22 July 2019

Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Mass market paperback, 502 pages
Published 2015 (originally 2014)

Acquired December 2017
Read February 2019
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

I liked this book, but I expected to love it. Which is maybe unfair to it, and thus why I didn't love it. Maia is the outcast son of the emperor, from a failed marriage, who surprisingly becomes emperor after an assassination. A fundamentally decent and forward-thinking person suddenly thrust into a court that doesn't reward either, he has to figure out how to rule effectively and fairly. I love the idea, and Maia is an excellently drawn character, but it moves a little ponderously at times, and there are way too many characters, with way too many difficult names, and even constant consultation of the appendix wasn't very helpful. (When the assassin is revealed, I didn't remember who he was, which undercut the impact of that moment.)

I really like the recent trend in speculative fiction toward thoughtful contemplation of political and imperial power; we see this in, for example, Machineries of Empire (2016-18), The Traitor Baru Cormorant (2015), and Ancillary Justice (2013), among others. Golbin Emperor fits into this trend, but what it does differently-- which I really appreciate-- is come at it from a fundamentally optimistic perspective. Most of the foregoing are pretty bleak, and only posit change through violence. But Goblin Emperor is optimistic without compromising the realism.

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