The Goblin Emperor

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Goblin emperor cover

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.

So, so good. I-nearly-missed-my-stop good. “I know it’s dinnertime but I just want to finish my chapter” good. If you like political intrigue, amazing and detailed worldbuilding, a subtle and deep adventure…the book reminds me of Kushiel’s Dart or Ursula le Guin – I haven’t read anything else with this level of politics in modern fantasy, but I’m sure it exists.

This isn’t adventure, but it’s definitely drama-filled. I was very caught up with Maia all the way through, and I love so much that it’s not all about him; other people make choices that affect him, and there are points where the action could go any way!

I think what really makes this book is the details. The language is rich and complex; it almost felt translated, as I was craving the subtle tu and vous switches of formal to casual rather than the generic “you” of English – but the details are cleverly dropped in to add the atmosphere. The use of etiquette and the level of detail is spectacular, and adds so much to the world without having to info-dump. Maia’s part-knowledge, part-ignorance works really well to slide us in to the Court, and it never feels boring; as Maia learns and grows and muddles on and adapts, following him is a tug and the constant problem of new situations and choices presents ever more interesting difficulties.

My personal view is that this book is done a disservice by the cover – I’d love to see something in the style of The Seven, or a much more dramatic representation of Maia and the Court. The existing one doesn’t convey the politics and the intricacies of the story, and almost gives it a simplistic view. I also wonder if it would have been better without the Goblin/Elves label. Yes, it does convey a lot about the races without needing to explain…but it also introduces a lot of fantasy-cliche background. I could have lived with more explanation of the way characters looked in the descriptions if it meant not having the echoes of existing fantasy races winding through what is, in reality, an entirely new world. But both of those are minor points that only annoy me because they potentially limit the reach of what is an absolutely fantastic book.

It’s a stand-alone so is a nice self-contained read, but the author has written other works under her real name of Sarah Monette – so I’m heading off to check those out!