The Goblin Emperor

Katherine Addison
The Goblin Emperor Cover

The Goblin Emperor


I quite enjoyed this one. So the set up isn't terribly original - young person who doesn't ever expect to be king ends up on the throne, it's quite a familiar trope really. What I do like about this is that our young person Maia, as the novel's focus is a wonderful character. First of all, he's a nice guy (goblin?). He's a kind person who tries to do the right thing all the time. That doesn't mean he is a super hero - he is far from it. Likewise we never slip into 'cruel out of necessity' as many 'leaders' in fantasy novels slip into. I like that Maia is unsure of how to behave, is insecure, has his emotions laid bare continually. I think his character is very 'honest' in that the reader always knows that Maia does not know what he is doing - whether it is learning to dance, answering a letter or taking political decisions.

In many respects this is similar to a lot of courtly 'historical fiction' where the machinations of courtly life and political intrigue are a daily fact of life - but Game of Thrones this isn't (well, it is a tiny, bit!). What I like about this is quite often Maia is reacting to stuff and we are seeing things from his perspective where it is clear there is tons of stuff happening off screen. I can see how this may annoy some readers but I don't see this novel as being about the world around Maia, I see it as a novel about Maia's internal struggles and learning.

There are a couple of major plot hooks in the book which just get thrown in there and I can't help but feel both are thrown out there, and resolved relatively easily without a lot of effort to sort. This isn't a novel of suspense and action....

I do like the word that Addison has built around young Maia. She has a good idea of the geography, history and culture of the land (including quite a lot of focus on creating linguistic and grammatical rules for the characters). It seems a shame that this seems to be a standalone novel as there is lots of scope for more - indeed, this feels like a 'first in a series' novel as I think quite a lot is set up t5o explore in future novels. This book may be one to avoid if you don't care for worldbuilding.

There is a huge cast of characters here and they are all named in different ways dependent on who is addressing them and in the context of the address. There is a glossary at the back of the book but it's a pain to refer back and forth to with an ebook. I just decided to stay with it and work hard at working out who people where / remembering or referring back. It won't be for everyone and can be quite hard for the reader to keep track of.

I've seen this novel described as 'steampunk'. I don't really think it is although there is a nod to the genre. I do think there is a 'low fantasy' element to this though. It is a world of magic but it is so understated when it is noticed it is quite powerful.

I suppose I should mention that Maia the Goblin Emperor is significant because he is the emperor of the land of Elves. Now to be honest, the differences between Goblins and Elves seem to be largely racial in terms of facial structure and skin colour. Maia's birth is a result of a 'political' marriage and I guess Addison is exploring issues of racism in this book but it's not particularly nuanced.

So I enjoyed Maia's early months of his reign. I enjoyed his learning and he's a very likeable chap with real vulnerabilities. Addison has got something good here and it'd be a shame to not go back here. Good fun which left me wanting more.