One of my friends has this annoying (but not really) habit of suggesting really great books for me to read. She’s single-handedly responsible for introducing me to some of my favorite recent (published in the last decade or so) books and authors. The Dresden Files, The Kingkiller Chronicles, finally convincing me to read Terry Pratchett, and so many others. A lot of the time, I’ve heard of the books she recommends and never got around to buying them. Interestingly, the books she gives me as gifts are almost always books I’ve never heard of that I wind up loving. My current favorite of these books is “The Goblin Emperor” by Katherine Addison (the pseudonym of Sarah Monette).
The book follows the story of a young member of the ruling family of an Elven empire as he, Maia, is suddenly thrust from obscurity directly into the throne when everyone in line before him was killed in an explosion. Complicating his ascension is the fact that his mother was a Goblin princess who married the Elven emperor as part of a peace agreement with the Goblin King. Maia faced the rejection of his father who fulfilled the terms of his political marriage in only the strictest sense before sending them both into exile in the countryside and then by a cousin who abused him since the politically ambitious cousin was forced to act as the guardian of a politically unimportant half-goblin. You can probably see the beginnings of the themes in the book.
I love intrigue and character novels. Anything that explores people, the ways in which they build relationships, and how people come to understand or wield power can be incredibly interesting if written well. The Goblin Emperor does an amazing job of exploring political intrigue and the burden of power in a very complex world filled with people who, for the most part, just want to do their jobs. Despite the fact that there are no Humans in the story, everyone feels incredibly Human and real. Even the villains grow from caricatures into full characters with both positive and negative qualities as the reader is shown more of them, mirroring Maia’s understanding. Even the tone of the writing changes as Maia becomes more confident and knowledgeable, constantly reflecting his developing sense of the people around him.
While he is growing and just learning to function in the court, Maia has to face off against a few savvy political opponents who are trying to usurp his power in one way or another. The wife of the deceased heir and the lord chancellor both test him, doing small things to grow their personal power, but he manages to keep ahead of them. Most of the time, he figures out the right move to make using practical wisdom born of being a social outcast or by relying on the people around him who simply want to do their jobs as best as they can rather than get tangled up in political upheavals. A lot of the time, it is these less “important” people, who just want to do their best to support the kingdom, who make the difference in Maia’s life. Even as she shows them being subservient and deferential, Addison does them justice as fully “human” people in their own rights.
Despite being a mixture of Goblin and Elven blood, the only person who truly complicates Maia’s life for not being fully Elven is Maia himself. That isn’t to say there isn’t some degree of racism going on, as most of the political opponents he faces would likely not have been so clearly mutinous if he was wholly Elven. Addison shows it most clearly in the social and societal roles held by Goblins in the Elflands. Goblins who are accepted into royal service in the Elflands are often somewhat separated from their culture and heritage, and most of them are poor or doing menial work. They are shown as being rather drab and superfluous by many of the Elves who also encourage Maia to avoid exploring his Goblin heritage beyond what his mother taught him before she died. Eventually, Maia meets members his family from the Goblin kingdom and gets a clearer picture of their culture, along with many promises for more information on his heritage and family in the future. Since it furthers the peaceful coexistence of these two large nations, everyone switches to genuinely supporting Maia’s desire to learn more about Goblin culture and, most importantly, Maia begins to embrace his identity as a Goblin and an Elf more fully.
I don’t want to go into too much more of what goes on in the book because I’m already certain I’ve said too much. There’s so much I love about this book that it’s hard to hold back from gushing about it. If you read it and like it (I think you should and I hope you do), you should message me about it so we can discuss and dissect it.