Book Reviews

Steampunk and court intrigue: a review of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Steampunk and court intrigue: a review of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine AddisonThe Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison Published: Tor Books on 2014, eARC, 448 pages
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Queer Coverage
Purchase a copy: Amazon| Kobo
Add to: 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. (from Goodreads)

Shout out to Memory, who first drew my attention to the existance of this book on NetGalley. This is one of those books I would never have found on my own if someone hadn’t pointed it out to me. And that would have been a real shame, because The Goblin Emperor is amazing and lovely and I love it and OMG OMG
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I read it all in one day! It’s a pretty big book and actually not all that fast paced, but I adore court intrigue (especially in fantasy settings) so I was basically glued to my Kindle from start to finish. I actually had a hard time NOT rereading it right away.
In fact, writing about it is making me want to read it again!
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Okay, calm down.
So WHAT exactly is so great about The Goblin Emperor? LET ME TELL YOU:
Court intrigue! Royalty having life pains in a way that doesn’t come off as entitled and/or annoying! Maia is technically the son of the emperor, but he was raised more like an unwanted third cousin. He knows a little about how to act in court, but nothing about the current politics, social climate, etc. NOR does he know anything about actually ruling a country. So he spends a lot of time learning about all those things while also dodging the people who want to use him and/or kill him, depending on how they think about half-goblin princes raised in the marsh.
This could all be totally boring, but it’s NOT. I like stories about court intrigue anyway, but the story of The Goblin Emperor is also about Maia finding his way in his new world. And there is a mystery re:his family’s deaths! It all blends together into this fascinating story of family and leadership and making friends, with tension from assassins and terrible relatives mixed in. Fun!
Maia, by the way, is a lovely protagonist. He’s an outsider to his own country/family, not only because he’s half-goblin while (mostly) everyone else is an elf, but also because he’s spend most of his life living away from people. Despite his terrible childhood, he’s kind, empathetic and not at all what people expected based on who his father was. (Sidenote: his father was a terrible person but a beloved emperor. Awkwaaaaaaard.)
Update! I didn’t really talk about any characters besides Maia, BUT The Goblin Emperor is filled with lovely people (and also loathsome ones, no worries). It was just as much fun getting to know them as it was getting to know Maia, especially since they were all used to life in court under Maia’s father and so were unused to an Emperor like Maia. Y’know, one that wasn’t perpetually angry/grouchy/a total beast.
There’s a good balance between the numbers of male and female characters, although the most interesting female characters don’t get their chance to shine until close to the end. Maia’s fiancee, however, is a headstrong astronomer who doesn’t understand Maia at first and so spends a lot of time being rude. However, she’s got so much depth that peeks out that I’m hoping she gets to be the narrator of the next book (if there is a next book) because I thought she was fascinating to read about.
So anyway, we get that outsider perspective which makes learning about the world of The Goblin Emperor much more fun than it might have been otherwise. Despite the chunks of informative paragraphs, I never felt like it was handed to me in an “as you know” kind of way— maybe because Maia DOESN’T know about all that stuff. I learned about his new role alongside him; I felt very connected to him and his story, and I loved it.
I also fell in love with the writing. It’s flowy and elegant, but not in an in-your-face kind of way. I simply MUST read everything else Katherine Addison‘s written!
The focus is definitely on the characters and their world in the court, but there’s some great background elements that give that world more depth. For instance, though it’s technically a fantasy world (with elves and goblins and magic), there are steampunk machines like steam-powered bridges and airships. Also, elves and goblins tend to show up in European-centered fantasies, but the court in The Goblin Emperor read more Chinese/Japanese to me. Yay!
The Goblin Emperor is a fantastic story with wonderful characters who live in a rich, intriguing fantasy/scifi world. I recommend getting your hands on it ASAP.
Read: March 2, 2014


    • Anastasia

      1) Yes, it is, BUT I think it also has some sort of naming structure thing in it that means “son of an emperor” or something because that’s the sort of thing Katherine Addison does. There’s an explanation of naming conventions in the back of the book that I kinda skipped over, but it seemed interesting.

  • Memory

    I’m so glad you loved it!
    And yesyesyes, you must read all Addison’s other books. I’ll warn you, they’re quite a bit darker than this one, but they’re no less intricate or wonderful, and the characters are my absolute favourites in all of fiction.

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