by Katherine Addison
“Dach’osmin Ceredin had warned him about Min Vechin, but he wanted a dutiful companion no more than he wanted a mercenary one. He wanted a friend, and that, it seemed, was exactly what he could not have.”
When an airship crash leads to the death of the Emperor of the Elflands and all his immediate successors, the youngest son of Varenechibel IV unexpectedly finds himself on the throne. Half-goblin prince Maia Drazhar has lived his life in exile from his father’s court. Since the death of his mother when he was eight, he has been raised by a relegated cousin who was also out of favour with the emperor. Friendless and largely unschooled in the customs of the court, the new emperor will need to find allies quickly if he is to seize control of a country in turmoil. But there are factions of the court that will never stand for a half-goblin on the throne, and to survive the Untheileneise Court Maia will have to outwit the opposition while also investigating the suspicious deaths of his estranged family.
The Goblin Emperor gets off to a relatively slow start, opening with Maia receiving the stunning news that he his emperor but then spending the first quarter of the book getting him crowned. Add this to the esoteric naming conventions, and the formal court speech style which can feel quite stilted, and this is the type of worldbuilding that it can take a while to sink into. The setting is introduced via an excerpted travelogue or guidebook that gives an overview of the Elflands and the customs of the court. There is also an extensive glossary of places and characters. Please see below for a much livelier introduction to the important characters, humorously detailed by my friend Amelia, who recommended the book!
Maia never imagined himself at court, let alone on the throne, and he has little taste for power. In fact, in Maia we find a surprisingly kind and reflective character who is determined not to perpetuate the injustices he has suffered at the hands of his father. As much as he would like to abdicate the responsibility of the crown, the only other possible heirs are still children, and Maia knows enough history to understand that the regency of a minor could result in a disastrous power struggle. At eighteen, he is barely more than a child himself, but the task nevertheless falls to him. The plot follows Maia as he reluctantly learns the ways of the court while also trying to mount an investigation into the airship crash the landed him on the throne.
While the plot follows the investigation into the crash of the Wisdom of Choharo, the emotional arc of the story bends around Maia’s loneliness from his time in exile, and the new form of loneliness he discovers at court as the newly crowned emperor Edrehasivar VII. Surrounded by courtiers, servants, secretaries, and bodyguards, he is nevertheless more isolated than he has ever been. What Maia wants more than anything else is a friend, but it seems that is the one luxury even the Emperor of the Elflands cannot obtain. Everyone at court wants something from him or has their own agenda. However, The Goblin Emperor is more character- than plot-driven, resulting in a surprisingly cozy court intrigue as Maia builds the relationships he will need to rule long and well despite the prejudice that surrounds him.
You might also like:
A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones