The Goblin Emperor

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The Goblin Emperor

Review #1

The Goblin Emperor audiobook free

I’m marking this review as a spoiler because the central fact of The Goblin Emperor is that Maia is a really, really good politician. It is impossible to say that convincingly without also saying that he has political success. Of course, it could always happen that something goes horribly wrong in the end. But I would still have to admit that at some point in the book he is politically successful, which would be a spoiler. So, I’m taking the easy way out — just mark the entire review a spoiler, and then I don’t have to waddle awkwardly around the fact that Maia survives a coup attempt and an assassination attempt and ends the book as a successful and mostly well-liked leader.

Now, I want to be clear, when I say “Maia is a really good politician”, I understand that as a good thing. Politics is the name we give to the social mechanisms for making difficult decisions without violence. That is an extraordinarily important job, and people who do it well should be valued. I have no difficulty thinking of real-life politicians who are or have been, in my opinion, good people. And Maia, in my opinion, exemplifies the kind of behavior that such people should emulate.

Right from the start, it is clear that Maia has good instincts. For instance, he hates his cousin Setheris, who was cruel to him throughout his childhood. Yet he knows that he cannot take revenge on him

“… they left Setheris fuming, … Maia reminded himself that glee was unbefitting an emperor, and thought soberly as the crewwoman opened the narrow door at the front of the cabin, I must not acquire a taste for this pleasure. It was heady, but he knew it was also poison.”

Damn straight! Later, he prays thus before the execution of his personal guard who betrayed him,

“I cannot afford this anger. The Emperor of the Ethuveraz cannot become vengeful, for once begun, there will never be an end of it. Ulis, he prayed, abandoning the set words, let my anger die with him. Let both of us be freed from the burden of his actions. Even if I cannot forgive him, help me not to hate him.”

So, even though he enters the job ignorant and untaught, right from the start Maia has good instincts. Perhaps his most valuable asset is that he KNOWS he is ignorant. Thus he asks advice from people who know more, and he listens to them, and uses what he learns, intelligently. He has the sense to delegate. He also has the sense to realize when delegating isn’t working, when he needs to be decisive. He thinks this of himself,

“He was not stupid and he was not incapable. He remembered the moment when his thoughts had inverted themselves—that shift from not being able to please everyone to not trying—and the way that change had enabled him to see past the maneuverings and histrionics of the representatives to the deeper structures of the problem…”

One of my favorite parts of the story was the attempted coup d’état by Sheveän and Chavar. Maia got out of that in part because he was smart, but also because they were incompetent. Sheveän and Chavar meant to put Sheveän’s son Idra on the throne in Maia’s place, but didn’t clear the plan with Idra first. That was big mistake #1. Big mistake #2 was acceding to Maia’s demand to talk to Idra;. Big mistake #3 was failing to realize that they were on the clock. Maia only needed to stall long enough for his guards to show up.

I liked this because this incompetence struck me as entirely plausible for Sheveän and Chavar, especially Chavar. Although Chavar’s incompetence may seem implausible to a naïve reader, anyone who has read a lot of history will recognize it as a trap that the powerful are apt to fall into. Chavar has been powerful for many, many years. Like most people who wield power for a long time, Chavar has an inflated opinion of his own abilities and fails to realize that he has surrounded himself with people who tell him what he wants to hear. Also Chavar has nothing but contempt for Maia, and that contempt blinds him to Maia’s very real abilities.

Review #2

The Goblin Emperor audiobook Series Goblin Emperor

THE GOBLIN EMPEROR by Katherine Addison is a book that I’ve had on my TBR list for some time but never quite got around to actually reading. I am regretful of this because this is a book that reads easily, was consistently entertaining, and is wholly unlike the vast majority of fantasy that I have read. It is a little steampunk, a little Netflix’s THE CROWN, and a bit of GAME OF THRONES on top but remarkably nonviolent or falling on traditional fantasy tropes. The two races may be elves and goblins but they are wholly unlike their traditional depictions in fantasy.

The premise is that the Emperor of Elfland has been killed alongside all but one of his heirs: Maia, the half-goblin Prince that was banished to the outskirts of the Empire from the day he was born. Crowned Emperor mostly because he’s smart enough to realize that if he’s not before someone objects then he’s likely to become a loose end, Maia proceeds to deal with all of the issues of running a government despite the fact that he was never properly educated on how. His story is a bit of a combination of Henry VIII, Queen Victoria, and a handful of other unexpected monarchs.

Review #3

Audiobook The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

The Goblin Emperor is a standalone fantasy novel of over four hundred pages. It’s a deep dive into court life with its intrigues, customs and courtiers who range between sycophant and deadly foe. The story explores the themes of trust (in yourself and others) and the nature of friendship when most are unlikely to refuse you or disagree with you.
Maia’s goblin mother is the emperor’s fourth wife and he’s the result of a political, one-time consummation and loveless marriage. At the age of ten, his mother dies and Maia is sent to live with his cousin, Setheris, a former adviser whose arrogance gets him banished from court. No love is lost between the cousins. While the bitter Setheris provides Maia with some tutoring, he’s mostly physically and emotionally abusive towards the boy.
So, is it a damaged young man who takes the throne? No. Maia’s mother provided him with a strong moral compass. And Setheris’s behaviour has left Maia empathetic towards the oppressed. As he learns about the father he’d met just once at his mother’s funeral, Maia choses not to emulate his predecessor. It’s watching how Maia adjusts to rulership while learning as much about himself as those he rules that makes The Goblin Emperor such a riveting read.
Be warned, because there’s hardly any action in this book, and the worldbuilding is limited to the palace. I found a glossary at the front of my e-book, which most readers will find invaluable because of the Elven language used for names, titles and places. Unable to flick back and forth through electronic pages, glossaries and e-books just don’t work for me. I found myself resorting to memorising the shape of an unpronounceable word to recognise which character or location I was reading about. This did spoil the reading experience a little.
The story’s plot is three pronged: who can Maia trust; how should he assert his authority and what really happened to his father and half-brothers? The solution to the third subplot is convoluted but clever.
I enjoyed The Goblin Emperor. What this book lacks in action is made up for by its great protagonist who held my interest from beginning to end.

Review #4

Audio The Goblin Emperor narrated by Kyle McCarley

The Goblin Emperor is a 2014 fantasy novel by Sarah Monette writing under the name of Katherine Addison. We find ourselves in an early industrial society of goblins and elves. The emperor and most of his immediate family have been killed in an airship crash. Destiny travels a long way down the line of succession, arriving at the door of young Maia. This unfavoured son has been living in an internal exile with a cruel guardian, after the former emperor cast his mother aside in favour of a new wife.

While the story’s setting is firmly in the fantasy realm, there are many parallels with the real world. Historically, I was reminded of the White Ship disaster of 1120 when a voyage across the Channel went horribly wrong, wiping out most of England’s royal family. Henry I was not aboard the doomed vessel, but the heir and most of his royal siblings all drowned. Mathilda, one the King’s daughters, was left to inherit the throne. Henry tried to get Mathilda recognised as heir, but the nobles weren’t having any of it. England had never had a queen and was not ready to accept one. A period known as the Anarchy followed.

The scenario in The Goblin Emperor is similar, but more positive. Maia, of mixed goblin and elf parentage, is young, inexperienced and lacks training, which all puts him in a rather Mathilda-like position. Inevitably there is a threat of anarchy, which does come close. But as I say, Maia’s story is generally a positive one. Much reading pleasure is derived watching the young man growing into his role, under the guidance and protection of advisors and bodyguards. Maia is no revolutionary, but in just being who he is, a decent and friendly person who has seen the problems of ordinary life, there is real hope for positive change, despite aggressive attempts by the powers-that-be to maintain the status quo. This sense of potential is centred on a project to build a bridge across a large river dividing east from west. In scenes reminiscent of the controversies of Brexit, wealthy and powerful figures want to maintain their monopolies. It is the many ordinary merchants who stand to gain by bridging divides. And it is these people who are given renewed hope by their young emperor.

The Goblin Emperor is a warm story, with a highly sympathetic central character, which has much to say about politics and leadership generally. I admit I did find the names confusing – characters can be referred to by first or last names, or by their titles, all of which might involve many syllables, umlauts and accents. This did leave me feeling a bit lost on occasion. But then Tolstoy had a habit of doing a similar thing and it didn’t do him any harm.

Review #5

Free audio The Goblin Emperor – in the audio player below

This is all internal court politics, and not much action, but it draws you in and keeps you there. Maia, fourth and youngest son of the emperor is so out of favour with his father that, after his mother dies, he is sent off to distant, impoverished Edonomee to be raised by his cousin/guardian, Setheris, also out of favour, and a cruel, careless tutor. The title might lead you to believe this is about an emperor of the goblins, but no. Maia’s a half-goblin in a country of elves, forever set apart by his dark skin and orange eyes. His mother was a political bride from the goblin court who died when he was eight. Skip ahead ten years in the wilderness. Maia is eighteen when a courier arrives to inform him that his father and older brothers have been killed in an airship crash – he is now emperor of the Ethuveraz. He is crowned Edrehasivar VII, but the court is huge and confusing, and he has no friends. Who can he trust? How does he take the power that should be his from Chavar, an overbearing chancellor? He must secure the succession, but how can he choose a wife when he’s hardly ever spoken to a woman? How does he become a good emperor? All these questions and more keep the book lively and interesting. There’s a murder-mystery happening at one remove because the emperor himself can’t do the investigating. Maia is a shy, diffident, but sympathetic character. The worldbuilding is interesting. A few reviews have mentioned steampunk aspects, but this is not true steampunk, even allowing for the presence of airships and a quiet industrial revolution going on in the background.

The one drawback to reading is the amount and complexity of names which are multi-syllabic and hard to pronounce. There are changes according to rank and gender and sometimes you don’t realise that the person being referred to is actually someone you already met but is now being referred to by a title. I confess I skipped over most of them, recognising them but not pronouncing them in my head as I went. Alcethmeret, Hezhetthoreisei, Untheileneise Court, nohecharei, Osmerrem Berenaran, Berenadeise, Untheileneise’meire – and that’s just a very small sample. Before the story starts there is a glossary which takes up page after page, which is useless on a kindle because you can’t keep flicking back to it, and indeed, if you did, it would only pull you out of the story. The glossary contains close to 400 proper names. Ouch. This is a four star story with one star deducted for the complicated names.

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