Friday, 10 June 2016

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

*Some Spoilers Below*

There are good reasons for why this review has taken me so long to write. A death in the family, exhaustion, dissertation edits. But that's not on the only reason. I've also had a hard time pinpointing what I want to say, which, when you're as verbose and opinionated as I am, is a weird position to be in.

I was trying to talk it through with my husband yesterday, and I guess it comes down to this. I found this to be a remarkably not tense book. There really weren't any parts where I was worried about the main character - and given that he's a half-goblin son in exile who ascends to an elven throne he never expected, and lots of people want him dead or deposed, that's kind of weird.

I mean, there are multiple assassination attempts in this book, and I was still never that worried for Maia, the aforementioned Goblin Emperor. One of them happens so quickly and abruptly that it was over before I had time to get stressed, which felt like how an assassination attempt would probably work in real life.

So, I was never feeling that tense, husband's reaction was that that must mean it wasn't a very good book, and I quickly disagreed. I actually really enjoyed this, but if you need tension ratcheted up to a high degree, this is not the book for you. On the other hand, if you enjoy character and a slow and interesting exploration of how imperial politics work, as you go with Maia through negotiating his new world, then you might like this a lot.

He was the son of the former Emperor's third (or fourth?) wife, a new wife taken too soon after the death of a beloved one, and a goblin. After Maia was born, she (and the baby) were put aside, exiled to a remote country estate. After his mother died, Maia was in the care of an angry and violent man until a freak zeppelin accident killed the emperor and his four sons in line for the throne.

(I'm just going to sit and enjoy the phrase "freak zeppelin accident" for a second.)

There are lots of good court politics here to enjoy as Maia tries to figure out who he can trust, how close he can let people get now that's he's emperor, who was behind the accident that killed his father and half-brothers, and whether or not a bridge should be built. It sounds exhausting.

It's all really well written and enjoyable. I like the characters, I like the dilemmas. So if you're patient and don't demand a plot-heavy book, I would thoroughly recommend this book. But if you're looking for fast-paced intrigue and looming sense of doom, this is not that.

One more note - Addison has done a ton of obvious work creating her world and the people in it, and in particular the nomenclature. Quite frankly, it often confused the fuck out of me. I didn't find the glossary that comes after the end of the list of characters until I was done the book, when it did no good. And every time I tried to look up a character, I couldn't find them in the list of characters. That part was frustrating. It's nice that she put the work in, but might be helpful for others to know that there is indeed a not-distinctly labelled guide to what the nomenclature means if you look hard enough.


I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees

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