The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison is a book I had heard lots of good things about prior to reading it, so I was pretty excited when it was chosen as the March pick for the Sword & Laser book club.
The Goblin Emperor can perhaps be described as the most interesting book I’ve ever read in which nothing really happens. I mean, things happen, but not in the epic way that I think many fantasy readers have come to expect. The Goblin Emperor is the story of Maia, a half-elf, half-goblin who falls into the position of Emperor of Elfland when his father and half brothers are killed in an airship crash. Maia is whisked to the capital where he has to learn how to navigate tricky political waters and govern his kingdom. The entire novel resolves around the policies Maia must learn and the rules he must abide by, as he tries to fit in to the world of the Elven elite, while trying to maintain his own individual identity.
I have to say that I really enjoyed this book. Maia is the sort of character who will win over a reader with his utter goodness. He has a sort of wide-eyed innocence that isn’t uncommon to people thrust into a new situation, but he somehow manages to maintain it even as he learns to deal with the less glamorous side of politics. Some people have complained that this makes him too good, or uninteresting, but I think the writing of Maia is so good I don’t really care. I don’t think this book would have worked any other way, really. It would have caused to book to completely loose its charm. And it’s Maia – once you’ve read the story it is very difficult to imagine him any way other than how he is written.
Throughout his journey through the realm of Elven politics, Maia is lucky to have a (mostly) great team of advisors and staff to help him (Especially Csevet. Love me some Csevet.), but he must learn to deal with the history of his family (and the loss of them) on his own. The characters are fun and interesting, though it is not an uncommon complaint about the internets that the names did not have to be quite so difficult to pronounce. I don’t know if I agree with this – the names really are quite beautiful once you grasp the sounds of them – and honestly many of the longer, more complex names have stuck with me over the shorter or more common ones precisely because of their interesting collection of sounds. In a book with so little action (we barely leave the palace), the naming conventions really did help me feel like I was in another world. I think the world building is really fantastic – you get a very real sense of what life (well, court life at least) is like in Elfland, and how the cultures are different elsewhere. Some of the themes of the book a bit obvious (he’s building a bridge!), but none are out of place or bring the story to a stop.
All in all I have to say that this was a great book. It is a quiet story – not a typical epic hero’s journey at all – but that is what I like about it. Maia is the sort of heartwarmingly good character you need in your life every once in a while. Especially if you’ve just read Game of Thrones. He’s like chicken soup for the fantasy reader’s soul. The writing is good, the world is interesting, and the story is full of interesting and subtle court driven politics. Definitely a fun read for anyone who likes historical fiction or fantasy, though I think any reader would fall in love with Maia and enjoy his story. Highly recommended.