So my bestie gave me this book as a birthday present. Last year. And it had been sitting on my unread stack since then. And I
don’t know why this is–okay, well, I do, and it has to do with me having too many things I NEED TO READ LIKE NOW and not at all to do with my not wanting to read. But that doesn’t matter anymore because I’ve finished it!
THE GOBLIN EMPEROR
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.
What I Loved
Political intrigue. Almost all of the events happen within the Untheileneise Court. Halfway through it kind of reminded me of Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts, because that story also dealt with a young, inexperienced, friendless, and altogether unlikely heir to a throne that isn’t even desired by said protagonist. And it’s a pretty glorious kind of story, especially when said protagonist has to learn to play “the game” and learn it fast.
Steampunk fantasy? Yes please! Did I mention this book has airships? And clockwork bridges? And clockmakers? Definitely scores plus points there.
The massive worldbuilding. For a 440-page book that hardly leaves the comforts of court life, there’s a lot of background history going on as well as thought-out cultural and courtly customs. There are elves, there are goblins, there are those in-between, and then on top of that, there’s the rich and poor, the nobles and politicos, and there are the warriors, the magic-users, the priests, and the speakers for the dead. It’s a lot to take in for one book, yet these things were sewn into the story that I felt I was absolutely immersed into the life of the emperor. Still, I don’t blame Maia for being lost half the time the minute he falls into palace life, because there was clearly a lot going on at court.
The characters. Once I got used to their personalities, it became easier to distinguish them from the long list of characters who weren’t so distinguishable. I love most of the people that got pulled into Maia’s household, and as a reader, I was kind of glad that Maia got some people loyal to him while he tried to wade into the elven-sharp waters. Csevet and Cala and Beleshar were awesome. I do kind of wish Thara Celehar’s adventures in Amalo got more of an elaboration, ’cause yeah, I did start craving action at some point.
The slow-burning plot. Alright, I admit the story could have used some action here and there. As I mentioned in my previous point, I could have done with a bit more narrative along the lines of what Thara Celehar was doing as Witness for the Dead. Much magic-using was lacking in the book, and there was quite a bit more steampunk than fantasy. Still, as much as I gripe about these, what this book has going for it is its slow-burning story. It is the life of an emperor in all its splendid tedium. The precedent, of course, is that not every elvish emperor is a half-goblin with several enemies wanting to oust him from power within the same year. It was rather fun to read, even with the absence of magical duels and fierce swordfights.
She took two strides, then turned back to say, sharp and sudden, a sword sliding out of a scabbard, ‘We would have gutted him, if he were not already dead.’
Where mah girls at?! There were a lot of strong leaders, and unfortunately, in this case most of them were men. I suppose there’s a give and take in this kind of world, and in this world, women are mostly used as bargaining tools in marriages. I may have continually grumbled about there being NO women in Maia’s household that helped advise or guard him, not until Kiru Athmaza (who is all kinds of awesome), and even so, that was so far into the story. When notable ladies did show up, they were raving brats (Csoru) and hateful, vindictive widows (Shevean), and I was frankly relieved that there was a branch of “academic” women who weren’t completely psychotic (Vedero, Csethiro, the goblin females, the common-born clockmakers and revolutionaries). I so wished that Csethiro Ceredin was able to make good on her threats of violence. She was a hoot and a half whenever she did show up.
That formal speak. Admittedly, the dialogue hit me straight in the first page with the formal usage of “thee” and “thou” and I was halfway through a snort of derision, laughter, and a wail. The language was one of the main reasons why I haven’t picked up Polgara the Sorceress or anything remotely close to books that use “thee” and “thou.” Admittedly, Maia and others slip up enough that I stopped minding the formal use, and in this case, it actually has a purpose in expression as far as dialogue went.
What I Didn’t Like
That glossary, though. To be honest, I don’t really glance at the glossaries in the backs of books. Either the words they try to define can already be gleaned from the context, or they’re used once or twice in passing and I pay it no mind. When I have to spend some time to flip to the back of the book to look up a word that’s repeatedly used, then my reading groove gets messed up. This happened a lot in The Goblin Emperor. I felt like I was learning a new language with rules that got tacked in the back so we can better understand this world. In the end, not everything was defined anyway, and a number of the words were only vaguely contextualized within the narrative. I still have no clear idea what a tangrisha or a stathan are.
“But thus it happened that the Count Celehel and the Marquess Ceredel–our second sister wrote a very rude rhyme based on the similarity in the family names, which we will not embarrass you by repeating–could not achieve a marriage…” – Csethiro Ceredin
Ceredel, Celehel, Ceredin, Cerewhatsits. I’d like to say that I took to some of the pronunciations rather well. Hard C’s, no silent letters, etc. But my gosh, the amount of people with similar names, or those within the household where their names change according to their gender or position! At some point there were three different Tethimada members who were often referred to as “Tethimar”, and often two of them end up being in the same scenes. It took me a good few seconds trying to figure out if the Archprelate Tethimar was the same as the Tethimar who wanted to marry Maia’s half-sister, or that was Eshevis, because it couldn’t possibly be Nurevis. There were honestly too many characters to keep track of, so at least with the Ceredels, the only one of note was Csethiro.
Predictable betrayal. I pretty much expected the final conspiracy and the betrayal at the end to happen. The book made it clear who the bad guys were at the beginning, and it was the same throughout, with maybe only one “shocking” revelation halfway through and then three tacked-on disenfranchised revolutionaries whose names probably wouldn’t even have come up if it weren’t for Thara’s meticulous investigations. That in itself was a little anticlimactic, but so was the whole bridge-building bit. I almost wish this book was a series (actually, I’m hoping it becomes one!), but alas, I have to deal with the standalone.
4 out of 5 cookies! I do have to say that I enjoyed the book even with all of my complaints. That says something.
Food and Fandom
(I haven’t done one of these in ages, so I’ll tack this in quickly!)
Breakfast was oatmeal with dried apricots and honey, and the kitchen staff had unearthed a giant, claw-footed, gilt and green enamel samovar that had to be two hundred years old at least. The tea was very strong and very hot, and Maia insisted that Csevet take a cup.
Alright, so I didn’t have any dried apricots handy (or dried fruit, really), but I whipped myself a simple breakfast still fit for a goblin emperor anyway! Apple and cinnamon oatmeal with a dash of cinnamon and a drizzle of honey. No ornate gilt and green samovar, obviously, but I do have a spiffy green teapot to use for my strawberry-infused green tea, which was not quite very hot, but steeped to a fruity deliciousness! 😀