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REVIEW: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Dear Ms. Addison,

After a disappointing reading year in 2013, the past four or so months have comprised one of the best reading streaks I’ve had in a long time. And now comes your fantasy novel, The Goblin Emperor, another stellar book.

goblin-emperor-2The novel is set in a fantastical industrial age empire known as the Ethuveraz, Elflands ruled by a long line of emperors. There are no humans, only elves and goblins in the novel, and they are not at all Tolkienesque.

These goblins and elves aren’t different species, merely different races. They can marry and have children who are able to have children of their own.

Still, the elves and goblins have different cultures, as well as different skin tones and sometimes subtle differences in facial features, and unfortunately there is racism and distrust aimed at the goblins.

But as the novel begins, the emperor of the Ethuveraz, Varenechibel IV, and his three eldest sons have just been killed in an airship crash, leaving the fourth and youngest son of the emperor to rule.

Maia Drazhar, that fourth son, is not only just eighteen years old, but also half goblin, the product of Varenechibel’s unhappy marriage to the daughter of the Great Avar, a goblin leader in Ethuveraz’s neighboring goblin empire of Barizhan.

Since Varenechibel IV had three older heirs, no one ever expected Maia to rule. And since Varenechibel hated Maia’s gentle mother and exiled her and Maia from the moment it was clear she was pregnant, and after her death exiled Maia again with only a distant cousin as his guardian, no one ever prepared Maia for the role of emperor.

Maia is as shocked as anyone to learn the news brought by the messenger sent to the marshland estate he has been confined to. He has never dreamed of becoming emperor nor wanted to rule the Ethuveraz, and can only imagine how his father’s court will react to a half goblin emperor whom Varenechibel IV, much beloved by the courtiers, despised.

Maia’s guardian, Setheris Nelar, sent away from the court by Varenechibel for reasons unknown to Maia, has been abusive (usually emotionally and until Maia was fourteen, sometimes physically) to Maia during his decade of guardianship, so although Maia is kind and good, he cannot see his own goodness.

Despite Setheris’s past cruelty, Maia finds himself grateful that Setheris taught him good elvish manners, as well as appreciative of his advice. The message sent to Maia by his father’s Lord Chancellor, Chavar, is designed to put off Maia’s return to court, but Setheris, an enemy of Chavar’s, tells Maia that if he isn’t immediately crowned, Chavar will find a way to gain control of the court.

The crown is the last thing Maia wants, but history tells him that if he doesn’t find a way to consolidate power quickly, he may not survive at all. Because he wants to live, Maia determines to follow Setheris’s advice and take the same airship that brought the messenger to him back to the Untheilenenise Court, the elves’ seat of power.

But Maia arrives there to a cool reception. Although the coronation is, at Maia’s necessary order, scheduled to precede his father and brothers’ funeral, few elves welcome the thought of Maia as their emperor. Nor does Maia’s lack of grief for the father and brothers he never knew aid his cause.

Maia is determined not only to evade Chavar’s attempts to manage him, but also not to live under Setheris’ thumb any longer. To that end, Maia chooses Csevet, the messenger who brought him the news, to act as his secretary, and, in a huge stroke of luck I found a bit unlikely, Csevet turns out to be an excellent choice.

Maia is also quickly assigned a bodyguard as well as a spiritual guard, each of which has a replacement so they can take shifts. One of each accompanies Maia at all times. Maia likes them, but he misses having privacy, and feels uncomfortable at the thought of resuming his goblin meditation practice in their presence.

The work facing Maia is enormous. Corruption and potential treachery endanger his rule, and he must learn the workings of his government and the work of governance. Maia develops his knowledge and his skills in these arenas to the best of his ability, but he must also deal with disputes, petitions, hostile relatives, and the necessity of quickly arranging his sister’s marriage—and worse, his own.

As a half-goblin deprived of opportunities to learn, Maia is sensitive to the inequities and prejudices in his society, not just toward goblins and the working classes, but also toward women. It is important to him to ameliorate the status quo, but here too he faces opposition from those whose self-interests lie elsewhere.

Having internalized Setheris’s verbal abuse, Maia is hindered as well by his tendency to self-deprecate and harshly castigate himself for his mistakes, and by his feelings of utter loneliness in his position at the top.

And all this comes before he chooses, for political reasons, a fiancée he later learns does not want to marry him– and before he learns that the airship crash that killed his father and his brothers was caused by deliberate sabotage.

The greatest pleasure of reading The Goblin Emperor is seeing Maia’s growth. He learns to forge connections, grows into not just a good emperor but perhaps an outstanding one, and begins to appreciate and be compassionate to himself.

Early on in the novel, Maia is kind and good to everyone but himself. He is initially so harsh on himself and that wasn’t easy for me to read, especially since he also dislikes the gray color of his skin, which proclaims his goblin blood.

But as he comes into his own, Maia learns to value his skills, and his self-deprecation turns into the beginnings of self-confidence. Maia is such a lovely character that experiencing this transformation and his growth into a good leader is like seeing a butterfly emerge from a cocoon.

Another pleasure is the worldbuilding, which is detailed and multidimensional. The world has a somewhat Asian feel; for example Maia’s residence is located in a minareted tower, and his food is flavored with pickled ginger. But the world does not, as far as I can tell, correspond to any specific place and time in our own world’s history.

The Ethuverz has a complex government and social structure, with different governing bodies depending on branch and geographical jurisdictions, a religion with different types of clergy, levels to the military and policing groups, a language and grammar which include different titles used to designate class and gender, and all of that gives depth and intricacy to the society.

The complexity is at times overwhelming, but this serves the novel because Maia has to deal with it all and he begins knowing very little and feeling overwhelmed. At first the vastness of his empire dwarfs him, and that is part of what makes his ultimate transformation into a good emperor so satisfying.

Just as varied and interesting are Maia’s relationships; he has to learn to navigate deep social waters, but some wonderful connections are eventually made. I don’t want to spoil who turns out to be a friend and who a foe, since there are twists to that. But I found the way things turned out delightful.

Most of the book takes place in the Untheileneise Court and the claustrophobic sensation this caused me was uncomfortable at first, but it also helped me understand just how isolated from his people an emperor can be, and how crucial the contacts he forms can become, both to his nation and to his morale.

Before arriving in the capital, Maia had no love life to speak of. At about the same time he becomes engaged to a noblewoman who treats him coldly, he is also drawn to a beautiful opera singer. I don’t want to reveal how this develops, either, but I will say that at the end of the book, all the signs point to a happy ending.

But the romantic element is only a small subplot in the book. I wanted more romance, but I was still deeply satisfied because that romantic subplot was well-executed, and because this book was not a romance but a coming of age—and coming into power—story.

There are a few minor flaws I want to mention. First, even at the beginning, Maia seems far more mature than his eighteen years, more like a man in his early to mid twenties. A fourteen year old secondary character is also more mature than his age would indicate.

Second, the character names were unfamiliar to me and sometimes similar to each other. Since there are many characters in the novel, this was confusing, although a glossary in the back of the book helps.

Third, nearly half the book takes place over the first few days of Maia’s reign, while the second half takes place over the course of months. Although I wasn’t bored at any point, I was glad when the pacing sped up.

If a reader is looking for intense action, sorcery or swordfights, he or she should look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, a reader can enjoy a thoughtfully paced novel about ascendancy and leading a country into progress, about finding friendship and loyalty in unlikely places, about protecting and caring for loved ones as well as for a nation, and about learning to accept oneself, he or she need look no further than The Goblin Emperor.

Maia was such a lovely person and though half elf, half goblin, and emperor too, he seemed so real and human to me, and always interesting despite his essential goodness. I highly recommend this satisfying novel. A-.

Sincerely,

Janine

PS to readers: Katherine Addison is the new pen name of fantasy author Sarah Monette. I’ve heard from a few different sources that The Goblin Emperor is different from and not as dark as the books she wrote as Sarah Monette.

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Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

34 Comments

  1. hapax
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 11:18:00

    This is just about my most highly anticipated novel of the year — I’m saving it for a time I can sit down and savor it.

    Several reviews have made me think it might be a good readalike for Jemisin’s HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS — have you read that? What do you think?

  2. Liviania
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 12:35:34

    I loved this book. I agree with many of the flaws you point out, but the book works completely anyway. (As you also note.) It truly is because Maia is a good character done right. (Maybe someone with more time on their hands than me can compare the book to the Captain America films.)

  3. Li
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 14:38:50

    I was hoping you’d review this book!

    I went in without reading any book descriptions / spoilers etc (I really liked the books she wrote as Sarah Monette, so this was pretty much an autobuy for me) and so was pleasantly surprised by the story – that it wasn’t a more typical quest-type fantasy, but more of a quiet coming-of-age story.

    My biggest bugbear was the number of secondary characters and the naming conventions – I kept on losing track of who was who, and ended up going with the flow and trusting that I’d figure out the characters in individual scenes (and I generally did, so that approach paid off).

  4. Laine
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 15:21:42

    This is by Sarah Monette? Sold!

  5. Janine
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 15:46:24

    @hapax: I haven’t read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, so I really can’t say. Maybe someone else will know?

    @Liviania: Wasn’t it wonderful?

    @Li: Agreed about the numerous characters and the names. I read it on my kindle, so every time I was confused I searched for the name using the kindle’s search feature.

    @Laine: Yeah. I wasn’t sure if I should mention that she used to write as Sarah Monette because from what I’ve heard The Goblin Emperor is quite different from the Melusine novels she wrote under the Monette name. Maybe Li can speak to that?

    Anyway, I never read the Sarah Monette novels because our former reviewer Jan (she used to review manga for us in the early days of DA) didn’t like them due to the violence. Since I can be squeamish about violence myself, I was reticent to read them, though I LOVED LOVED LOVED her novella A Gift of Wings which appeared in the fantasy/romance anthology The Queen in Winter. This book was pretty different from that novella, but both are wonderful, so maybe I should try her Monette books? Anyway, The Goblin Emperor only has a little violence, it is fine for the squeamish.

  6. LI
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 16:21:25

    @Janine: From what I’ve read on her blog, her sales for the latter part of the Melusine quartet was dismal (poor marketing had something to do with it IIRC) so her publisher dropped her, and then Tor signed her for this book with the agreement she would use a new pen-name. But she’s treating it very much as an open secret.

    Melusine was… dark. But addictive reading at the same time, and her world-building was amazing. It’s been years since I’ve read her Melusine books now, but I don’t think it was just violence in the physical sense, there was certainly a mental aspect as well.

    THE GOBLIN EMPEROR is very very different in tone. I think if you liked her Melusine books, you’d like this one, but I’m not sure the reverse would be true, if that makes sense?

    Buried Comment (Reason: spoiler)   Show

    Maybe imagine what would have happened if Setheris had stayed in court and been given full rein…

  7. Li
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 16:24:17

    Ack – just realised I left a slight spoiler in my last comment… @Janine – can you possibly hide it or something?

    Sorry all!

  8. Janine
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 16:48:38

    @Li: No worries, I just hid it!

  9. Janine
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 16:50:31

    @LI:

    THE GOBLIN EMPEROR is very very different in tone. I think if you liked her Melusine books, you’d like this one, but I’m not sure the reverse would be true, if that makes sense?

    That was my sense of it– that even people who didn’t care for Monette’s Melusine series might still love The Goblin Emperor. Thank you for confirming it.

  10. Keishon
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 17:32:28

    @LI:

    I have to agree with Li, Janine. I can’t recall the Melusine books being violent in the literal sense. More like grim and there is a lot of dark psychological stuff going on but I can’t say more as it’s been awhile since I read the books. I remember staying up all night reading Melusine. In print no less. I rushed out to read the sequel and the rest is history. I am excited to see she’s still publishing. I can’t say that I was surprised that her sales were dismal. A few of her covers from that series were quite hideous and some readers couldn’t look past that I guess. There’s other criticisms I’m sure but I’ve always thought she was a talented writer. Thanks for the review (I skimmed it). She’s an auto-buy for me and thank you Jorrie for mentioning this book to me several weeks ago.

  11. etv13
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 18:27:49

    I am at about the 77% point in my third-straight read-through. This is a real departure from Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths books, in that there is virtually no swearing and no sex. I love those books (at least the first two and two-thirds of them), but I think The Goblin Emperor is a more mature and better-crafted work.

    I, too, found the names/pronunciations confusing at first (and I read it in e-book form and had no idea about the explanatory material at the end until I’d read it through the first time), and the first quarter of the book was pretty slow going for that reason. But in a way I like that, because I think it effectively mirrors Maia’s confusion and ignorance at the beginning and his growing sense of mastery later on.

  12. Janine
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 18:46:00

    @Keishon: Thanks for the correction! My memory could be playing tricks on me.

    @etv13: Yay! So glad you loved it too. I’m tempted to reread it as well, since there is so much going on in the book. I also read an ebook and didn’t discover the back matter until I reached the end, but my kindle’s search feature helped me out when I was confused.

    But in a way I like that, because I think it effectively mirrors Maia’s confusion and ignorance at the beginning and his growing sense of mastery later on.

    Yes! I tried to convey that in my review.

  13. Janine
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 19:41:08

    @hapax: I just thought of something. While I haven’t read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I can think of some YA fantasy novels that were readalikes.

    Seraphina by Rachel Hartman –because it deals with being mixed race in a racist culture and coming of age, as well as the murder of a royal, all of which are in The Goblin Emperor, Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore– I remember you loved it– because it’s about a young monarch maturing and learning to wield power and bring justice to a kingdom, and Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia series, esp. the intrigue-filled The King of Attolia, because of the intrigue, the complexity, the twists, but also because it’s about a reluctant ruler who has to accept his new role.

    I want to add that although these reminded me of The Goblin Emperor, and although The Goblin Emperor has coming of age themes, it is not a YA, and the worldbuilding in it has the complexity of an adult fantasy novel. It’s quite intricate but the book never felt info-dumpy to me.

    Does this give you a better idea of what it is like? I hope you enjoy it and would love to hear what you think.

  14. Lisa
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 19:41:49

    I loved the Melusine books and A Gift of Wings, so I have been looking forward to this one.

  15. Janine
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 19:43:09

    @Lisa: I hope you enjoy it! I wish I could have a spoiler-filled discussion of this book because it would be a lot of fun to talk about and analyze. While we can’t go into spoilers here, I do want to hear your thoughts if you want to share them.

  16. flchen1
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 21:57:10

    Janine and others who’ve read this, do you think this would be reasonable for teens or younger, or are there themes that wouldn’t be appropriate or is the story/language just too complex? The general premise sounds wonderful; trying to assess whether my young teens would be able to appreciate this or whether it’d be better to save it for my own TBR :)

  17. Janine
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 22:30:54

    @flchen1: I don’t have kids so I’ll try to answer your question to the best of my abilities.

    It’s not a kids’ book but in terms of the themes I think it would be fine for a fourteen year old and up. The themes are fine for that age, I think (there is no sex but he does get propositioned once). The story is complex but a teen might be able to keep up. What’s more complex is the world, and the many characters and elf terms can be tough to keep track of so your teen would definitely want to refer to the glossary/character index in the back of the book and might struggle a little even so.

    The language… well, it’s hard for me to judge because my vocabulary is pretty wide, but I did look up a greater number of words in my kindle dictionary than I normally do. My kindle’s vocabulary builder has them and here are a handful of them: internecine, loured, hierophant, cantrip, rebarbative. The list was a bit longer than that, though I don’t want you to think it’s full of these kinds of words. Most of the vocabulary was much more straightforward than that. I opened it to a random page and here is a sample from there (it’s not a big spoiler):

    Buried Comment (Reason: spoiler)   Show

    Certainly, he explained the scheme for bridging the Instandaartha and the hydraulic system that would enable river traffic to continue more clearly and confidently than the Witness for the Parliament had been able to, and he was not stymied by any question Maia put to him. In fact, he seemed delighted; they ended up kneeling on the floor while Mer Halezh drew diagrams of cofferdams and waterwheels on the back of his plans.

    I’m not a native speaker of English and until I got married, neither was anyone in my family, so my English vocabulary grew in good part through the reading I did in my teen years. For that reason I like to think it’s good for teens to be exposed to unfamiliar words on occasion. If they really like a book they may reach for the dictionary and learn something new. But obviously, it depends on the teen’s facility for words and mileage can vary on that. You would know your teens and be better able to judge than I am.

    Finally, my only other concern is that this book begins a little more slowly than today’s blockbuster YA novels do. YA tends to be a genre that engages attention very fast. This starts out at a thoughtful pace, and I wasn’t bored but a young teen might feel differently.

    Perhaps others who have read the book can also weigh in on this question.

  18. Janine
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 22:34:06

    @flchen1: Forgot to add– an adult would definitely enjoy the book, so I have no hesitation whatsoever recommending that you put it in your own TBR whether or not you decide to let your teens read it.

  19. flchen1
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 23:38:47

    @Janine: Thank you so much for taking the time to give such a thoughtful response. I do think I’ll add it to my own TBR (and maybe DH’s!) and then see whether it’ll be a good fit for the kids. They read fairly widely but the combo of vocabulary and pace might be a little daunting too :) Thanks again for the review!

  20. etv13
    Apr 11, 2014 @ 02:44:15

    A couple of things I wanted to add: there are several places in the book, generally when Maia is thinking about his mother, that made me cry.

    Also, although Maia is in some ways ignorant and confused at the beginning, he is also winning friends and influencing people from the very start, because he really is a decent and intelligent person. When he tells the airship captain he has faith in him and his crew, when he goes to the funeral for the crew members and servants — he’s acting purely out of his own sense of what is the right thing to do, not from calculation, but it pays off in a big way, which the list of birthday presents later on really brought home to me.

    I also liked that there were no cardboard villains, that Varenechibel seems to have tried to do good things for his empire, that even though there is court intrigue and corruption, the vast majority of the characters accept the lawfulness of Maia’s accession.

  21. hapax
    Apr 11, 2014 @ 10:27:07

    @Janine: Wowzers. SERAPHINA, BITTERBLUE, and KING OF ATTOLIA? Those are just about three of my most favorite books ever!

    This has just been bumped to next! on my TBR list (right after the extremely tedious review book I’m slogging through…)

  22. hapax
    Apr 11, 2014 @ 10:30:34

    P.S. You should try A HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS: it isn’t a romance, but there is a crucial romantic (??? to qualify it more would be a spoiler) subplot, lots of delicious political intrigue, an enthralling world, and the most brilliantly conceived heroine I’ve read in a long time. Plus, the language is lush and gorgeous.

    Definitely NOT for teens, though.

  23. Sirius
    Apr 11, 2014 @ 10:38:26

    This is Sarah Monette? I loved Melousine books. Sold. Although I heard her other books written with somebody else were more violent than Melousine and did not buy those. With Elisabeth Bear I think.

    But this one sounds awesome. Thanks.

  24. Janine
    Apr 11, 2014 @ 13:28:23

    @flchen1: You’re welcome!

    @etv13: Great points. I especially like what you said about Varenechibel. I was pleased when we learned he had other dimensions beyond his treatment of Maia and Maia’s mother, and was almost saddened that he never got to see and appreciate what a great son he had in Maia.

    @hapax: Wow, we sure are on the same page as far as our taste in YA fantasy novels. Those are all big favorites for me as well. I really want to try The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms now. Do you review anywhere? If so, I’d love to follow your book recommendations.

    Re. moving The Goblin Emperor up your TBR pile, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, but you should know that while it reminded me of these books (and the Attolia comparison was made by the Book Smugglers also), it’s also very much its own book. Maia isn’t really like the protagonists of these books, he’s his own person. He has a goodness and sweetness that makes him different from the protagonists I mentioned before. Not that they aren’t good people too–but sometimes I felt like I wanted to give Maia a big hug, and I can’t say the same about Bitterblue, Gen or even Seraphina.

    @Sirius: Yeah. I think I’m going to put a postscript to the review so readers who don’t read the comments will know it’s Monette.

  25. etv13
    Apr 11, 2014 @ 14:08:17

    @Janine: One more thing (I’ll probably be saying that again soon) — I’m not sure that Csevet turning out to be an excellent secretary is just a stroke of luck. Given how canny and manipulative he is, I think there’s a good possibility his being the courier to deliver Chavar’s letter to Maia wasn’t just happenstance.

  26. Li
    Apr 11, 2014 @ 14:20:13

    @Janine: Thanks for the comment edit – I’ll refrain from spoilers from now onwards, promise!

    @etv13: Interesting thought re Csevet! I’d love to read more about him – I know Addison has said this is a standalone with no sequel (and how rare is that!), but I don’t think she’s ruled out other novels in the same world.

  27. MSilk
    Apr 11, 2014 @ 16:00:30

    Sounds very interesting but at 13.99 (Kobo), I don’t see myself purchasing this anytime soon…not unless a significant price drop ($7 and under for digital). I refuse to pay over $7 for anything digital and have no true product ownership.

  28. Li
    Apr 11, 2014 @ 16:43:59

    @MSilk: Not sure if it helps, but I used a Kobo coupon to purchase – there are some 50% off coupon codes here if you haven’t used them before (one time use only):

    http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=115233

  29. Janine
    Apr 11, 2014 @ 17:02:49

    @MSilk: If the coupon Lin posted doesn’t bring the price into the range of what you can afford, I wonder if you can see if your library has it?

  30. Janine
    Apr 11, 2014 @ 17:16:11

    @etv13: Interesting theory! I can see that possibility but I don’t recall it being hinted at.

    @Li: Agreed. I was thinking as I finished the book that I would love it if Addison wrote a book about Csevet.

  31. Autonomous
    Apr 11, 2014 @ 18:56:24

    Monette is an auto-buy for me. This is timely, though. I knew she was working on this, but had lost track of time and the pen name she was using. Fortunately, I still have enough Amazon credits left to cover this one.

  32. etv13
    Apr 11, 2014 @ 20:57:46

    @Janine: it isn’t really hinted at, except through Csevet’s characterization, and maybe his admission that he read Chavar’s letter. It’s also possible, based on some of the things Csevet says, that couriers as a class are particularly canny and capable people, so that any one of them who ended up at Edonomee might have made a good secretary. I prefer to think, however, that Csevet is exceptional. And I, too, would love to have a book about him. (But on the other hand, The Goblin Emperor has a lovely ending, and I wouldn’t want anything to spoil that, the way subsequent books sort of spoiled the lovely ending of Carol Berg’s Transformation.)

  33. Janine
    Apr 11, 2014 @ 21:11:21

    @etv13: I have mixed feelings about the ending but since I don’t want to spoil it I’ll hide them with a spoiler warning.

    Buried Comment (Reason: spoiler)   Show

    I loved the bit about him being called “Edrehasivar the Bridge Builder” BUT I felt it didn’t need so much explaining. I prefer showing to telling and would have gotten the double meaning of “bridge builder” without anything being explained, so for me only a line or so of explanation would have been sufficient.

    Also, I was a little disappointed in the last scene because I’d been hoping that the privacy question would be answered and that the book would end with the wedding night and the last line would be the two guards leaving his room to give him privacy. Maybe because I’m a romance reader, a mention of the guards leaving the room would have been the perfect closing line for me.

  34. Jorrie Spencer
    May 14, 2014 @ 08:51:50

    I thought The Goblin Emperor was such a satisfying read, and Maia a terrific character. Your observation that: “The greatest pleasure of reading The Goblin Emperor is seeing Maia’s growth. He learns to forge connections, grows into not just a good emperor but perhaps an outstanding one, and begins to appreciate and be compassionate to himself.” was dead-on for me.

    I am so looking forward to the next big-buzz sff book (as I think of them), given my success with this and Ancillary Justice. I am on the look-out!

    As for comparing it to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms—I liked that book but didn’t really think of it as similar, though I guess the setup isn’t entirely different (from what I remember). I did think of the Attolia books though.

    I agree that Csevet sometimes appeared a little too conveniently capable and effective. Although I suppose I in part read that as Maia not necessarily understanding his motives—this must have been the chance of a lifetime for Csevet who, as I understood it, was a courier who would have come from nothing. And Csevet was Maia’s first point of contact when Maia was desperate to transfer his dependence from Setheris to anyone else. (But I do find when a book is really working for me, as this book does, I fill in quite generously any possible holes. I’d actually love Csevet’s book so we could see what was going on with him before, during and afterwards.)

    I thought the rounding out of Maia’s father was well done, though it didn’t make me like him more, it almost made me like him less, given that he was capable of loving people. I almost felt the same about Maia’s goblin grandfather who abandoned Maia and his mother. Mind, I don’t think this is unrealistic. People DO act like this, and treat those who are vulnerable badly.

    Anyway, thanks for hosting this space as I loved reading this review and the comments here!

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