Content notes for The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison: child abuse, alcohol abuse, death of family, (attempted) murder, ritualistic suicide, racism, sexism, homomisia, attempted assault
- The protagonist loses his mother to sickness and afterwards grows up with an abusive guardian – this happens before the actual plot of the book but is mentioned in some detail several times
- The rest of the protagonist’s male relatives are killed (off-page) at the beginning of the story
- There is a) a murder investigation into the death of the former emperor as well as b) several attempts on the current emperor’s life
- One of those attempts results in the ritualistic suicide of one of the perpetrators, which is described in detail, and the other in the perpetrators‘ executions, which are not
- The world in which this is set is deeply racist, with the light coloured elves considering their dark coloured goblin neighbours as barbaric – as the protagonist is half-goblin, he is continuously confronted with those racist notions but they are also challenged throughout the novel
- The world is also very sexist, with the women of the court being their male relatives‘ legal property and their only function to get married, have children and thus secure alliances for their fathers and ensure the continuation of their husbands‘ houses – the protagonist tries to change things though
- While the novel doesn’t go into any depth, there are some minor queer characters and the protagonist, upon learning of one character’s sexuality, mentions that all he knows about gay men are the stereotypes he has heard
Representation: Mixed-race protagonist (there are two fantasy races, elves and goblins), a few queer side characters
I read the German translation of The Goblin Emperor ages ago (in 2016) and then added the original to my TBR pile last year when its stand-alone sequel The Witness to the Dead was released. And now, about a year later, I finally did not only reread The Goblin Emperor and read The Witness to the Dead but also read the sequel The Grief of Stones (which I got an arc of, thanks to the publisher). And I absolutely loved all three novels.
If you want to read what I thought about The Goblin Emperor six years ago, you can read my original German review here: Ein Kobold am Elfenhof: Der Winterkaiser von Katherine Addison but my opinion on the original is slightly different, mainly because I actually liked it a bit more than the translation.
The Goblin Emperor tells the story of Maia, the product of a deeply unhappy marriage between a goblin princess and the elven emperor, and, after his father and brothers‘ tragic death in an airship crash, the new emperor. The novel accompanies Maia during the first months (the first year?) of his reign and all the problems he faces. They start with the obvious, people thinking him unfitting for the role of emperor both because of his goblin heritage and because he grew up far from court. Maia himself struggles with this as well, having to figure out how to be a worthy emperor while being true to himself. Politics, intrigues and some treason await! And, of course, Maia has to deal with the inequalities at court, the nobles whose only goal is to enrich themselves further, the racism he is faced with and the sexism that runs rampant throughout the higher classes.
I love anything with slow, dense political intrigue plots and The Goblin Emperor was no exception, especially because it is deeply character-driven and I enjoyed Maia and the way he grows into his role and finds his voice quite a lot. I also loved the world-building, though I did struggle with all the names and fantasy terms – there is both an index as well as an intro to things such as naming customs but even with those I sometimes felt a bit lost. But the way Katherine Addison uses language was great.
It plays an integral role, seeing as Maia is struggling to find ways to express himself, and the use of different levels of formal language adds to the complexity of relationships and Maia’s struggle with finding his place – plural first person pronouns (we) for basically all court settings, plural second person pronouns (you) as a general level of formality in most conversations and singular pronouns (I, thee) being reserved exclusively for informal settings or even just very close relationships or to express intense disrespect. Honestly, this is just more impactful in English, where the use of the singular second person pronoun has fallen out of use, rather than German, where it’s still a normal part of everyday language. Also the constant Serenity used to address Maia is a lot less horrid to read than the German Durchlaucht.
All in all, I loved The Goblin Emperor even more this time around and I can only recommend it to anyone who is interested in slow, character-driven political fantasy (though you need a somewhat high tolerance towards unwieldy fantasy terms and naming conventions – the later might not really be a problem, though, I’m just generally horrible at remembering names). There are quite a few darker moments throughout the novel but there is also always hope and the idea of creating a better world.
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