Friday, May 16, 2014

Weekly Book Review: The Goblin Emperor

 The Goblin Emperor
Click to find this book in our catalogue.
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Released: April 1, 2014
Genre: Fantasy


"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."

[from Katherine Addison's official website.]


Though I loved the first three books of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, I sometimes can't help but resent their popularity. They seem to have opened the floodgates for the type of grim and gritty fantasies that revel in blood and grit and subversions so commonplace they've metamorphosed into tropes. The lighter fantasies I prefer have been drowned out by Martin's deluge.

It may be that I just haven't been looking in the right places. I'm not always as on top of book releases as I should be, probably because my other media interests take up so much of my brain space. Still, before I started working at the library, every visit to the book store was an exercise in frustration. Most book stores didn't carry the older, less well-known works that might've quenched my thirst for more hopeful fantasy fare. As for those works so famous they've never gone out of print, well, my book shelf spilled over with those years ago.

The Goblin Emperor was a refreshing read. Maia, the titular Goblin Emperor, is the sort of protagonist I love, a kind, thoughtful person who genuinely wants to do good. Doing good is more difficult than it should be, of course. Much of the novel chronicles Maia's attempts to work his will in a system that actively resists it. Maia's only 18, and not used to having any authority at all, much less ruling authority over an entire kingdom. He's grown up away from court, separated from everyone and everything that could have taught him what to do and how to act in highly political situations.

Maia may lack in political know-how, but his general intellect and overflowing empathy make up for it in many ways. It's a testament to the author's skill that Maia never comes across as suffering from "Stupid Hero Syndrome" despite his disadvantages. Even his mistakes are logical. They just operate according to his logic rather than the empire's.

Maybe it's more realistic for the terminally good and the critically naive to succumb to the threats authors like Martin mete out for them, but it's not always that satisfying. Reality is a common sacrifice in the name of a good book, and for good reason. Reality's a little too unpredictable to make a decent narrative devoid of unanswered questions and unfinished character arcs. Maia's journey is not always realistic, but it is fully satisfying.

Those looking for action won't find it here. The majority of the book takes place in conversations and meetings, and the conflicts are driven by character rather than plot. Despite its lack of action, The Goblin Emperor never felt slow. There are few wasted moments in this novel's 446 pages, and it ends well before it's worn out its welcome.

The Goblin Emperor is one of the most enjoyable new fantasies I've read in a number of years. If you've got a taste for court politics but aren't hungry for backstabbing and bloodshed, definitely give this one a try.

You should also read:

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

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