The Goblin Emperor

Katherine Addison
The Goblin Emperor Cover

The Goblin Emperor


Six years later I've read this book again as a prelude to reading the sequel, and I've revised my rating upward from 3.5 to 4 stars.

Based on the synopsis, I wasn't sure this book would be my cup of tea. But I really enjoyed it.

This story is a mix of steampunk, murder-mystery, character-study, and royal-court-political-intrigue. It features a half-breed prince who has been scorned and locked away since childhood, but who suddenly ascends to the throne when his emperor father and three favored half-brother princes all die mysteriously in an airship accident.

I found the story interesting – even engrossing. But I fall short of raving about it, exactly. Although he's appealing, the main character feels to me rather one-dimensional. He's a good person who consistently behaves with honor and forbearance, who wins unlikely friends out of many of his enemies and, despite having had a pretty horrible life, almost never has bad urges – and gives into those urges even less often.

Part of the reason for my sense of lack of dimension may be due to the fact that the story starts as the prince ascends to the throne. We are told a little bit, here and there, about the bullying and abuse previously suffered by him prior to this – but we don't experience it along with him. We aren't given much background about how his character evolved.

With regard to the worldbuilding, I'm mystified as to the reason for having the two main races be goblins and elves. It bears no relevance to the story. These aren't goblins and elves from fairy stories. They could just have easily been linbogs and veles, or sariths and calires. I recommend ignoring these labels and trying not to think of the races as elves and goblins, but rather as just their own things.

The mystery is interesting, although the solution is not that unpredictable or mysterious. The court intrigue is engaging, but not that gripping or revelatory. What this story really is, is a balm for the soul: a comfort read when one needs a good story about decent people trying to do their best and treat others kindly.

I've seen comments from people who say that, having been bullied and abused as children, they found especially heartening the main character's basic decency, and the fact that he survives such a background and comes into his own as a wise, beneficient ruler despite it.

And the writing style is really lovely: chewy and elegant, without being pretentious and overblown.

As an aside, I've seen several people express difficulty remembering and understanding all the people and place names. There is a Name Glossary at the back of the book (at least in the printed version), which many people will likely find helpful.