The Goblin Emperor

By Katherine Addison

Rating: 5 stars

Edit 2021-03-07: Okay, since I’ve now read this book for the third time, I’m going to have to admit that I like it more than just four stars, so I’m changing my score from 4 to 5 stars. While I still acknowledge the book’s flaws, the familiarity of multiple rereads helps deal with that, and I love the characters.

Original review:

The emperor and his first three sons are killed in an airship “accident”. His youngest son, of mixed goblin/elven heritage is thus recalled from exile to take his place as the new emperor. However, Maia is young and hasn’t been educated in the ways of court intrigue, never mind groomed for the throne, but he’s got to learn fast, if whatever killed his father doesn’t claim him as well.

I really enjoyed this book. There’s not a huge amount in the way of plot, but the characterisation is great, and courtly intrigue really does hold the attention. Addison doesn’t shy away from Maia’s mixed race heritage, and the sort of bigotry that he faces because of it, but it’s not to the fore. The fact that he’s barely an adult and is untutored in how to rule is much more of a problem, but he manages to find allies early on. From the messenger who brings him the news to his personal bodyguard, not everyone is out to get him, and it’s a joy to see him tentatively reaching out and building these relationships. The book is very much about the loneliness of power and a repeating motif is how the emperor can’t have friends, and how the young Maia copes in that situation.

I also really liked the setting, which has a steampunk vibe to it, with airships and pneumatic tubes to deliver mail. There is magic, but it’s kept very low key, with a sleeping cantrip here, and a spell to talk to the dead there. Interestingly as well, there are no humans in the book. The kingdom is elven, and goblins feature, as well as at least one other, unnamed, race, but no humans.

One thing I found frustrating, however, was the large vocabulary of made up words: names, places and titles. I can understand what the author was doing with her world-building, but it’s just frustrating, especially as the glossary at the back isn’t exactly complete. I actually had more sympathy for a related complaint: that of the size of the cast. It’s really huge, and trying to remember who everyone is and what their relationship is to another character can be tiring. However, in this case, we’re thrown into the same situation as Maia, and at least there’s the glossary to fall back on (although it’s not exactly helpful to say that rank A is the chief of the Z and then not define Z, or give someone’s familial relationship, but not their relationship to Maia).

Book details

ISBN: 9780765365682
Publisher: Tor Fantasy
Year of publication: 2014

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