Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Series: Standalone
Genre: Fantasy
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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.

Test every step before you take it, and trust nothing.

The first fifty to a hundred pages started out slow, with way too much info dumping and pretty much shoving the reader face first into the story. But, even then, I could see something in the characters, a heart, that drew me in. (And, really, that's where this story shines, the heart.)

So the story is about Maia, a half-elf/half-goblin that is pretty much out of his depth (something that actually works in the readers favor, because he knows more than we do about the world - even if not by much). And he's such a likable character.

He wants to be a good ruler, but feels inadequate. He has this strength that is admirable and a sense of humor - sometimes self-depreciating - that makes him so relatable.

The other characters are brilliantly realized. Even though the focus never shifts from Maia, all the other main characters have personalities and motivations that come through clearly. Naturally, not all are likable, but there are so many that I adored. 

The plot is fairly straightforward and maybe even a little barebones. While there is a bit of a mystery - who did cause the death of the Emperor and his heirs (and all the other poor people aboard that airship)? - the story is mostly about Maia getting his footing and political wrangling. (Though, we don't get to see any more of the court intrigue than Maia does.)

And also friendship. So much of this story is about finding people that you can be friends with - even if it might not be a typical friendship - and there were several forming relationships that I loved reading about.

The world building is dense and - in fact - a bit more dense than I prefer my fantasy's to be, but it was still interesting to read about a world that was so fully realized.

However, a few slight issues made me dampen my adoration for this story. First and foremost, it was difficult to keep people/places/titles straight. Sometimes the author introduced four to six new characters at once then, basically assumed that the reader could understand who they were after that brief introduction. (Something that even writers on the internet agree is bad form.) This was compounded by the similarity certain names had - for I feel I could be forgiven with getting Tethimar and Tethimel confused.

Also, if you're interested in this book for the steampunk/fantasy amalgamation, you will be disappointed. The sum total of steampunk in this story is relegated to one trip aboard an airship - along with their mention occasionally - and a Clocksmiths Guild interested in building a drawbridge.

This is not to the book's detriment, but it is described everywhere as a steampunk/fantasy book and, I have to admit, there is so little steampunk elements in it that the story would have been better served to not have it marketed as such. (Because I would have been interested in it anyway, but I was really hoping for a solid merging of steampunk and fantasy and this is a pretty straightforward non-medieval Europe fantasy story.)

There is something to be said for diversity, because the 'Goblins' are dark skinned and there is also mentions of same sex romances. (Not as much as I could have hoped for, true, but at least not everyone is white heterosexuals.) Also, I gotta admit, I am really happy to find such an enjoable standalone fantasy novel.