The Goblin Emperor
April 20, 2019 10:08 PM - by Katherine Addison - Subscribe

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an "accident," he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend... and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.
posted by rue72 (20 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I finished this book in one day and then promptly bought a copy for my dad as a birthday present. The names/honorifics are difficult to wade through and the pace can be slow -- but I loved it. I guess because I like Maia so much. He's such a gentle person, it's hard not to.
posted by rue72 at 10:11 PM on April 20 [4 favorites]


I totally enjoyed this. I think I saw it recommend here as something engaging and meaty but low stakes/low stress. It was that!
posted by latkes at 10:47 PM on April 20


this book is on sale at Amazon for $1.99 right now...
posted by suelac at 11:45 PM on April 20 [3 favorites]


I just loved this book - so great to read a fantasy novel without world-ending stakes, messianic stable boys etc.

Addison also publishes as Sara Monette. Her other books are quite different, but I've enjoyed what I've read as well.
posted by smoke at 4:02 AM on April 21


I loved this, it's delightful. I particularly like how it's the power of friendship that helps the most of all :).
posted by invisible_al at 5:02 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


this book is on sale at Amazon for $1.99 right now...

Also on google play and Kobo! Thanks for the tip, just purchased.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:37 AM on April 21


If you are just starting, a tip:

Flip to the back and read the glossary. It will greatly assist you in understanding that certain proper nouns are titles rather than names. But stop when you get to the cast of characters, because it is full of spoilers.
posted by Etrigan at 9:19 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


I liked it a good bit. I did feel Maia seemed a bit...wish fulfillment-y.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:42 PM on April 21


Yeah, I agree, Chrysostom. But at the same time, I feel like that was some of the charm. Overall, I liked that Maia didn't really get too heavy or negative, and that the world of the book was minimally gritty.

One thing that did throw me in terms of "grittiness," though, was that nobody seemed suspicious that Maia or anyone acting on his behalf had been in on the airship sabotage, and no one in any of the coups even tried to claim that they were suspicious of that. I mean, Maia hated Setheris, and knew that he'd been desperate to get back to court for a decade, and knew that Setheris had good intelligence of the goings-on there, yet Maia never worried that Setheris had been involved in the airship sabotage?

In general, I found the conflict between Maia and Setheris a little too superficial. I mean, Maia was dependent on Setheris for a decade, but then when Setheris finally could be genuinely useful for once (when they got to the palace), Maia dropped him like a hot potato and never looked back. And also never worried that Setheris would actively try to do something about that. That just seemed too clean to me? I get it, I just think there seemed like there should have been more complexity there than there was?

Also, Maia seemed very feminine to me -- in his perspective to some extent, but also in how he was treated. Things like how he hadn't been educated and everybody just assumed he was stupid and naive, that he hadn't been seen as a threat to the throne even though his brothers were, how he was so impressed by the older court women's sophistication but didn't seem to look up to any of the older men in the same way, how he was so conscious of his good/bad physical features and how attractive and picturesque he looked at any given time, etc. But maybe that's my own weird prejudice. I think a genderbent version of the story would have been even more fun, though. Although arguably even more wish fulfill-y.

Anyway, the only thing that legitimately bothered me about Maia was that he was kind of tight with his money. He didn't give any money to the families that lost people in the airship disaster (just the gravestone), he didn't go back and give any money to the servants that had helped him while he was growing up in exile, when he got all those extravagant presents for his birthday he just tucked them away in some vault somewhere, his secretary went on a long explanation about how the couriers were basically nobodys from nowhere just trying to make a living and Maia really didn't inquire further about their money/salaries/wages, etc etc etc. That was just weirdly distracting to me, I guess.
posted by rue72 at 7:46 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


I find this book so soothing and cozy. As soon as I finished it the first time I had to jump back and read it again.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:30 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


how he was so conscious of his good/bad physical features and how attractive and picturesque he looked at any given time, etc.

I didn't take this as a feminine preoccupation with appearance and/or the gaze of others, so much as the internalized prejudices of a mixed race person who feels self-conscious about their race, in a society where there are racial hierarchies or tensions. Maia's consciousness of his physical features is usually focused on the color of his skin. As to everyone assuming he was stupid and naive, I put that down to them making assumptions about his youth.

how he was so impressed by the older court women's sophistication but didn't seem to look up to any of the older men in the same way

I found this to be a great character note, actually. Maia had a sheltered, isolated life with his cousin, and as he says when he first meets and is dazzled by his cousin's wife, his experience of women had been limited to his household's servants. All he had in the way of female authority figures was his late mother, much beloved but dead for years. His experience of male authority figures, on the other hand, was tied to abuse (Setheris) and their antipathy for him (his father). It doesn't surprise me that he didn't look up to any of the older men; he was too busy subconsciously or consciously evaluating them as potential threats.
posted by yasaman at 10:33 PM on April 21 [4 favorites]


This is one of my favourite books for its kindness and the exploration of figuring out a huge complex system with minimal guidance.
posted by jenettsilver at 5:51 AM on April 22 [2 favorites]


I didn't take this as a feminine preoccupation with appearance and/or the gaze of others, so much as the internalized prejudices of a mixed race person who feels self-conscious about their race, in a society where there are racial hierarchies or tensions. Maia's consciousness of his physical features is usually focused on the color of his skin.

Some of it was that for sure, but Maia also focused a lot on things that had nothing to do with goblin/elf racialized stuff. Like all the descriptions of his hair styling, and everybody else's hair and hair styling, and how his clothes fit and affected movement, and how each woman's clothes fit and affected her movement (but rarely descriptions like that of any of the other men), and how his jewelry choices were going to be seen by others and what they represented, and what he thought about other people's jewelry choices (that was all genders though), and what he was doing with his hands all the time and just how poised he (or anyone else) was managing to be at any given time. Lots of focus on the physical and social affects of grooming and poise, basically. There was also a fair amount of focus on people's weight, including his own weight, and descriptions of the physical build of pretty much all the female characters (petite or big boned or whatever), with very little said about the size/build of the male elf characters especially (although some of the male goblins did get a thorough and personalized description, like the Grand Avar) -- and in any case, always with an eye to a kind of general attractiveness and picturesqueness rather than any physical ability/strength/height/etc. It seemed like his focus was on things that would be interesting or important to a woman (like how his grooming and poise compares to other women's and how each woman's compares to one another) but not particularly to a man.

Also, how he interacted with the female characters made him seem like he was their peer, another woman. Well, how all the characters related to him made it seem like that to me. Things like how when he's at a party and introduced to the Head Chancellor's son's friends, they start talking about hunting/sport and he stands there clearly with no expectation from any of them that he'll take part in the conversation as a bonding exercise. Or how his mother's sister bonds with him by talking about the ambitious/exciting women in the family or even how his grandfather bonds with him in this very (gently) paternalistic way, buying him a horse and setting up riding lessons. There are lots of instances where the interactions made sense and were interesting, but they seemed almost TOO relatable and familiar because I just don't think that a man would be treated in that way -- not in a better/worse kind of sense, I just don't think the bonding would have been with the same characters in the same way. I don't think that the writer necessarily meant for Maia's perspective or treatment to seem especially feminine, but it did come off that way to me. Your mileage may vary, though. I don't know much about what it's like to go through the world as a man.

His experience of male authority figures, on the other hand, was tied to abuse (Setheris) and their antipathy for him (his father). It doesn't surprise me that he didn't look up to any of the older men; he was too busy subconsciously or consciously evaluating them as potential threats.

He didn't evaluate them as potential threats, though? He didn't seem to size them up or feel defensive around them or even give them a whole lot of thought generally. I do think that it was an interesting character note that he seemed to have very little use for men. I felt like his relationships with men were more pragmatic and work-based whereas with women things were generally more emotionally heated, although of course he came to care a lot about some of his closest male employees.
posted by rue72 at 8:27 AM on April 22


It seemed like his focus was on things that would be interesting or important to a woman (like how his grooming and poise compares to other women's and how each woman's compares to one another) but not particularly to a man.

Would this be true of cultures in which grooming and poise are supposed to be of interest to men? I know that gender-conforming men from Western cultures, particularly the Anglosphere, aren't supposed to notice these things and therefore aren't taught to notice them, but it's not like that all over.

Anyway, this book is so wonderful. For too many years, I had pushed aside high fantasy, finding it either overly artificial or unimpressively grimdark. And here was a book that dropped you into a very high fantasy scene without a guide (except for the glossary at the end -- imagine the daring of the glossary at the end!) Yet instead of being dull or malicious, it was gentle and hopeful. As a writer, I needed to see that. I've been trying too hard to not be too demanding for a reader, but here, Addison/Monette makes demands and makes them worth it.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:52 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]


I love this book; I find it a comfort in dark times. I have purchased so many copies for friends and relatives. When I’m feeling physically sick and emotionally overwhelmed by current events this story is a solace and fantasy that good things can happen to the virtuous.
posted by Malla at 4:25 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


I read The Goblin Emperor with a book club a couple of years ago and I have been rereading what I initially wrote about in it my book log (self-link). At the time I was perplexed by the serious and melancholy tone of the story but I really like a lot of the plot and the way it plays out.

Like some readers here, I was interested in the gender politics of the characters. It is obviously deliberate and I though that Maia (a feminine sounding name) was written that way to further distance him from the other male characters that hew from the more "standard" modern western definition of masculinity. Maia seems feminine to modern readers but his concerns would not seem strange to men and woman at different times in quite recent history.

I said some slightly mean things in my notes but overall I enjoyed The Goblin Emperor and it has grown further on me as time has gone by. A strange and wonderful book.
posted by AndrewStephens at 7:50 AM on April 24


Addison is working on another book in the same universe, it is said.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:28 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


"Cozy" is also how I'd describe this book. I picked it up on a trip, and have reread it several times. I find I enjoy stories where subjects that read as feminine (like fashion) are treated as Important. Which this book certainly does - if I read it right, at any given time of day the emperor has a team of two bodyguards...and three on-call valets/fashion experts.

It's also strange to read a book where the viewpoint is so cloistered - Maia goes from extremely remote exile to extremely exalted rank in a heartbeat, and practically everything happens outside his awareness. (The workers; the other countries; the scholarly women!)

I did read Maia as evaluating most of the men (and some of the women) as threats - not physical threats, but he's constantly looking for who's going to steamroll him, or take advantage of his position and vast ignorance, or try to expose him as a fool. Given the sexism of the culture, the people in position to bully an emperor are mostly either close family (who get a lot of leeway, I think because of Maia's mother?), or male.

On which note - I also like that Maia isn't always right. Some of his initial threat assessments are totally off (like his head of household Esaran), he uses his new status to pull rank and belittle people, when he's the one person in the country who has absolutely no need to do that. (It is total wish-fulfillment how he notices himself being awful and tries to stop, though.)

I hope the author is dipping into this universe again. I would pay very good money to know more about the future Empress and her circle of scholarly women. Or how a dav works. Or that clock that she totally just didn't feel like describing...
posted by mersen at 7:55 PM on April 24


I finally finished it. I think I overall concur with everyone else that the language/long names are not much fun to deal with* but Maia is such a sweet, kind character that he's very endearing. Like many others, I am rereading it again after just finishing it.

* also, apparently my on sale ebook doesn't have anything except a brief definition of the long names at the start, none of the "Extract" stuff mentioned here.

"nobody seemed suspicious that Maia or anyone acting on his behalf had been in on the airship sabotage, and no one in any of the coups even tried to claim that they were suspicious of that.

I remember Maia himself mentioning that people would suspect him of this specifically because they could not conceive of him not wanting to be emperor...even though he obviously had no effing way to have pulled that off.

I mean, Maia hated Setheris, and knew that he'd been desperate to get back to court for a decade, and knew that Setheris had good intelligence of the goings-on there, yet Maia never worried that Setheris had been involved in the airship sabotage?

Yeah, I would utterly suspect Setheris of this and did while reading it. Unless Setheris was utterly unable to pull off engineering that from his isolation, I guess. I don't know how out of the loop/how little power Setheris had in exile, but I guess Maia might know better than I how unlikely it would have been for Setheris to pull off.

I mean, Maia was dependent on Setheris for a decade, but then when Setheris finally could be genuinely useful for once (when they got to the palace), Maia dropped him like a hot potato and never looked back. And also never worried that Setheris would actively try to do something about that.

I agree. I expected more vengeance/bad shit from Setheris than what happened. Most books probably would have gone there.

I would pay very good money to know more about the future Empress and her circle of scholarly women.

I'd love to see "The Elven Empress" sequel featuring her and her sister-in-law and all their smart lady friends too.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:25 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]


Rereading right now-so happy to find others of you find it comforting and hopeful as that’s exactly how I’m feeling right now.
posted by purenitrous at 8:14 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


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