"The Goblin Emperor" review
Title: The Goblin Emperor
Author: Katherine Addison
Subgenre: Political fantasy, Steampunk, Slice-of-life
2022 Bingo squares: Book club, Rebellion, Non-human protagonist, Family matters (HM)
Recommended if: almost unconditionally recommended
Not recommended if: you want high-action; you also may have a hard time if you tend to struggle with names, but see the review for more context
LGBTQ rep: A couple characters mention gay relationships, but the world is prejudiced against them (though the story is not)
The Goblin Emperor is one of those few novels that makes me regret giving out five-star ratings to so many things that I’ve read, because it doesn’t let me adequately express how much I enjoyed this masterpiece. It came highly recommended by the /r/fantasy subreddit, and it did not disappoint in any way. Maia makes a wonderful protagonist, newly and quite unexpectedly made Emperor after a tragic airship disaster killed his father and three older brothers. He is quite unprepared for this turn of events, uneducated about courtly matters or how to rule a country, and needs to learn all of these things immediately.
The receiving room was not nearly as shabby as he had expected; he wondered if he and Csevet had different definitions of “ruinously poor,” or if the Danivada chose to bankrupt themselves for brocade wallpaper.
We join Maia for the first several months of his reign - but unlike most novels of this sort, we’re not here for a fast-paced whirlwind of intrigue. Instead, we’re here for a slice-of-life-style account of his day-to-day life as he settles into his routine. Plots are made around him, and he needs to learn who his friends, allies, and enemies are, but at no point does Addison make the reader have an adrenaline at-the-edge-of-your-seat response; instead, the book feels like a lullaby or a hug, and Maia is our best friend telling us a bedtime story.
The book is written with a mix of modern and archaic English; thee/thy/thou are correctly used as the informal second-person, while “you” is the formal, and “we” is used as the formal first-person singular by everyone, not just the Emperor himself. There is also a rich constructed in-universe language, and I recommend reading this blog post which will help you make sense of it; the post is spoiler free up until the section titled “Lanthevel’s Dinner Party,” so stop reading when you get to that heading (that particular scene is delightful, by the way).
If you do find yourself drowning in a sea of names and having no idea who is who, don’t worry too much - as one reddit user pointed out, Maia is having the same troubles as you are, and if you’re still enjoying the story but getting the dowager Empress and Maia’s secretary and the Witness all mixed up (don’t question the origins of this oddly specific example), well, you’re still enjoying the story, so don’t worry about it 🙂