Not A Review: The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison

About the Book

A vividly imagined fantasy of court intrigue and dark magics in a steampunk-inflected world, by a brilliant young talent.

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 naïve 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.

This exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.

446 pages (hardcover)
Published on April 1, 2014
Published by Tor
Author’s webpage

This book was sent for me to review by the publisher.

Oh, Tor, you guys are killing me this year. This is the second book you’ve published in 2014 that is getting not-a-reviewed. That has to be some sort of record. And the thing is, this is honestly one of the hardest (scratch that, this is the hardest) not-a-review or review I’ve ever written. I’m having such a hard time articulating how I feel about this book, and the impressions it left me with.

I will give it my best college try. Forgive me if this comes out a little too rambly and … well, you’ll see.

It took me a few tries to get into The Goblin Emperor. The immediate dialogue style when I started the book caught me off guard and was a little off-putting. However, I got over that really, really fast. I mean, like two pages later, fast. The Goblin Emperor is addictive. It’s like that candy that you just can’t get enough of, and you keep going back for more and more until the whole bag is gone.

Yeah, it’s like that.

The Goblin Emperor is amazing for a ton of different reasons, from the incredibly likeable, relatable protagonist, to the truly awe inspiring world building. I’m a reader who enjoys the details. I enjoy the nuances, and I like to see all of the small thing that make the one big thing seem that much more real and vivid to me, and this book is packed full of that. From characters, to the world, to the plot, The Goblin Emperor is full of the delicious details that I love so much.

The Goblin Emperor is a tale of court intrigue, and also a bit of a coming-of-age story set against a richly realized, incredibly unique world. Maia is a character that I almost instantly loved, because he spoke to me on such a personal level. He’s a young man who is out of his depth, thrust into a situation he is too naive to really understand. He has no friends, and no guide, and there is plenty of treacherous cultural and political waters for him to navigate.

So far this sounds just like any other political intrigue novel, right? Well, it isn’t. Not at all. Maia is a half-goblin, and there are elves aplenty among the nobles and commoners. But nothing about any of these tropes is what you’d expect of goblins or elves. The elves aren’t particularly beautiful or wise, and the goblins don’t drool or smell bad. Addison really humanizes these fantasy tropes, and I truly appreciate her for it.

Maia is just a brilliant character. I don’t even know how I can summarize how incredible he is. He’s so well rounded, and his obvious status as an outsider will speak to all of us on different levels. We can all relate to Maia’s outsider status. Watching him embrace who he is. He is a layered character, and his genuine struggle to do the right thing was truly heartwarming in a genre that is embracing the bloody and dark.

There is nothing wrong with bloody and dark, and I truly do enjoy my books with a darker, grimmer edge. However, there’s something really wonderful about reading a book that is uplifting and positive in the face of so much negative. The Goblin Emperor left me with a sort of warm, fuzzy, hopeful feeling that I haven’t felt after reading a speculative fiction book in a long time. This is one of those books that reminded me that there is genuine goodness all around me, and I appreciate Addison for that. I think we are at a point in speculative fiction where a book doesn’t seem to get serious consideration unless plenty of people get gutted, and Addison just proved that doesn’t have to be the case, nor should it be.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a Mister Roger’s Special. There is plenty here that is dark, challenging, and hard to face, but Addison does it with grace, and the sheer loveable goodness of Maia, and the genuine feel to him really balances the darker notes perfectly. There is a lot of complexity here, and it takes some time to get a feel of the world, culture, and politics, but it is a joy to unravel and untangle. The mystery is so well done, and end up being nearly as important as the internal struggles that Maia faces.

I don’t really know what to say. I’m truly struggling with writing this review purely because this book was so painfully brilliant. I can’t find the words to tell you how amazing it is without spoiling something (anything, really). There is just so much packed into these pages. The plot is incredible, but it is dwarfed by the sheer awesome of Maia and the world that Addison has crafted. If you’re interested in deft, detailed character and world building, look no further. This is one of those books that doesn’t divide, it brings people together. Case and point, I mentioned on Twitter that I am having a hard time writing this review because the book was just so amazing. My email and my Twitter has officially been flooded by people I’ve never even heard of before agreeing with me. It’s kind of incredible how many people, from how many different walks of life have read this book and been touched by it.

I can’t say anything other than that, and that’s, perhaps, the best compliment I could pay it. There is no argument here. The Goblin Emperor is pure genius. It is absolutely touching, and moving on a profound level. This book left me with hope burning deep inside. I’m going to keep it, and cherish it, and read it when I need something astounding to turn to. Maia, in so many ways, is a reflection of all of us, and Addison is a giant for writing such an incredible book.


This book was too good to rate /5 stars


7 Responses

  • Paul (@princejvstin)

    Given the depths of her earlier work (the Melusine novels) glad to see Sarah’s worldbuilding chops are still in fine form.

  • Wow. This was an incredible not-a-review, and seriously, I NEED THIS BOOK now. NOW. I’ve heard a lot about this book that intrigued me, and I thought, well, I would go and pick it up when I got a chance, in between books I’m reviewing myself, etc. Oh, no. I am going to get it today. I think Tor and Katherine Addison need to send you a present for this one!

  • I had a very similar reaction, Sarah.

  • Every review I have seen of this makes me want to read it more. And your not-a-review just catapulted it up my TBR list.

  • What was it about the dialogue that put you off? Is it stilted like classic Fantasy? All the positive reviews have me very interested for this, despite having read enough about elves and goblins to last me a lifetime.

    • It isn’t the whole book, but parts of it have a ye olde English feel. It’s not bad, but I did have to adjust. Thankfully adjusting was fast and painless.

  • I’ve been seeing so many positive reviews of this novel lately, and I was lucky enough to get a review copy but annoyingly (due to many scheduling hiccups this past month), I still haven’t gotten around to reading it yet! I’m looking forward to it, though, and with luck I should be cracking it open in a week or so. Here’s hoping I enjoy it as much as everyone else has been!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.