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The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison – Review
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 advisers, 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.
What I expected: I wasn’t sure what I expected – it sounded like it would be an interesting story of the thrown away relative coming back to take his own. I’m all for underdog stories, so I was hoping it was a good one.
What I got: I got an excellent underdog story where the main was so completely likeable that I at first felt that I was being fooled by a narrator who was unreliable. Nope, not the case. A genuine good guy. Sure, he feels the urges of revenge for those who discarded him when he wasn’t needed and only brought him back because he was the last resort, but he resists those urges and makes smart decisions that are good for his people, if not for his own private revenge. A good trait in a ruler, I’d say.
What I liked: I really liked Maia and how well he was able to find good people to help him and think of pitfalls that he might encounter. I also liked that this wasn’t a large “save the world” type of fantasy but more of a quiet “what can you make of the world” type. I liked that he used his wits and did what he had to do even when he didn’t want to. The complexity of the court politics weren’t too twisted to follow, and there was a good smattering of good people, people who were mean, selfish people, betrayers, saviors, and people looking out for others – just like out in the real world.
What I did not: The names! They were long and complex, and several had similarities that made them hard to distinguish from one another. When I have to figure out who is who by the context and not the name, the names are too much. I didn’t have issues with the different titles and such because those were easily understood from context.
Cover talk: The cover threw me a bit. It has a sense of whimsy that is lacking in the story. I don’t dislike the cover – I do like the way it conveys a curious hesitancy in the kid who gets tossed into a role he never imagined. But I think it gives the wrong tone. While this isn’t some grimdark tome, it also isn’t a middle grade romp.
Recommendation: If you’re an action junkie, this might not be for you. Political maneuvering, scientific exploration, a young goblin coming out of his shell and taking over a very difficult job with little knowledge and help, mystery, and intrigue are all in here, but this is a quiet kind of book. No heart-pounding, edge of your seat stuff but little chuckles and chuffs of annoyance over the characters and what they do will be what you get out of this one. That being said, I loved this book and cheered Maia on with enthusiasm the whole way through and shut down my ereader with a smile on my face.