The Goblin Emperor is Katherine Addison’s debut novel about a young half-goblin half-elf boy named Maia. Maia is the son of the emperor of the elves and is suddenly called to the throne when his father and three half-brothers die in a dirigible crash. The story focuses on his struggles to not only to understand court intrigue, but also to stay alive and find out who killed his estranged family.
The Goblin Emperor is so engrossing — I read it in less than two days. The pacing is intense, Maia is likeable, and the culture and world are appealing and unique. I would describe the setting as vaguely steampunk fantasy, as it’s not the traditional “industrial streets of London” style of steampunk.
Gender and Diversity
As a person of mixed descent, it’s important to me that the fantasy novels I read have characters of color in them. As any other fan of the fantasy genre can tell you, it’s no easy task to find fantasy novels with more than a token black person who serves as the loyal companion to the main character.
This is one of the things that makes The Goblin Emperor so intriguing: essentially, he’s half black, like me. Goblins are black-skinned, and elves are white-skinned. When they interbreed, their children are noticeably different looking from their parents. In that sense, it was wonderful that Maia wasn’t even the only mixed person in the novel. There are quite a few other mixed men and women, and a large thread of the novel focuses on how people of non-pure Elven blood are treated. When addressing the issue of albinos among their barbarian enemies, a character expresses disgust at the idea of an albino, mentioning that he himself (of mixed Goblin blood) has been called an abomination. I really enjoyed seeing a pointed look at diversity that specifically dealt with hair, skin, and eye color in a fantasy novel. We get a lot of “pixies vs. elves” type of diversity conflicts in fantasy, but rarely is it focused on actual skin color.
Another not-subtle message from the book is about the place of women in society. Both male and female characters comment on the ability of women to be more than mothers, and how it affects women to be denied any other role. It felt slightly heavy-handed by the end, but I did appreciate Maia’s remarks on the subject and why he cares.
Speaking of which, Maia was physically and verbally abused as a child. This abuse is touched on lightly throughout the novel and affects his decisions and the way he interacts with others. It comes off as a very poignant and seemingly honest look at how survivors of child abuse are affected for the rest of their lives. The book explores how he is eventually able to overcome some of that trauma, although he still makes excuses for his abuser after the resolution.
What Would I Change?
Although I truly enjoyed this book, I had a few minor issues. The biggest one is the lack of a family tree, any charts explaining the government, and a map. Now that may sound nitpicky, but let me give you an example of what you will have to face when reading this book:
If a noble family’s family name is Ceredada, then you will face character names based on their position and gender. Since we are dealing with quite a few families, this can result in the following:
- Osmer Ceredar – a male baron of the Ceredada family
- Dach’osmer Ceredel – a male duke of the Ceredada family
- Osmerrem Ceredaran – the wife of a baron of the Ceredada family
- Dach’osmerem Ceredaran – the wife of a duke of the Ceredada family
- Osmin Ceredin – the daughter of Ceredel
See how confusing that was? I often simply couldn’t remember who a certain character was, and the glossary in the back of the book was barely helpful, as I didn’t realize it was back there until I got to the end. Now, add to this that some family names were as close as Ceredada and Celehada and you can see why I would have really loved a little more help with remembering the characters.
Then we had the Corazhas, who are the people running the country. There was the Witness for the Universities, Witness for the Athmaz’are, Witness for the Judiciate, Witness for the Prelacy, Witness for the Treasury, Witness for Foreigners and the Witness for the Parliament. But, in the novel, they are referred to interchangeably by their title, their name, or by their common name. So, one person can be referred to as Osmer Berenar, Lord Chancellor or Eiru Berenar. Now multiply that by seven.
As for the map, the locations of the noble seats of power was a very important part of a plotline in the novel. Having a map would have not only made those connections easier to remember, but also would have helped me with remembering who the various noble characters were and understanding what influenced their motivations.
“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.”
The Goblin Emperor is a wonderfully paced, beautifully written look at the life of an emperor, as well as the story about a young man learning to move past his fears and history to form connections and to grow as a person instead of a victim. I simply adored the story of Maia, and hope there will be more books forthcoming from Katherine Addison soon!