The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison — Reread Review, Bookclub Edition.

The Goblin Emperor was recommended by Scott Lynch and so I originally bought a copy for Rebecca, who very kindly let me read it after she’d finished. I really enjoyed it, and knew I’d eventually buy a copy of my own. A new fantasy book club in London gave me the excuse I’d been looking for, and I settled down to remind myself what I’d enjoyed about it.

An exploration of privilege and constraint, a story of outsiders breaking in, an unapologetic love-letter to baroque and beautiful linguistic customs, and a story of compassion finding its way through cracks in the walls of despotism and greed, THE GOBLIN EMPEROR is worth the turn of every last page.

Scott Lynch

Maia is not your typical fantasy protagonist, but I was a whole 15 pages into The Goblin Emperor when I decided that I loved him. He’s undereducated, and naive to the ways of court life, but not so naive as to be insufferable. He’s also probably the best depiction I’ve seen of a POV character who’s very much still in recovery from abuse. Katherine Addison doesn’t dwell on the details in a way that’s uncomfortably tragic, but there are subtle ticks to the way Maia thinks that are fairly unmistakable. His character development is done really well. It was interesting to me that some of the book club readers said they didn’t know what the story was about, because to me it was obviously about Maia coming into his own as emperor, after years of not expecting to ever be a political figure.

Maia noted when an hour had passed, and wondered if it was that the Lord Chancellor was unusually well hidden — most odd and unadmirable in a man planning a state funeral — or that he was trying to regain the whip hand by a calculated show of disrespect.

The Goblin Emperor, Katheraine Addison

Just as well-drawn and well-developed are the myriad other characters. My personal favourite is Csevet, who is keenly organised and politically savvy. Other popular bookclub choices were Maia’s lesbian pirate aunt, and Csethiro, daughter of a noble family who somehow convinced someone along the way to teach her how to duel. Even the antagonists are interestingly drawn, especially Sheveän, widow of the late heir to the throne.

What I’d most forgotten about The Goblin Emperor before rereading it is that it’s funny. There’s a lot of great word play, and several times I chuckled aloud. There’s also mention of, though sadly little detail about, a convent of lighthouse keepers, so I think I may have find my fantasy dream job.

“Lord Berenar says Osmer Orimar was concealing dishonesty of some considerable scope from Chavar.”
“Gracious,” said Csevet. “We would not have thought he had the intelligence.”
“It does not seem to have been very difficult.”

The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison

In the interests of fairness, I should admit that I had some trouble with the names. There is a glossary, which is some help, but occasionally it will either miss someone out, or list them by their last name — which is no help if you’ve encountered their first name in the text and want to be reminded of who they are. I was usually able to pick it up from context, and in the few instances where I couldn’t, it didn’t seem to really impact my understanding of the broader situation.

I’d recommend this to anyone who likes a different take on the fantasy genre, and perhaps particularly to anyone who enjoyed Spinning Silver.

Next, I’ll be reading Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott.

Rating: 4 out of 5.