The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison(Cover picture courtesy of 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.

This exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Can I just say wow?

That one word pretty much sums up my whole experience with The Goblin Emperor.  Really, it does.  The world-building was unique and three dimensional, the characters were memorable, the political intrigue was constant and the plot was fascinating.  I’ll start with my favourite part of the whole novel, though: the world-building.

This world of goblins and elves is amazing; there are no other words for it.  At first it seemed like a traditional nobody-becoming-king story, but then I realized that Katherine Addison had put her own unique twist on it.  This isn’t your typical fantasy world, oh no!  It’s set in a society where airships are used, where technology is slowly being more and more relied upon but there are people trying to hold back progress.  The monarchy is still around and I like how the court was infused with a more Eastern flavour.  If you’re familiar with the Chinese and Japanese forms of monarchy you’ll be able to pick out where Katherine Addison borrowed from those cultures to create her world.  It’s honestly refreshing to see a writer take old elements from Western fantasy (elves and goblins) and put them in an entirely new setting.

Maia, our confused protagonist, was wonderful.  He was the fourth half-goblin, half-elf son of the former Emperor, who died in an accident that took out the three in line for the throne ahead of him.  Maia was never raised to be Emperor, in fact he was abused physically and mentally by Setheris, the exile sent to look after him.  Seeing him suddenly in a position of supreme power over everyone is quite a jarring change but it feels like he deserves it.  Except that the position of Emperor isn’t all its cracked up to be: there are plots against his life, he has no friends at court and he has absolutely no privacy.  It’s stressful for him but I love how he learns to navigate the politics and set himself apart from his father as a just Emperor.

The only thing that could have used a little work was the plot.  Don’t get me wrong, though.  It was fascinating, very intense at times and I couldn’t put the book down.  But it would have been nice for Katherine Addison to reveal a little more information to her readers just a little sooner.  She did a good job avoiding info-dumps but I would have definitely preferred a little more information about her fascinating fantasy world sooner.  The names were a little confusing and extremely hard on my poor English-speaking tongue, but once you immerse yourself in her fantasy world you start to get the hang of them and the formal vs. informal pronouns and titles.

If you like fantasy or steampunk (or both!) you’ll love this book.  Go out and pre-order it immediately because it comes out on April 1.

I give this book 4.5/5 stars.

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