The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

goblinIt has been entirely too long since I read a great fantasy novel.

Premise: The Emperor, and all of his heirs save one, die in a fiery zeppelin crash. His estranged halfbreed son, relegated to a secluded lodge and shackled with an abusive overseer, is suddenly thrust on to the throne. This all happens in the first three pages — you’re not left with your hands in your pockets wondering when the blurb on the back of the book will actually come to pass.

Emperor Edrahasivar VII (known as Maia to his buddies / readers) struggles with the questionable legacy of his father, ancient political and territorial disputes, attempts at his life and the building of literal and figurative bridges. He’s unprepared, timid, and plagued by stress headaches. But he is determined to do right by his people.

Sci-fi and fantasy are so often reflections of the times we live in. We live in cynical times. Naturally, our fantasy has taken a turn for the grim(dark). This is hardly secluded to fantasy of course. From The Wire to Breaking Bad to American Hustle, our dramas are obsessed with the abyss. Thus it seems almost radical to read a story surrounding a politician-hero who is honestly good, does not become privy to corruption, nor made an example of by a contemptuous phantom narrator who demands retribution for goodworks and cannot abide that a good person making good decisions could maintain control.

(don’t get me wrong, I like tragic, difficult stories too)

The Goblin Emperor is suffused in a fantasy world with accompanying lingo and vague technology-magic. it succeeds where many of its type fail, however, in that it does not get bogged down in itself. It uses familiar genre arcana as touchstones rather than subjects for lengthy elucidation. There’s steampunk elements — an airship for example — but not steampunk porn. We, the reader, know what an airship is. We don’t need the painstaking minutiae of why it stays aloft. Similarly, all the main characters are elves and goblins, but they don’t need to be described to conjure the correct imagery. Nor do we need to know why there is racial strife between them. It’s a staple[1].

Potential cons: Some of the jargon works better than others. The changing dialect and fluctuations between singular and plural, formal and casual may seem daunting when summarized here but they flow naturally. The honorifics and suffixes and affixes do become a bit much though, especially since most of the cast have generic fantasy names. They can be very hard to keep track of. But it’s a minor complaint. A bit worse is the pacing — it’s not a typically paced novel and it occasionally drags. It has maybe thirty pages too many.

But that should not detract. It’s an excellent book.

1. And it’s a staple for a reason. Obvious real-world reasons that can’t be any more apparent when we have a half-black, half-white president. Modern social issues abound in this book. Another strike against the notion that stories need to be violent and shocking to be relevant. Back

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