Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Goblin in the Emperor's Court

The Goblin Emperor
Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor has been making waves in the fantasy world.  This is probably partly because it's written by Sarah Monette, a very popular fantasy author.  But mostly it's because people really love the story.  And yay!  A stand-alone fantasy novel!  I loved it for that reason alone.

Maia is the youngest son of the Elvish emperor, though he has never been at court.  His mother was a goblin and the emperor never liked her.  But the emperor and his three other sons all died in an airship accident, and now Maia is emperor.  This makes many people unhappy and throws all sorts of things into upheaval.  Maia navigates the complicated court, full of intrigue, alliances, and frenemies, and when he finds out that his father and brothers were victims of murder, he must also be careful of his own life.

This probably sounds like a fairly typical plot for fantasy novels.  And I guess it is, but the reason the plotline is so typical is because there is so much room to develop characters and settings and backgrounds and all the rest.  So I am not tired of it yet!

I loved that Maia was a mixed-race character taking charge of an Elvish world.  In many ways, this reminded me of Seraphina, except that in this book, everyone knew that Maia was half-goblin due to his appearance.  I think Maia's background, especially his clear love for his mother and the goblin traditions she taught him, was such a strong part of the story.  I also loved Maia's growth as a character.  He had a very painful, lonely childhood, and when he gets to court, there is just so much hostility and he's utterly bewildered.  His efforts to connect with the people around him (while dealing with the double whammy of being half-goblin and the emperor) were so well-written, and his pain when he was rebuffed or manipulated was very real.

I also really enjoyed reading about the political and social spheres in which this book is set.  There is a lot about the class structure and how it can disenfranchise the poor, homosexuality and the various ways people react to it, the role of women and how the women respond to that role, and much about tradition vs innovation in the form of a campaign to build a bridge across a very large river.  There is so much depth to the story that you could easily see Addison writing more books set in this world (prequels or sequels, really), and centering on characters in different areas and on different rungs of the economic ladder.  I think that would be such a rich and unique way of telling the over-arcing story.

I did struggle a bit with the language and the names in this book.  There is an index in the back with people's names, but they are only listed by last name and sometimes that is not the name used in the text, and so it could become very difficult to find them.  I got confused between a lot of the characters.  There are many, and their names all were very foreign to me, and so I would often have no idea who was in the conversation until I either grasped the context of the situation or found the character's name in the index.  I am not sure if this was just an issue for me, but it was a pretty big stumbling block for me, so just be ready!  It's worth the effort to struggle through, though, for sure.

I also feel like the women in this book were not given much dimension.  Granted, Maia is a man and the emperor and the world he lives in does seem to be one that separates genders quite a bit (why must this happen so often in fantasy fiction?).  But I felt like many of the men developed distinct personalities and we learned much more about their personal histories.  We never really got much of that with the female characters.

But maybe if there is another book set in this world, there will be loads of women and they will get their share of the spotlight.  I sure hope so, because this is a world that I would like to know better.  And if you are a fan of fantasy novels, then I think it's pretty likely you will enjoy this book.  So go to it!

Also, I clearly need to read some of the Monette books I already have on my shelves!


  1. Okay, I'm convinced. It is unusual to find a stand-alone fantasy novel anymore, so I like it for that alone, even if there is a sequel set in the same world.

  2. I'd love to read this one :D

  3. I have this one, but I found it hard to get into. I think I just need to give it its fair shot because I do think it's one that I will really like.

  4. I had a really hard time with the names too. I couldn't always remember which bits were the family name, which bits were the given name, and which bits were titles or honorifics. By the end I was mostly in the swing of it, but for a lot of the beginning and middle, I felt like I was reading a Russian novel, with all the attendant difficulties of that. :p

  5. A stand-alone fantasy novel? Really? I didn't know they existed any more. lol

    I find names difficult in most fantasy novels. Weirdly, I usually just go by the first letter (or two if needed) of the name. This sounds really good! I love how fantasy novels can play with things like politics, class, race, and etc, so freely.

  6. I am SOOO guilty of skimming over names in fantasy novels - there are just so many of them, and the have so many vowels in weird places. (or sometimes consonants - depending on the author...) This one sounds great!


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