February 27, 2014 by mmileti
The Goblin Emperor is a unique debut that challenges expectations for modern speculative fiction. This novel seems to be the opposite of the “grimdark” movement in fantasy that has flooded the genre with stories that are dark and gritty, where the protagonist is an antihero and the plot is filled with violence. Instead, this novel harkens back to the days when Mary Stewart and Peter S. Beagle were the leaders of the fantasy genre, and it is easy to find echoes of these author’s style in this debut. It is a high fantasy novel with a hint of steampunk thrown in, and, like many of the other upcoming books for 2014 that I have reviewed, it is an incredibly unique novel.
The book’s main character and POV protagonist is Maia, a half goblin and half elf, though the goblins in this book are more like a different race of elves rather than a completely different species. The goblins are also much different from those from fairy tales, and are actually very noble and proud. Maia is the estranged youngest son of the King of the Elves, and because of his goblin heritage, he never expects to leave his modest home in a backwater town. He has only met his father once at his mother’s funeral, and his father was less than impressed with his half goblin appearance. Maia’s life changes forever when he receives the news that his father and all of his brothers have all perished in the same airship crash. He is suddenly king of a country he has never really seen, and a people that he doesn’t fully belong to. He has never had a friend in his life, and ruling a kingdom seems to do nothing for him but make enemies.
This is not a book about an evil goblin, as some might deduce from the title alone, but rather the tale of a genuinely good man who has been thrust into a situation that he cannot begin to comprehend. Maia struggles to improve a country full of people he feels will never accept him, but all he really wants is the thing that has been missing from his life since he was a child: compassion and friendship.
It took me a little while to get used to the language that is used in this book. All the characters speak in extremely formal language, full of the royal “we,” “thou,” and other strict conformation to proper speech. In addition, the names of places and characters are extremely long, intricate, and hard to pronounce, and many of them are very similar to each other. I often had a bit of trouble remembering which name belonged to a certain person. The book is also paced a lot like a Jane Austen novel, with the vast majority of the book being the reflections and struggles of the main character rather than being action packed. Despite this, I found this book delightful. The author makes it incredibly easy for the reader to sympathize with Maia’s struggles, and the story was overall very touching. Though the action is sparse, it keeps the reader engaged, and I did have a bit of trouble putting the book down. The world Addison created in this novel was original and fascinating, and I would love to read more novels in this setting in the future.
This novel is not for every speculative fiction fan. The characters and situations put forth in this story are all very formal, and the main character struggles to show the subjects of his new kingdom who he really is despite the reserved atmosphere that comes with his station. This is a novel that I would recommend for fans of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, as I found the pacing and overall feeling of the novels to be quite similar, even though the subject matter was different. I would also recommend this book to Jane Austin fans that also happen to love fantasy, and also to speculative fictions fans who desire a break from the “grimdark” influx into the genre. It is a very well written and heartwarming book, and I hope that readers give it a chance, especially as I would love to see more from this author.
Overall, I will give this book a rating of 8/10.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and the publisher in return for an honest review.