The youngest, half-Goblin son of the forth wife of the Emperor Varenechibel IV1; long ago exiled to a far corner of the empire. Until a freak airship accident2 kills the Emperor and all of his early heirs.
Suddenly, Maia is thrust into a whole new life. A life of money and power; but also a life without privacy, a life that he has absolutely no idea how to deal with.
For better or for worse, The Goblin Emperor has surprisingly low stakes. This isn’t a book about the new emperor standing against invasion. It’s not about some world ending threat. It’s not really even about traitors trying to take the throne–although that one at least we get a bit of2.
I actually really like it. It’s a ‘slice of life’ (a genre I’ve recently really started to love), where the life is that of a new Emperor. Who happens to be a (half-)Goblin.
Maia is a great point of view and I really have a feel for him (and feel for him) by the end of the book. I found myself rooting for him right from the beginning and never really lost that.
“In our inmost and secret heart, which you ask us to bare to you, we wish to banish them as we were banished, to a cold and lonely house, in the charge of a man who hated us. And we wish them trapped there as we were trapped.”
“You consider that unjust, Serenity?”
“We consider it cruel,” Maia said. “And we do not think that cruelty is ever just.”
Beyond Maia, there are so very many characters1 with such varied goals and points of view. Some really are loyal and do want to help Maia succeed, no matter how little he believes that possible. Some just want power of their own. Some are furious about the change of power. And some are just living their own lives. We get a bit of it all, once again, through the eyes of Maia.
The worldbuilding is also interesting, mostly in that it’s (for the most part) intriguingly subtle. In this world, there are no humans. So far as I can tell, there never have been. Instead, we have Goblins and Elves, who (in the main empire) more or less intermingle peacefully. That’s not to say there isn’t more than a touch of underlying racism and classism going on.
I read another review that mentioned this might as well have been a story about the English and the French for how little it matters that it’s Elves and Goblins, but I think that’s only half true. It’s nice not to have the baggage and preconceived notions that would come with that. Plus, you get a few subtle (but impressive) displays of what little magic there is in this world. Also, airships.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It’s probably among my new favorites and one I expect to re-read at some future point. I think my biggest annoyance is… there’s only the one! It’s a risk of the slice of life genre–they don’t tend towards ongoing epics–but so it goes.
As a side note (and related to names1), I listened to this book on audiobook. The narrator is great and I think it helped me a lot with the various strange names of things. Worth consideration.
Okay, so the names in this book are a thing. I enjoy it from the perspective of worldbuilding, but I already have a hard enough time keeping characters straight in my head. When all the names are long, complicated, and sort of samey sounding? No chance. I think it actually helped listening to this book on audiobook. They read the names (I assume) consistently, and I just went with it. ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎