I’d heard a lot of praise for The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, which compelled me to purchase it and see for myself if it really deserved the praise. It does. It really does.
Maia, the half Goblin half Elven outcast son of the Elven Emperor, is suddenly forced to become the Emperor of a realm he doesn’t really know and understand when his father and his full-blooded brothers die in an airship crash. He’s shipped off to court in the Elflands and finds himself struggling against misconceptions about his ‘Goblin side’, against his own ignorance of the happenings and workings of the court, against the traditionalism of the Elves and against his own insecurities. He has no friends, no allies, only enemies.
Wow. I can’t believe it’s already over. I actually put the book away for a few days after figuring out I had less than half of the book yet to go: because I didn’t want it to end. That’s how good the book is! It’s not something I’ve read before, and what I mean by that is that I’ve not really read any Fantasy novels that centre around court intrigue. I think the Lightbringer, Malazan Book of the Fallen and First Law trilogy books are probably the closest I ever truly got to it, and most of that intrigue still happens between closed doors.
In The Goblin Emperor, everything is court intrigue almost all the time. And yet, there’s no dissipation of tension, there’s no way to catch your breath, because you’re barraged with more court intrigue and issues and problems. Sometimes you can almost feel overwhelmed, which is a good thing, because Maia – loveable half-breed who doesn’t even want to be Emperor – feels exactly the same way. Explanations why certain things are done a certain way don’t always fly with him and he is contrary from the beginning. With contrary I don’t mean that he’s consciously working against tradition, just that he doesn’t know about a lot of the traditions, and so does things ‘the wrong way’.
He was never seen as in need of an education when he grew up – and whatever education he did get wasn’t sufficient. Maia is actually one of the kindest characters I’ve read in a long time. You can just relate to his confusion, his suffering, his desire to be a good Emperor, his wish to change the Elflands for the better, his insecurities about his mixed race and skin tone, and his yearning for friends. I must admit I found some of the invented words confusing at first, but after a while I got used to it.
Once you pick up this book, you’re not going to want to put it back down. And isn’t that how all books should be?