The Goblin Emperor
… There’s going to be more, right?
This is really not the sort of book I would have been likely to read immediately off my own bat. 15 years ago, perhaps, but I haven’t really read secondary world fantasy like this for ages… and not necessarily for a reason I can put my finger on, aside from I Like Spaceships More.
Still, it’s on the Hugo ballot in The Time Of Rabid Puppies, and a lot of people whose opinion I generally respect have raved about it, so I wasn’t too sad to be sitting down with it as part of my Read The Hugo Ballot binge.
And I really liked it.
This stills seems improbable to me. Lots of ‘thee’s and formal ‘you’s and so on – the sort of thing that sometimes makes me break my eyes in the rolling. It’s goblins and elves for… no reason I can see? The elves have non-human ears which you only know because they’re described as doing things like flattening when the person is annoyed, and goblins just seem to have darker skin and maybe grow bigger than elves? But goblins and elves do intermarry; Our Hero is a product of just such an (unhappy, arranged) alliance.
And it’s not like the book is startlingly original in its plot. Emperor and his sons all die together, leaving one nearly-forgotten son by aforementioned unhappy marriage to inherit the throne. There are political machinations, palace intrigues, quandaries over who to trust, questions over whether someone in such a position can have real friendships… y’know, the normal things that happen when an unlikely heir takes the throne. We’ve all been there.
And yet. And yet. It works. Much of this is down to Maia, Our Hero. He may be the forgotten heir but he’s not completely stupid; clueless at times but not a Garion figure; possessed of a brain and determination and a desire to do some things his own damn way, thank you very much. I’m reminded somewhat of the story I heard once about Queen Victoria: that when she was crowned (I think?), one of the first decisions she made was to sleep in her room by herself – without her mother – for the first time ever. Maia isn’t just led around by the nose. But neither is he super arrogant, thinking he can do anything he likes and deciding to do just that; nor is he super capable in an impossible period of time. Addison strikes a good balance of learning the ropes and being actually, like, capable.
I liked many of the other characters (Csevet for the win), and the variety of female characters is really nice. I like the honesty with which Addison confronts the issues of arranged marriages, and the different ways of thinking about things like duty and honour.
Basically, when I finished reading it (in one day), I wrote that opening sentence: there
is going to more, right?