Sunday, 1 June 2014

Book Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Title: The Goblin Emperor
Author: Katherine Addison (aka Sarah Monette)
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Tor
Date Published: April 2014
Source: Bought
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 na├»ve 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).


  1. I fell into the same "trap" too, thinking it would be a different, more epic kind of political intrigue but came to find something more small scale, subtle and focused on the details of courtly life. This was a fantastic book, but yeah I can also see why it would disappoint the way it did, because while I really enjoyed the story, but I think a part of me felt the same.


    1. I'm glad to hear I wasn't the only person to feel this way. I did enjoy the novel (and yes, it was fantastic) but it wasn't what I expected, and I think that threw me. At least other people are appreciating it the way it deserves!

  2. I was just thrilled by the hopeful tone, and by the genuinely likable main character. Perhaps I was lucky enough to read it before the hype train really took off, because I didn't much know what to expect. But I really did enjoy it.

    Your not the first, nor I am guessing the last, to point out that the glossary would have been helpful before reading the book.

    1. Yeah, Maia was awesome, as was the hopeful tone. (I think a lot of novels end at a high/hopeful point, but it was very marked in this one. I haven't read much grimdark stuff though.)

      I saw the glossary mentioned in other people's reviews but completely forget about it when reading! Ah well.

  3. It sounds like reviews led you to believe this was something it was not. It does sound intriguing though, I am sorry bits dragged a little. The writing sounds well done, and I will have to remember to check the glossary first.

    1. It really was an excellent novel, definitely worth a read if you like fantasy. Even if it didn't work for me!

  4. When a book comes as highly recommended as this is, it's natural to keep our expectations high, and just as natural to experience some disappointment... I understand where yours comes from, because it happened to me as well, from time to time.
    Nevertheless, what I read about "The Goblin Emperor" did pique my curiosity and I will probably read it: who knows? Maybe going in "armed" with such warnings as yours will result in a better experience...

  5. I had heard this one was a tad difficult with the names and that it was slow going as well. My friend Tina is reading through it right now and I can totally tell it's slow because normally she'll devour a book in several days and she's been working on this one for at least two weeks. A sure sign. I still hope to read it but I know I'll have to be in the mood. Maia sounds like such a NICE person.