The Goblin Emperor

Katherine Addison
The Goblin Emperor Cover

The Goblin Emperor


On a trip to China a few years ago, I got to visit the Forbidden City in Beijing. Surrounded by such a display of magnificent splendor and so much opulence, I wouldn't be surprised if the whole tour group was thinking the same thing: how wonderful it must have been to be emperor, to be the son of heaven and have your word be law, all the luxury in the world at your fingertips and an army servants to cater to your every whim.

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 power-plays, 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.