Katherine Addison‘s The Goblin Emperor is unlike any fantasy novel I’ve read. The premise of the book is that the unwanted, fourth son of the Emporer of the Elves becomes Emperor when the royal family all gets assassinated. Maia, the soon to be Goblin Emperor ascends to the throne following ten years in the ass-end of the empire after his mother, the Empress, died.
The Invisible Elf
The Goblin Emperor inverts some classic fantasy tropes. Elves are still your standard J.R.R. Tolkien type: tall, pale, angular cheekbones, pointy ears, and whatnot. But goblins aren’t. They don’t look like the standard small, green monsters or zombies from The Walking Dead.
Instead, goblins are black or a shade of gray. They may have orange eyes, but they may not. They also may be a little shorter, but not tiny. Also, they have different customs.
The elves are pretty much a bunch of racists and Maia is seen as half-elf, half-goblin. Some fear that he will betray the elves, while others think he’ll be more of a uniting force.
The Goblin Emperor Reacts
Another interesting change is that once Maia assumes the mantle of Emperor and is installed in the palace, he never really leaves. He’s extremely unprepared, his family was murdered, and someone may be plotting against him. Most of what Maia does is bumble and react. How does a 400+ book stay interesting with a largely reactive character? The reader stays with the book due to their interest in Maia.
Interior Lives and Vulnerability
The Goblin Emperor, at its heart, is a novel about feeling out of place, being lonely and growing up in neglect. Maia suffers from imposter syndrome. He has no friends and a steep learning curve. He hates his father and misses his mother, both of whom are dead. Addison grounds the reader in Maia’s perspective and we experience his thoughts and emotions. It’s an interesting change from the classic fantasy quest, but at times, the novel could’ve picked up the pace.
Reader’s who don’t want to get stuck in some never-ending (ahem George R.R. Martin) series will appreciate that The Goblin Emporer is a stand-alone book. Apparently, there will be another book published set in this world during Maia’s reign, but it’s not a direct follow-up. So, if you’re looking for some non-standard fantasy to read, visit your library, check out this book and sit down with a scared teenager who doesn’t want to be Emperor.