Book Reviews

[Review] Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor

I think it's hilarious that Google Play categorizes this in a genre called 'fantasy of manners'

Fresh out the creases, I have things to say about this book.

The Goblin Emperor is the story of a 4th son, Maia Drazhar, being made emperor after the death of his father and three older brothers in an airship accident. Not only was Maia unlikely to ascend the elven throne, he was largely ignored by his father to the point of his being entirely unused to the ways of the Elflands’ court and politics.

This is the first time I’ve ever heard of a genre called ‘Fantasy of Manners’, but that’s what came up when I googled The Goblin Emperor, and it fits. This book literally reminds me of the parts in The Princess Bride, where William Goldman would tell us that he was skipping over chapters worth of S. Morgenstern talking about the draperies and court etiquette. You would expect those parts to be boring, but I loved The Goblin Emperor for how much it didn’t bore me. I originally hated the way that they spoke to each, but you get used to it. Then, as Maia gets more comfortable with people, it gets better.

For some reason, I began this novel thinking that it would be fast-paced, and, while wasn’t terribly slow, it wasn’t racing to the end either. I liked that this story moved like a stroll in the garden. It had it’s moments of urgency, but it was mostly calm for 97% of the novel. The Goblin Emperor only talks about the first 3 or so months of Maia Drazhar’s reign as Edrihesivar VII because that’s how long it took to settle the affairs of his father’s and brothers’ deaths. We don’t even spend the whole time focusing on the deaths; this novel is mostly about elven statecraft. It was never horribly dramatic, and I appreciated the fact that I didn’t need to take a moment to calm my heart about anything. I’ve always wondered if stories could be good if they were too logical, but this novel proved that they can.

This story is a rapid fire bildungsroman, in that we’re really watching Maia’s growth into Edrehesivar VII over a period of 4 months at most. We get to see all of his hurts and pains, his lessons in statecraft, his good and bad judgements, and his loneliness. I feel like I should have been bored with how level-headed Maia was for the most part, but I was just so proud of him. There’s not even much of a romance going on, but that’s okay. The Goblin Emperor is crafted so well that it’s absolutely perfect the way it is. I cannot fully express how hurt I am that the author does not plan to write a sequel.

One of the most interesting things about The Goblin Emperor is that, despite being a books about elves and goblins, there is no magic. If elves and goblins were not fantastical creatures, I would place this book in the realm of Science Fiction. Or Historical Fiction – I can’t tell if airships were a dream or a reality, but I do know that messages sent through a pipe system were real. Either way, if you swap out the elves and goblins for other races (human or otherwise), you’ve essentially got the same story. The author even admits that she got her inspiration from the French Revolution. Will this take you out of the story? No. Can you still picture the main character as a goblin? If not, just look at the front cover. Magic may not be a factor, but mysticism and religion still play a small role. And having elves and goblins conduct themselves like any other historical kingdom is great too.

In any case, The Goblin Emperor is a light, but intelligently-written read. Whether this is the first book you’ve read in months, or just something to break the monotony of your usual selections, it is sure to be enjoyable.

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