The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
First Read: 429/429.
Like The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Goblin Emperor is about an unwanted royal kid of the “wrong” ethnicity (in this case, goblin rather than elf) who is snatched up and brought to the seat of an empire because someone needs to get on the throne. Maia, the son of one of the emperor’s numerous discarded wives, has been raised in the middle of nowhere with very little company aside from his abusive guardian Setheris. He has no siblings to fight for the honor of emperorhood, and is plunked right down on the throne when the entire royal family is killed in an airship sabotage.
Considering the the racial and political biases he faces, and the lack of experience socializing generally, and his spotty training by Setheris (who, obviously, deeply resents his role of guardian to a seemingly irrelevant prince), Maia’s progress in learning the trade of ruling an empire goes surprisingly smoothly. Maia endures what bumps there are and makes some really canny decisions and develops a backbone with apparent ease.
It went a little too smoothly for me at first–I actually put it down halfway for a couple of months, which was really surprising to me. Katherine Addison is a new form of Sarah Monette, who is one of my favorite authors, but one I recommend gingerly, because most of her books under that name can wear about every trigger warning under the sun. Most of her books are also incredibly emotionally dynamic–this book took me a while to get into I think because it lacks the crescendos and passions of Monette’s past novel (and it happened that those were something I loved about the other books).
But the superficial similarity of premise to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms prompted me to pick it up again! And then I read 250 pages in a day and finished it, and it was a warm, kind, encouraging book that I really deeply enjoyed and would definitely definitely reread.
CW: There’s one scene of violence/ritual suicide and there are fairly mild but inescapable elements of (mostly past) abuse. I believe there’s also a somewhat gruesome description of the royal family at their funeral but I skipped over it.
Otherwise it is like sitting on a slightly consternated pillow of political intrigue and budding community, with the refreshing addition of political optimism. It also reminded me, in the gist and in a few very particular particulars, of a more gentle, less canny King of Attolia–which is also by one of my FAVORITES EVER.
This was just a REALLY NICE BOOK, and I felt good after reading it. Actually I still feel good from it two days later. That’s always a mark of a worthwhile read.