Magic Monday: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

This month, I revisited The Goblin Emperor, which I’ve read previously on recommendation by a good friend.

I LOVE this book. I’ll get to why in a moment, but first, here’s the cover and blurb:

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.


Why I love this book:

This is a slow-burning read for me. The writing is beautiful but dense at times (especially when read in paperback form…someday I want a hardcover copy!) Normally, I can read through a 300-400 page book in a few hours. Re-reading this book took me several days, and I enjoyed every moment of it. The writing alone is enough to pull 5 stars…but it’s also just the tip of why I like this book so much.

I’m not always enamored by politics in fantasy. Sometimes it can become a bit of a yawn-fest for me. However, Maia, the main character, is thrown into the political storm that follows his father’s and half-brothers’ sudden deaths. It’s a whirlwind of fear and struggling to overcome his lack of schooling and the constant pressure to do this or that from everyone around him. The reader is dragged along with him. There are times I wanted to step into the book and give him a hug; he has a desperate need for friendship, and yet has no chance for it as the emperor.

Maia is an amazing character. He’s sympathetic yet flawed in multiple ways, and he tries his best to overcome his flaws and become an emperor he is proud to be. He strives to do this even when his intentions don’t match up with those in his court, especially those who wish to compare him to his father. I spent the entire book cheering for him as he faced obstacle after obstacle, some more life-threatening than others.

The supporting cast is also well-written, from his awful cousin who raised him (I hate that guy) to the amazing courier who becomes Maia’s secretary and somehow keeps his schedule sorted and handles a million other tasks (I love this guy). Not to mention Maia’s assigned guards, his large and rather volatile court, and all the other folk he crosses paths with along the way.

Last but not least…the setting. It’s a steampunk setting, with airships and mechanics with brilliant ideas (I can’t say more on that topic here for fear of spoilers). Much of the story takes place within the huge palace, but Maia does venture beyond its walls a few times to great effect. There’s also the formal language that fills the pages; I mention it here because it’s definitely a part of the setting in the way it affects conversations and characters. My copy is written in English, but Addison does an amazing job in giving the impression of a language with more complexity than English with its informal and formal uses of pronouns, names, and other terms. Maia understands the formal but at times slips into the informal, whether unintentionally or intentionally, and this adds another layer to the story.

In short, if you enjoy fantasy with a good dose of politics and compelling characters, definitely check out The Goblin Emperor.