Author: Katherine Addison (aka Sarah Monette)
Date Published: April 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Blurb (taken from Goodreads): The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an "accident," he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.
Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.
Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend... and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.
This exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.
Why I read it:It felt like the entire blogosphere was raving about this book, plus I love fantasy novels with a heavy political element. A match made in heaven?
My thoughts:I think I would have enjoyed this one more if I’d known nothing about it. It was good, sure. But I wasn’t blown away by it, and I expected to be.
The concept is a simple one. We have an elven land ruled by a powerful emperor. But when a freak "accident" kills him and his first three heirs – the only ones trained for the crown – the mantle of power falls to Maia, whose goblin blood saw him exiled from the court at a young age. Maia may be the Emperor's last remaining heir, but he's also a half-blood upstart with only a rudimentary understanding of court politics and no clue how to rule.
It’s an interesting set-up. A lot of it works simply because Maia is so nice. An introvert thrown into the deep-end (and honestly, I couldn’t imagine a worse job for somebody who doesn’t appreciate small talk and needs time alone), he tries to make things work because – well – it’s his country, and therefore his duty, to do the best he can to hold things together. The next in line for the throne is only a child, and (as Maia frequently reminds himself) child emperors rarely rule well. So he preserves ever onwards.
However, it also wasn’t the book I was expecting. I kept hearing that this book was a deeply political novel, and imagined a court filled with Terre D’Ange style machinations. And hell, this court probably was. But we don’t see any of it. As emperor, Maia is sequestered away from his people; he has courtiers to do his politicking for him. His job is simply to rule, to pick and juggle the options presented to him, to remember titles and customs and obscure bits of etiquette. The result is a very earnest novel – one that was superbly written, but also a bit slow at times. It examines Maia's loneliness, and his struggle to connect and trust while maintaining the stature required of a good emperor. All interesting, but I couldn't help wanting to know more about the manoeuvrings going on behind the scenes.
A note on the names: There is a glossary at the end of the book. I wish I’d flicked to this early in the novel. When I finally read through, I realised just how much of the nuance I was missing in the titles.
So there you have it. The Goblin Emperor was thoughtful, straightforward and good, much like its protagonist. I also found it disappointing because it didn’t quite live up to its hype for me (despite still being a very well-wrought story).