Review of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. A wonderful steampunk fantasy filled with court politics, amazing characters and hope. It is very much a fish out of water story and Maia struggles to find his feet in his new position of power. If you have ever struggled with imposter syndrome, then you can definitely relate.
My review of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
The Goblin Emperor is properly my favourite example of HopePunk that isn’t SolarPunk.
I loved the story, the court politics, the mystery, the budding romance, exploring the world and pretty much everything about this book. Great world-building, political intrigue and lots of it, interpersonal relationships of all kinds, drama, a mystery and quality writing.
My review from 2014 of The Goblin Emperor by author
Let me start by saying, wow, just wow. The Goblin Emperor is good enough that I am buying a paper copy so that I may lend it to friends. This is just how I want my epic fantasy. Great world-building, political intrigue and lots of it, interpersonal relationships of all kinds, drama, a mystery and quality writing. It has now been a few days since I finished reading The Goblin Emperor and I am still in love with the story.
The story is about Maia who is half-elver half-goblin and at the start of the story is very far removed from the dynastic politics. He gets tossed into role as emperor and is very ill prepared from the role. He is a an outsider at court and that allows for Addison to introduce him and the reader to the court at the same time – which is always a neat trick and one I very much like in fantasy.
I really enjoyed that the story tend to follow Maia from he wakes up in the morning until he goes to bed. When we skip in time we always skip full days. This means that we as a reader gets the full context that Maia experience the important events in. We know if he have had a stressful day or not, because we have been with him the full day. This also gives us wonderful details into a day of an absolute monarch (it even looks a lot like what I have read of real European absolute monarchs’ day to day routine). I love that kind of day to day scenes in my fantasy.
The world building and aesthetics reminds me more of Asia than it does of European, which I loved. The techology level in the story seems to be right on the edge of the industrial revolution (sant firearms). A steampunk airship plays a key role in the story and so does factory workers. I really enjoyed the level of detail in this book – there was even appendix in the back of the book with more information.
Maia as a character is a very sympathetic young man with very modern sensibilities, but not so modern that he seems out of place in his world. He is also (understandably) rather insecure about his capabilities as a ruler, his knowledge and his social skills that are nowhere up to the standard that they should be if he had been groomed to the job. The has to face some hard truths along the way and does not always handle himself gracefully – which I like. He is just flawed enough to be both interesting and relatable.
I loved the story, the court politics, the mystery, the budding romance, exploring the world and pretty much everything about this book. I will have to order a paper copy of The Goblin Emperor so I can hand it out to friends. This is a epic fantasy without a quest, without a chosen one and with fully fleshed characters!
Edit 2023: Addison has since written a novella series, The Cemeteries of Amalo, set in the same universe after the story of The Goblin Emperor, but they are not strictly a series. They are also very much worth checking out.
The stats: The Goblin Emperor
Published: 2014 by Tor Books
Length: 446 pages
Read: August 06 to 16, 2014
Author: Female, white, USA
The protagonists: Maia, male, half blooded elever and goblin, emperor, straight.
This review was originally posted: August 24, 2014. Updated and edited June 30, 2023