maia's essential goodness, and despite everything, he never loses that, and in fact, it only grows stronger. I wish that the pronunciation and character prefix/suffix guide at the end of the book had actually been at the beginning because I think I spent longer than I should have figuring out who everyone was due to my brain refusing to process most of the names. I keep wavering between 4.5 and 5 stars; let's go with 4.75 for now.
This is fantasy as *I* love it:
Anyway, 5 stars and a READ THIS for Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor
(though I lold at debut from a new talent, as Sarah Monette has written wonderful fantasy before this.)
Overall, it was enjoyable read. And I can see why folks nominated it for a Locus award and a Hugo. It's not without literary merit - in that Addison clearly has something to say. Unfortunately she takes a long time to say it and is a bit repetitious, and overly interested in formal names of address
Which I found to be confusing. I think it may be meant to be taken satirically. And she may well be poking fun at various human power structures. I don't know. But it was a bit distracting and did not lend a great deal to the story.
That said, the characters in this story are rather likable. And the protagonist, Maia, The Goblin Emperor, who takes the throne at 18, is a breath of fresh air. (At least for anyone who has grown weary of bitter, resentful, snarky and overly self-absorbed teenagers in these sorts of novels.) The conflicts are resolved rather quickly and the main character is not overly tortured - most of his torture happened in the past, off-page and wasn't physical. For high fantasy, it's relatively non-violent.
The focus is rather on the process of running a government. The vast array of decisions that need to be made. The papers that must be signed. The petty fiefdoms. And skirmishes.
How one must navigate through it all to get anything done.
Also, on gender politics. Women in this society are treated as lesser or subservient. Their worth measured in how many children they can provide and what connections they can obtain through marriage. They have little power and struggle in various ways to obtain it. It's a rather chauvinistic society - reminding me a great deal of Medieval Times. Most high fantasy takes place during the Medieval period for some reason. Not quite sure why exactly. There are some rather interesting female characters in the novel, and some strong ones, both villains and heroines, although not sure you can make that sharp of a distinction.
At any rate without giving away too much - I do recommend it. But it does drag a bit in the middle and towards the end. It clocks in at 446 pages.
The novel has a likeable protagonist, a complex linguistic system (including specific formal and personal pronouns), and takes the reader on the same journey that Maia experiences as he grows into his position, fighting to make the right choices and differentiate himself from recent emperors. With strong world building, likable characters, and a plot that keeps moving, this is a fun, quick read that will leave the reader eager to go back to the beginning and start it again. It is also worth noting that this is a stand alone novel and was not intended to be part of a new series.