The Goblin Emperor

Katherine Addison
The Goblin Emperor Cover

The Goblin Emperor

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4/18/2015
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An enjoyable book, but...

I hadn't gotten around to reading this yet, partly because, based on the synopsis, I wasn't sure it would be my cup of tea. But I've seen so many people rave about this book on Facebook and blogs, and it managed to make it onto the Hugo ballot as a legitimate entry. So I moved it up on my to-be-read list.

This story is a mix of steampunk, murder-mystery, character-study, and royal-court-political-intrigue. It features a half-breed prince who has been scorned and locked away since childhood, but who suddenly ascends to the throne when his emperor father and three favored half-brother princes all die mysteriously in an airship accident.

I found the story interesting--even engrossing. But I fall short of raving about it. Although he's appealing, the main character feels to me rather one-dimensional. He's a good person who consistently behaves with honor and forbearance, who wins unlikely friends out of many of his enemies and, despite having had a pretty horrible life, almost never has bad urges--and gives into those urges even less often.

Part of the reason for my sense of lack of dimension may be due to the fact that the story starts as the prince ascends to the throne. We are told a little bit, here and there, about the bullying and abuse previously suffered by him prior to this--but we don't experience it along with him. We aren't given much background about how his character evolved.

With regard to the worldbuilding, I'm mystified as to the reason for having the two main races be goblins and elves. It bears no relevance to the story. These aren't goblins and elves from fairy stories. They could just have easily been linbogs and veles, or sariths and calires. It seems like rather lazy worldbuilding to me, to have used goblins and elves.

The mystery is interesting, but the solution is not that unpredictable or mysterious. The court intrigue is engaging, but not that gripping or revelatory. When I got done reading, I felt as though I had eaten a meal which was quite tasty at the time, but afterward left me feeling still a bit hungry and unsatisfied.

I'm glad I read it, and I enjoyed it--but I would probably not have put it on my Hugo nominee list.

Other readers' mileage may--and obviously does--vary. I've seen review reactions ranging from "OMG, this is fantastic!" all the way to "I couldn't finish this, it was just too tedious."

I've also seen comments from a couple of people who say that, having been bullied and abused as children, they found especially heartening the main character's basic decency, and the fact that he survives such a background and comes into his own as a wise, beneficient ruler despite it.

I do sincerely recommend giving this novel a try--but not feeling bad, if it turns out to not be your "thing".

As an aside, I've seen several people express difficulty remembering and understanding all the people and place names. There is a Name Glossary at the back of the book (at least in the printed version), which many people will likely find helpful.