“The Goblin Emperor” by Katherine Addison

I read Addison’s debut novel, The Goblin Emperor, back in May for the Wyrd & Wonder reading event, a month-long celebration of all things fantasy. The book sat unread on my shelves for a long time, so I was happy when Wyrd & Wonder rolled around and the hosts decided to use it as the group read. And guess what? I loved it! 😊







Goodreads summary:

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.

Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor is an exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent. (Goodreads)

My thoughts:

The Goblin Emperor is a character-driven fantasy novel about a young goblin who unexpectedly becomes emperor of his father’s kingdom, the Elflands. His father and older half-brothers died in an airship accident leaving Maia, the protagonist, the sole heir of the throne (well, the most direct heir of the throne). The story follows Maia as he develops from an innocent, outcasted half-goblin princeling of the Elflands with no experience or knowledge of politics to a competent emperor who will bring about much needed changes.

I enjoyed it. I really did. It’s not often that I read a standalone fantasy novel and I now realize the real reason why: I want the story to continue. I think The Goblin Emperor works well as a standalone novel (although I think the end was a bit rushed) but I’d love to read another book about Maia to see how he’s getting on running the kingdom and how well his marriage is going and how the bridge project turned out. I just want to know more. The story (well, Maia, actually) is so compelling that I didn’t want it to end.

It’s Maia that kept me returning. I prefer character-driven novels rather than plot-driven ones. I love a deep dive into a character to learn everything there is know about him, which is why this book was an easy favorite. I think this may be the first novel I’ve read that focuses so intensely on one character and the political intrigues that surround him. There’s no adventuring, no daring fights or thrilling escapes or mad dashes to or from a place. And yet, this story was just as gripping and had me wondering what would happen next, what entanglements would Maia be drawn into and have to solve.

I also love reading about characters learning something new and becoming skilled, or at least competent, at the new thing they learned. We see that with Maia. Outcasted from court because his father, the emperor, hated his mother (and, by extension, Maia), Maia didn’t know much about politics or the types of schemes waiting to ensnare him at court or that he’d have to devise. He sometimes felt overwhelmed about all he’s responsible for, have to navigate, and should know but didn’t. But as the story progresses, we see his confidence grow the more he learns and applies the knowledge of what he learned. I love that this happens so gradually that sometimes I missed the exact moment when the growth in Maia’s character occurs.

This fantasy world is also fascinating, but because the plot is so laser-focused on Maia, who’s stuck at the palace due to his duties as emperor, we do not see much of the world but instead learn about it from the people Maia interacts with. But I’d have liked to see more. There are some steampunk influences in it what with the airships and the clockmakers’ guild. I’d also like to learn more about the relationship between elves and goblins. We learn enough for the story in this book to work, but I still want more.

As for the plot, I liked the mystery surrounding the airship accident that killed the emperor and his favored sons. It was another interesting thing to look forward to as I read, but I liked that for the most part the story is about this innocent, sometimes naïve, young goblin learning to be an emperor and bumbling his way through forming relationships in this capacity. It made Maia endearing, relatable and made me quickly start caring for him.

So yea, I enjoyed the story and consider it a favorite. The only thing I didn’t like was the difficulty I had trying to puzzle out the characters’ names and who’s who. The glossary wasn’t much help at first since the characters are listed there by title, which is no help if you don’t realize the words are titles and not names. I also didn’t like that my edition placed the “Handbook for Travelers in the Elflands,” which is basically a “how to read this book” guide (that’s how I think of it), at the back; so I didn’t know about it until I was deep into the story and one of the bloggers participating in the group read mentioned it in a post. I was so pissed at the book (the publisher?) for doing that. Neither that handbook nor the glossary is mentioned in the table of contents.

If you decide to pick this up, look for the “Handbook for Travelers in the Elflands” and read it first, then enjoy the story.

Readalong posts on the chapters:

Weekend Reads #102: Goblin Emperor Readalong, Ch. 1-9
Weekend Reads #103: Goblin Emperor Readalong, Ch. 10-17
Weekend Reads #103: Goblin Emperor Readalong, Ch. 18-26
Weekend Reads #104: Goblin Emperor Readalong, Ch. 27-end

Overall: ★★★★★

I loved it. I liked the character and enjoyed seeing how he develops throughout the story. This is one I know I’ll reread.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

I can’t believe I took so long to read it. If it’s been on your TBR awhile too, I highly recommend you pick up your copy now and get reading!

Quotes from the book:

“Better to build new bridges…than to pine after what’s been washed away.”

“The emperor is the law. It sets the vilest kind of precedent for the emperor to ignore due process in that way.”

“So the kitten has claws, after all.
Just because a cat doesn’t scratch you doesn’t mean he can’t – as you well know, Lord Pashavar.”

“An emperor who breaks laws is a mad dog and a danger, but an emperor who will never break a rule is nearly as bad, for he will never be able to recognize when a law must be changed.”

“…emotions are part of the truth of any person.”


14 thoughts on ““The Goblin Emperor” by Katherine Addison

  1. Haven’t gotten around to reading this. Glad you enjoyed it! While I also love character-driven books if the plot lags too much it won’t keep me interested. Give me a few twists and turns to keep me into it! Thanks for the review!


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