Maia has spent his life well away from the court under the care of a distant cousin. Then, his father and three older brothers are killed when their airship explodes, and he finds himself on the throne. No one in the largely elvish court expected the half-goblin son of the king’s unloved fourth wife to be king, and few are pleased at the change. Maia has never been trained for the task and must scramble to find the sources and information he needs. Fortunately, not everyone is obstructive. Unfortunately, some people want him dead. To complicate matters, his investigators discover that the emperor’s death was not an accident.
Addison’s world-building is careful and complex. She layers in the different customs and habits of the court, with glimpses of the people around. Much of this the reader learns as Maia observes, and it is to Addison’s credit that she is able to give such a rich, textured view without resorting to infodumping. Details of the fabrics, the history, and the language are worked into the tale. So, too, are the relative positions of elves and goblins. As a half-goblin, Maia has been taught to see himself as ugly and to think of the elves as beautiful, which is heartbreaking, no matter how much respect he gains throughout the book. It is also, sadly, entirely believable. Maia does, eventually, get to meet his goblin grandfather and learn a little more of his heritage from that side of the family. In many ways, Addison’s work reminds me of Cherryh’s: thorough and aware that no group of people ever consists of just one culture.
Maia himself is easy to root for as he struggles to rule a wide-flung kingdom he barely understands, often forcing himself to ask questions, even if he fears looking foolish, making mistakes and picking himself back up again. He also has a strong supporting cast, guards, advisors, and servants, some of whom support him and some of whom resist him, for good, solid, and believable reasons. The group who killed his father turn out to be as complicated and as conflicted as any group.
The Goblin Emperor is highly recommended for lovers of fantasy, court intrigue, strong main characters, and/or world-building.
Hardcover, 446 pages
Published April 1st 2014 by Tor Books