Book Review: THE GOBLIN EMPEROR by Katharine Addison

Title in gold on black above a blue crown
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: Yes - first book

Synopsis:

Book cover for THE GOBLIN EMPEROR: title in gold on black with blue and gold geometric pattering

Even on the throne, you’re only as good as your wits—or your heart.

Maia, 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.

Surrounded by sycophants 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 spectre of the unknown conspirators, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

THE GOBLIN EMPEROR is a political fantasy that has vaguely been on my radar for a while now, but I hadn’t been that aware of it, other wise I probably should have read it earlier (see: political fantasy).

The intricate world of the court was so much fun. You could just tell how much effort had gone into creating it, and how much more there was that hadn’t managed to make the on-page cut. For example, it felt like there was so much history behind the clothing and hairstyles that’s never discussed, but because I could imagine a guide somewhere about how it related to some distant myth it gave the world that extra feeling of authenticity. It’s a world that pulls you in.

Fish out of water is a common theme in political fantasy – character unexpectedly pushed into a position of power and having to learn on the job. And you hope they don’t make too many mistakes. And it’s common because it works so well. Many SFF book include a protagonist new to the world as it is a useful tool for world building (able to explain more), but in political fantasy, it allows you to also build up the layers of intrigue and also immediately have high stakes because the main character has a lot to learn before they can even start trying to solve the problems. And you know the problems are only going to get worse as they have more time to “mature” and the reader/main character gains a better understanding of the problem.

What I really liked in THE GOBLIN EMPEROR was the focus on Maia struggling with the distance and isolation of being an Emperor. He’s already struggling with childhood trauma due to loss, negligence, and abandonment (plus a cruel guardian), and now has the weight of an empire on his shoulders. Through all of it, he cannot reach out to others as the Emperor must be remote from those who serve him. This attention to the emotional toll of the role really made it different to other similar books I’ve read.

I realise that the bulk of what will be said will appear negative, but I really enjoyed this book. It’s just that I tend to read a lot closer into the structure and world because I love this sub-genre so much. It’s two little nitpicks, but close reading means I have a lot to talk about!

The book felt a little… ambling at times. It’s not that it was the pacing was frustrating – I expect political fantasy to be slower, and like it slower as it means there’s more time to take it all in. No, what this was that at times it felt like it was lacking focus. There were a few plots going on around him, but they seemed very secondary to him trying to stay afloat. It made the politics and intrigue feel a little forgotten at times, particularly the investigation into the air crash. When the big political moments came, it was a bit like “oh, yeah, this thing is happening.” This is certainly a personal preference, but it didn’t have the vibe of plots being spun and tightening, waiting for the protagonist to find a way out.

I did find it a little hard to remember all the names. Firstly: the words for lord/lady are (I think) made up for this world. It took me a while to get used to this (and to distinguish between the three forms, as they are spelt so similarly). Because of the way it was written, I spent the first half thinking they were three surnames (I had read the etymological intro, but it clearly hadn’t gone in). When the title is used, the surnames are used, but in narration, the characters are often referred to by their surname, so I was struggling to match surnames and first names – and thus keep track of who was who.

Also there are a fair few names that are similar looking. As someone who reads by recognition, the names need to be spelt significantly differently for me to be able to tell them apart at my reading speed (unless it’s a name I am very, very familiar with, like Sifa). I look for shapes when I read, basically. If the shapes of two words are similar, then I will muddle them. I would see a name, and not be sure who it was as there were often two character with similar names (for example, families from the same province).

There is a companion book coming out this year, so I clearly picked up this book at the right time! And yes, that companion (WITNESS FOR THE DEAD, about a side character) is going on my TBR immediately.


Read my reviews of other books by Katherine Addison:

The Goblin Emperor (this series):

Standalones:

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