The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison

“Maia woke with his cousin’s cold fingers digging into his shoulder.”

Maia is as unlikely an Emperor as this book is an unlikely hit: the plot is rather limited and doesn’t really go anywhere; the lead character is just all around ‘nice’ but not so proactive; the names are long and barely pronounceable, and slightly difficult to keep straight; everyone refers to themselves as ‘we’. And yet. Hmm.

Starting off as the discarded fourth son, it takes a terrible accident to suddenly propel him to leader of the whole elf nation – which is slightly awkward, as he’s received no training in courtly matters, and worse: he’s half goblin. The court intrigue may well put an end to his unexpected reign before it’s half begun.

There is a deep vein of politics running through the novel, surely: the black goblins versus the snow-white elves; the treatment of women; heck, there’s even a swipe at homophobia. It’s not exactly allegory – and possibly a little too unsubtle?

And yet. There’s that phrase again. The strength here is the immersion in the world built around this court: you’re rather thrown into it, and left to wade through the lengthy, vowel-laden names and family connections without much of a life preserver (the index of characters at the end wasn’t particularly useful, imo).

Maia similarly struggles through the opening year of his unexpected elevation to Emperor, coming up against all the restrictions and then a few benefits. Perhaps the reason this story works at all is that Maia is us, the reader, frustrated by all the rules and cultural norms – and yet doing the best he can.

Paperback: 502 pages / 35 chapters
First published: 2014
Read from 17th August – 1st September 2015

My rating: 7/10 – it almost shouldn’t work, and yet it sort of does – but not one for lovers of pure action

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