Character Driven Success in ‘The Goblin Emperor’

17910048The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Tor Books, April 1, 2014 (Fantasy; Steampunk)*

My rating: Outstanding Adventure! (5/5)

The Goblin Emperor was an outstanding read, and unlike anything that I’ve read in the  last little while. My advance copy was slowly making its way to “expired” on my Kobo and I decided I’d give it a shot during the Easter weekend. To my surprise, I was left wondering why I had waited so long. The wonderful reviews I had been reading about The Goblin Emperor are completely warranted and I cannot wait to get my hands on more from the author.

At it’s heart, The Goblin Emperor is a character study. There’s not much in the way of action here, and although it’s marked as steampunk, there’s really not a whole lot of descriptions of gadgetry. The novel is really about Maia, the youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor. Maia has been in seclusion since the death of his mother when he was eight year’s old; the funeral being the one and only time he has met his father. When he is eighteen Maia unexpectedly ascends to the throne when he father and three brothers all die in an airship explosion. The Goblin Emperor is Maia story as he navigates this unasked for responsibility and deals with the intrigues of court life, a life he was in no way prepared for. The author had depicted such a wonderful imagining of this situation, I could not put this book down, and I simply had to learn more about court life and the decisions Maia would make on his road to becoming an emperor.

The one thing that I had a difficult time adjusting to was the number of names! They all blended together and started to sound the name. It took me awhile to actually figure out the naming conventions. But I persevered and it just demonstrated to me another level of creativity and excellence of this author’s craft that she was able to so convincingly create a fantasy court life. This book was simply well thought out and well written, which makes reading a joy.

The court politics were part of what kept this book moving along, and while they were interesting, I believe that the character of Maia is what truly carried the book. If you are looking for a character driven book, this would be an excellent pick. I also can see a good crossover opportunity for historical fiction fans. There is nothing overtly “fantasy” about this book. If it weren’t about elves and goblins, I think this could certainly be considered historical fiction. Essentially, The Goblin Emperor is a good pick if you’re a little leery about the fantasy element. In that respect, I found The Goblin Emperor to be a little like Game of Thrones in that it’s more historical fantasy rather than magic-infused fantasy.

I think what contributed to this historical feel was the treatment of women throughout the book: women are bargaining chips. Nothing more. Nothing less. It was horrible and distressing, but it put me immediately in mind of human history not the fantastical. However, with Maia, we can see the possibility for change for this elvish society. He does not want to consider woman in this way, and while he does have his hands tied in some ways with regards the conventions of his society, I think the fact that he is willing to change lends a feeling of hope for women in the novel. And that feeling of hopefulness with a new ruler is what really drew me in, but it comes at a personal price for Maia.

As a emperor, there is a sense of isolation surrounding Maia. He can’t really have friends now that he is in a position of power, and that is something that he’s wanted for most of his life. It was heartbreaking to see this young man who has been mistreated for the majority of his life finally break free only to realize that he will never have true freedom as an Emperor, and he will have to come to terms with that realization. Those closest to him can never truly be his friends and one of Maia’s biggest challenges will be his coming to terms with his continued isolation.

This was a truly fantastic read and I will have no qualms about recommending it to readers. The strength of a character driven plot was the best that I’ve read in a long time and the world created was fascinating. I would love to see more books about Maia and this world, especially with regards to the female characters. I think Maia can make some changes for women during his rule and I would really like to see this happen. He’s already made great strides with his half-sister and fiancé; I would like to see a book that focuses more on this aspect of the world. Go out, and get your hands on a copy!

*Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Similar Reads

For another steampunk read that also has an interesting look at a fascinating world and class structure, check out Clockwork Heart. This book was fantastic. It’s got more of a mystery element to it, but there’s a lot to like here. The hero and heroine were, like Maia, two good people trying to deal with an impossible situation. I’ve recently learned that the author has written a sequel, and I can’t wait to get my hands on that!

Clockwork Heart (Clockwork Heart, #1)

For a much lighter read, I suggest checking out Moria J. Moore’s Hero series. Again, we’ve got an interesting world and an interesting class structure for those bonded, and this only gets more complicated throughout the series. The court and class element becomes more and more evident throughout the series as well, but you need to start with book one, Resenting the Hero.

Resenting the Hero (Hero, #1)



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