End Date: May 30th
Author: Katherine Addison
Pages: 446 (hardcover)
Selected By: The Divine Ms. Em
“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 attempted on his life at any moment.
“Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naive 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.” – from the Goodreads summary.
The Divine Ms. Em:
I’ll begin by saying I do agree with the other Ladies that this epic world was a bit much for me as a reader to handle. The story itself – which might have been excellent otherwise – seems to get bogged down in all of the details, from language to character names and titles. It doesn’t bode well when an author goes through the trouble of writing a book, but readers are forced to skim through whole sections and hope they get the gist of it all later. And there were a few instances when I put the book down and had a hard time picking it back up again.
I do agree with Elle’s comments regarding Maia’s goblin-elf status: if you’re going to make race a factor, then you ought to ensure that you at least have your hero address that issue himself at some point. More time was spent on Maia’s age than the fact that he’s a goblin, but the title of the book is The Goblin – not The Teenaged – Emperor.
I have to specifically disagree, however, with Esbe’s assessment that any sort of behavior is innate; the fact that Maia’s father was Emperor doesn’t necessarily mean his children, just by virtue of being his children, know how to rule or act at court. And I completely disagree with Elle’s statement that Maia was reactive rather than proactive; I saw his actions as being just that: his actions. People advise him on their standpoints (that’s the point of advisers, after all), but he is no puppet – not to his father’s advisers, nor to his own. For example, during the attempted coup, Maia leaves his fate in the hands of another – one whom he had no reason to believe would stand by him. I don’t see this as Maia refusing to take a stand towards his own self-preservation – instead, I see it as his sense of justice, essentially “If these people don’t want me here, then I’ll let the one they would put in my place look me in the eye and make that decision.”
Once I made the decision not to focus too much on the language and various titles, however, I really liked the story itself. Maia is young, inexperienced, and completely unprepared for the situation in which he finds himself. His method of leadership is definitely not grab-the-reins-and-go; rather, Maia is subtle, and he spends a majority of the novel forming alliances and surrounding himself with people he knows he can trust – honest advisers, loyal bodyguards, and family members who are grateful for his mercy and forward-thinking.
So, no, I wouldn’t recommend this novel for anyone looking for a Game of Thrones style romp (i.e., clashing swords, sex, complex politics, and enemies everywhere), nor would I recommend it to those who are in the mood for a Lord of the Rings epic adventure (i.e., diverse landscapes, highly structured histories, and varied peoples).
But if you prefer a simpler fantasy hero, one who acts from the heart rather than the head or with the sword, then The Goblin Emperor might be right up your alley.
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: Maia’s nephew, Idra. He had more integrity than anyone else in the novel, in my opinion; he had the opportunity to wield a phenomenal amount of power, but he refused it simply because it was the right thing to do, though the cost to him and his siblings was high and deeply personal.
Ms. Em read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
It is with much regret that it is two months in a row that I’m sorely disappointed by a reading selection. I can say that this novel was approximately two hundred pages too long. The author attempted to create this mythical world that was epic. I can say it was epically boring. It was so boring, that if you wanted to be sure to get some sleep (which I did at one point), you definitely found a non-chemical sleep aide. My biggest issue with this book is that nothing happens. We have long spans of time with only three things of any note occurring and one of those commences the book. It must also be said that the three events were almost non-events, that’s how little excitement, angst or worry they generated.
Other than the sheer boredom I experienced reading this, I found myself befuddled by the extent of superfluous descriptions that did nothing to capture my imagination or further the plot. I had a flashback to Rebecca and the extensive scene of describing the road to Manderley; only the descriptions were continuous and never-ending for the first sixty percent of The Goblin Emperor. It’s a shame that nothing she described made me want to see this on the silver or big screen. To go along with this meandering tale, we have numerous players inhabiting this kingdom. I felt she was so involved in creating this world and weaving such an expansive cast of characters, with their many alternate titles, that she forgot to move the story along. I was not so industrious (nor did I care to keep the cast of characters straight) as Elle to keep a list of the characters. Quite a bit of the time, I found myself saying “who” to only shake my head and move on because it just wasn’t worth racking my brain (Note: The Kindle Edition starts you out at Chapter One and does not let you know there is a rather sizable index of characters, entities and locations…not sure If I would have used it anyway).
Now, I will not belittle or ignore the author’s clear intent to make the main character a dichotomy in inexperience and being an innovative thinker. Maia, being the youngest of the recently deceased Emperor who was relegated to a far off compound partially as punishment for merely being the child of his mother, was never trained in the ways of court. While he nor his guardian/tormentor, Setheris, never expected to be called to court, it would seem to me that he would still need to know the intricacies of said court. Setheris was in charge of the young man’s education and failed him miserably. However, I have to say, because Setheris nor Maia’s father afforded him the education he was entitled to, allowed Maia to be more malleable and adaptive to his circumstances. He rises above social conventions in dealing with courtiers, would-be conspirators against the crown and his own relationships and how they affect the running of his court. I admire that Maia seems to advance women’s rights, along with that of the commoners by his outside of the box thinking. However, what I did not like was how these decisions come about; it appears to be more out of indecisiveness than pure clear decision making skills. Albeit, he is young, and he has not been groomed to be emperor, the feeling I get from the telling is that we are to just accept this as his modus operandi. However, I would rather hope that his breeding from royalty would give him an innate aptitude for being a problem solver and a natural-born leader. His compassion to those around him is a direct attribute that was honed in his early life by his mother, Chenelo. However, Maia can’t do this on his own, because he is seriously ill-equipped.
Maia’s ability to cope so well at court can be indirectly attributed to his tumultuous childhood under the guardianship of Setheris. Setheris’ hard lessons taught Maia to be quiet, observant and cautious in his dealings with all who could cause him harm. These hard earned traits serve him well once he begins to deal with the treacherous court. I am glad that he is not a total stooge. I do appreciate his counsel and guard. Cala put Maia in his place immediately, by indicating that they could not be his friends. However, I think Cala, being a tool of the court, did not see the scope in which Maia would operate his kingdom. By traditional standards, Cala is right, his administrators and counselors aren’t there to offer friendly advice, but to be solid sources of knowledge and advice. However, because of Maia’s affection and behavior in being open to different ideas, methodologies and willing to take a risk to advance other’s positions, the opinions and behaviors of his counsel and guards builds affection. His affection for them grows also by his kindness and forward thinking. I also enjoyed how the relationship developed slowly from contempt or disdain by his servants to genuine care for the emperor and his goals for the kingdom. (If I had cared to learn names beyond Cala, Csevet, Telimeh, Beshelar, Kiru, and Idra, I’d make it a point to expound upon their attributes…but I didn’t , so I won’t.)
As for the villains of this piece, the easiest way to describe them, with exception of Shulivar, is bumbling at best. From the attempted coup by Shavean and the Lord Chancellor to the botched and ill thought out assassination attempt later in the novel, all you could do was shake your and think, “was that supposed to be comedic, because that’s what you achieved.” For the coup conspirators, you know nothing of the emperor because you have spent no time in his presence to understand who he is as a person or as a leader other than to say that though he may be young, he’s not quite as stupid as you would believe him to be. Then you act shocked when he doesn’t do your bidding. Really? Wow, way to go idiots. Then there is the attempt to assassinate the emperor without the benefit of having coconspirators who are willing to put it on the line to help you achieve your goal. It was the equivalent of walking into a mob stronghold all by your lonesome and then trying to take out the boss with all his muscle about (think Boondock Saints, when Rocco goes to the Russian Mob suite with a six-shooter, “There are nine bodies, genius. What were you gonna do? Laugh the last three to death?”). Uh, yeah. . . because that’s a good idea. I’m not sure if she was attempting to make the villains so inept to show their clouded sense of entitlement and inability to see that their view of the world order isn’t quite as it should be. They used their status to manipulate or intimidate lower status people to obtain the power they thought they should wield, thus leaving the lower status persons to twist in the wind and pay the ultimate price, while the privileged get a slap on the wrist.
Elle and I agree that the final villain was one who could be considered a revolutionary vice a villain. Shulivar has a very clear ideology, while flawed, that drives him to improve the station of his fellow citizens. Now, his methodology is clearly terroristic, but that also depends on who is telling the story in history. I’m sure the English called those rebellious perpetrators of the Boston Tea Party terrorists. Alas, it is who wins that writes history. Shulivar is instrumental, albeit unknown to Maia, in bringing Maia into power. Now, this may not have been Shulivar’s intention, but the end result is what he wanted. . . change. Positive change for factory workers, women (I will say that I did admire Maia for not making his sister marry either suitor arbitrarily and that he allowed Kiru to be the first female guard to an emperor was rather impressive) and his attention to commoners who died alongside the preceding emperor, is more of what Shulivar was hoping for. While it was not the philosophy that Shulivar adheres to (basically all men should be powerful, ala survival of the fittest-sorta), he did affect positive change in the kingdom for all, because had the emperor and all his chosen successors had not died, Maia would not have been able to effect the changes needed to make the kingdom generally happier and more stable.
I didn’t know what to expect with reading this book and I was hoping to get a great story. It could have been, had the book been crafted as George R. R. Martin (Game of Thrones) or even Justin Cronin (The Passage). These authors create expansive landscapes with many characters, but at no time was it so pretentious and onerous that you become bored and unaffected by the lack of action. In fact, you can read either of the aforementioned authors and be on the edge of your seat from the first paragraph, fighting to stay awake to see what is about to transpire around the corner. I can say, it is only slightly better than The City because the author doesn’t keep teasing you with “something big” coming around the corner. So there isn’t anything to be truly disappointed about when the event occurs and you say to yourself, “really, that’s it. . . what a disappointment.”
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: Csevet or Cala.
Lady Esbe read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
I wanted to like this book – I wanted to love this book. I’d read some of the synopses about it beforehand, and it sounded like it would be right up my alley: a fantasy novel with steampunk elements, written in an archaic style, with court intrigue, a vast new world, and a half-breed underdog who, no doubt, would eventually learn to stand on his own two feet and rule the kingdom like a boss? Yes, please!
Fantasy novel? Check. Steampunk elements? Occasionally. Archaic style? Ad nauseum, but without consistency – a deliberate strategy which is explained near the end of the novel. Court intrigue, ditto ad nauseum. Vast new world? Allegedly, but it’s hard to tell from the various rooms in which we spend a majority of our time. Half-breed underdog? Certainly, hence the entire premise of the novel. Lesson of self-reliance and belief in oneself? Um… not so much.
For those of you who may be considering reading this novel: there is a very helpful and entirely necessary Appendix in the back – a fact which does not become evident until you finish 95% of the story and find that the last 5% is comprised of reference material that would have been helpful 420 pages ago. The Kindle version begins at Chapter One, completely bypassing the Table of Contents, and, unlike other fantasy novels with notations that are integral to a thorough understanding of the material, there are no asterisk-links within the text to indicate that there are footnotes. I don’t know if this was a decision made by the publisher or Amazon, but it really does the novel a terrible disservice; I spent a majority of the time reading this novel confused about which character was which and trying to determine what all of the various titles were supposed to signify, only to be told by Ms. Em that Dammitjeff (her husband, who had read the book previously) had found the Appendix after he’d finished reading the novel. That was a real “Aaarrrgggh!” moment, let me tell ya.
And now for my review, the recurring theme of which is this:
Less is more.
Fantasy novels often involve extensive world-building, and authors may have a difficult time determining which of their clever ideas they should trot out for the masses now versus holding back for use later… but The Goblin Emperor is an excellent example of what happens when an author decides to put all of their clever ideas out there at once. J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin both successfully navigate(d) their readers across vast and varied landscapes, sending us across not just seas and countries but also periods of time; Addison’s world, on the other hand, quickly dissolves into a tangled mess of place names and descriptions, most of which are simply trotted out, briefly lingered over, and then tossed aside – all without the visual aid of a single map. Not only that, but we spend a good majority of the time only hearing about these places from others while Maia himself (and, therefore, the reader) sits in one room or another, discussing the affairs of his country with people who actually get to see it. Creating a fantastic and amazing world within your own head is only one piece of the puzzle; if an author cannot describe it in a way that allows it to “stick,” if he or she cannot take the time to allow their readers to become involved and invested in at least one location, then readers are left with a barrage of meaningless names for made-up places from which they are dragged to and fro with only the vaguest idea of where they are and why they’re there – and they will not care, one way or the other, about any of it.
The writing style was a real problem for me, as, like everything else, it was too complicated for the material itself. I have said numerous times that I prefer to be shown things rather than told, but this is a difficult trick to master, and the authors with the skill to successfully pull this off are few and far between. Addison makes an attempt to do so, then caves under the pressure and resorts to simply blurting it all out at once. She places her readers in her world and offers very little by way of either description or explanation of who people are, where they are, or what they even look like for most of the story, then suddenly, in a few pages around the 70% mark, she throws it all on the table. A good example of this is that readers know Maia is half-goblin because this fact is referred to frequently and plainly; however, we don’t really know what that means –i.e., what he looks like versus what purebred goblins and elves look like – for 70% of the novel, at which point suddenly goblins and elves are both described in one blunt paragraph. The dialogue and character titles, nicknames, and honorifics are more of a puzzle to work out than the Clue-like mini-murder-mystery within the pages of this book; characters speak one way one moment, then another way the next, often switching back-and-forth between styles within the same conversation – styles which are not clarified within the story until readers have completed approximately 75% of the novel, at which point, as with the descriptions of the races, they are abruptly and bluntly explained away in a couple of sentences.
Our nineteen-year-old protagonist, Maia, is the product of an arranged marriage between the former elven emperor and one of the daughters of a goblin king. To sum him up, he is a complete nonentity; he takes no real initiative and instead reacts to the actions and statements of those around him, from his secretary and bodyguards to visiting dignitaries and scholars. Maia is, for me, the most disappointing character of all, specifically because he did have so much potential – not just as an example of growth, but also for being the product of two races, neither of which accepts him, who suddenly finds himself the master of both. That set-up is positively loaded with potential. While Maia acknowledges his “otherness” and makes a point to notate how different he is from everyone around him, he never truly seems to feel anything about it, leaving him very flat, when he could have been a well-rounded, entertaining, and challenging character – not to mention the loss of so much potential to discuss racial and social issues in a fantasy setting. I have to draw a parallel here to Forgotten Realms’ superstar, Drizzt Do’Urden, who successfully symbolizes the importance of judging people by who they are rather than how they appear to be. Maia, on the other hand, seems ambivalent to his status as a half-breed, despite the fact that it’s referred to with derision by the elven court and with grudging acceptance by the goblins, and it is mentioned frequently as both a justification for others to distrust him and as a source of his own insecurities. This lack of focus on the racial aspect of the story forces Maia to never grow beyond the prejudices of those around him; his inner identity conflict, the fact that he frequently ponders his mother’s race versus his father’s, is never addressed head-on, nor does he ever come to a point where he realizes that what he is does not make up who he is. In my opinion, it makes no sense for an author to make race a main focus of their novel – so much so that it’s in the very title – and then simply avoid the mental and emotional effects that racism has upon him.
The remaining characters are undeveloped, predictable, and stereotypical, so much so that I referred to the two most prominent antagonists by the Disney villains they reminded me of: Lady Tremaine and Jafar. If someone seems like a baddy – and this includes anyone who seems to disagree with or disapprove of Maia – then the chances are they are a baddy – and not just a baddy, but a caricature of one, sweeping in with capes flying behind them, giving our protagonist deep and hate-filled glares, and conspiring in dark rooms. Likewise, if someone seems like a goody – and this includes anyone who has been downtrodden or unappreciated by their peers and relatives, (gasp) just like Maia!! – then the chances are they are a goody. And all our little Diamonds in the Rough will live happily ever after.
But even that lack of depth to the cast might be acceptable, provided readers are able to recognize any of the characters after their initial introduction, which, unfortunately, is not the case here. Readers simply never get to know the cast well enough to care about a single person. As mentioned above, the characters are paraded out without any memorable context that might make it easy for readers to identify them later on; they are introduced with a series of names, nicknames, titles, and honorifics – the latter two of which may change depending upon gender – and then dragged off again, only to reappear chapters later without any reference as to who they are or what they have to do with anything that is going on. I have read the entire Middle Earth series – including all of the books which make up The History of Middle Earth, all of the A Song of Ice & Fire novels to date, and War & Peace, and I have never been so confused about a cast of literary characters in my life; at one point, I actually created a list of characters, their titles, and a small table showing their relationships to one another… but by the halfway point, I gave up and decided I simply didn’t care enough to continue that little homework assignment.
The story itself is simple – or, to be more accurate, the stories, since this novel is less one cohesive story and more a collection of lots of little events, with our protagonist simply skipping around from one occurrence to the next. But even the events which could be meaningful – murder, an assassination attempt, a possible coup – are skimmed over and lost within the minor events at court. And none of it is focused on long enough to make any of it feel significant. So much time is spent explaining the minutiae of court that all of the major events are down-played to such an extent that they take on the feeling of a series of little capers.
I will say that I did like the statements made about friendship in this novel. The emperor himself is openly denied any sort of friendships with anyone; those whose characters he likes are unsuitable due to their low rank, while those who are suitable by birth and blood are unsuitable in heart and mind. But Maia eventually has to admit that there are various types of friends, while one character even states that it’s possible to have “friends we don’t like but [with whom we] have shared interests.” We all have our circle of friends, and within that circle are those we “like” more than others, and there may even be a few whom we would shame-facedly admit we don’t particularly care for but whom, for some reason, we still care about – but this practice is rarely ever admitted to or spoken aloud. This is also why I respect the character of Cala more than any others who surround Maia; he alone told him, with obvious difficulty and regret, that they simply could not be friends.
SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE NOVEL AND INTEND TO DO SO, YOU SHOULD STOP READING ELLE’S REVIEW… NOW!
The only other thing I quite liked about this novel was, oddly enough, the character of Shulivar. If you have read the novel, then you know that Shulivar is the mastermind behind the creation of the device that ended the lives of the former emperor and his retinue, and I know this seems like an odd character to like… but stick with me here, and I’ll explain.
He had heart. Remember when I mentioned that the characters are flat and undeveloped? Well, Shulivar is no different… but he at least did something at some point. He felt passionately about something – about bettering the lives of those who remained nameless and faceless but on whose backs and blood the great thrived – and he made a stand. He did what he did for his own reasons – to make possible a lasting and meaningful change; he didn’t do it for riches or for status or any other selfish, self-centered motivation… but simply to save those whose suffering he had witnessed firsthand.
Yes, because of him, 23 people lost their lives, at least 20 of whom were probably entirely innocent of any wrongdoing against Shulivar or any of the people for whom he professed to be acting. And I know it may seem callous when I say that he didn’t mean for those innocent people to perish – his plan, his purpose for the device was entirely focused on the former emperor and his immediate family – but it’s the truth. And in the end… Yes, we have 23 dead… but with their loss came the coronation of Maia and all of the subsequent improvements that made possible the reexamination of the roles of women and the improved lifestyles of countless poor and middle-class factory employees. Now, no one with a heart wants to make that sort of choice – to sacrifice the few to save the many… And no one can say what they would do in such a scenario until they find themselves in that scenario… But I can honestly say that I understand his motivation. He saved thousands of people just like himself – poor, uneducated, hard-working, forgotten people – and all it was supposed to cost him personally was… well, nothing. He didn’t know the former emperor personally, and the few members of the royal family whom he knew by reputation he thoroughly disliked. The difference between a freedom fighting revolutionary and a blood-thirsty terrorist is semantics; the designation is made later by those who commit the history to paper.
Because of Shulivar, a half-breed, forgotten, reviled son rose to a position of power. And because of that, a woman rose to the ranks of nonhecharei for the first time in history and the common folk were suddenly in a position to afford some semblance of respect. Without Shulivar, there would be no bridges to build, metaphorical or otherwise. In fact, it is clear from conversations Maia has with other political and court characters that, without Shulivar’s intervention, without his horrible device, the country was on the fast-track towards a Reign of Terror scenario – and that ended with 40,000 dead.
Shulivar states quite plainly his regret for the loss of innocent lives; however, he also reiterates that he is not sorry for what has happened because of his choices. And he held firm to those beliefs, intentionally betraying himself and his fellow conspirators in order to keep Maia in power, effectively sacrificing even himself for the good of the realm and its people. And I just can’t call a guy with that sort of moxie wicked.
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: Either the nonhecharei Cala or Shulivar. The former was genuinely kind, and he told Maia what no one else would, though it obviously pained him to do so. The latter, in the long run, made the hard call and did what had to be done, despite the fact that he knew many might vilify him for his actions, and, in the end, he had the stones to back that call up with his own life.
Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
I didn’t hate this book, but I was not all that fond of it, either. The story felt thrown together, like a bunch of little occurrences that never quite seemed to mesh, and the material just seemed kind of sloppy to me. I’m certainly not going to be reading any additional books by this author or from this series.
I liked some of the messages that were brought up, specifically that our hero, Maia, was going to do what felt right rather than what was expected of him. He did need to show at least a little more confidence, however – if not at the beginning, then certainly by the end – and I would have liked to have seen him show more initiative and make more decisions on his own.
The supporting characters always seemed to be berating him, and if I had been Maia, I would have felt the need to say at one point: “Wait a sec, Bub, I believe I am the head honcho here, so you need to shut your pie hole and prove your loyalty and obedience. And stop looking at me like I’m the one with a problem! I’m sorry, did I misunderstand? Am I the Goblin President? No! I am the Emperor! That means this is not a democracy! Do a handstand or something, and let’s see how long you can hold that; don’t worry, we’ll wait for you to finish before we continue this meeting. Now, does anyone else have anything they’d like to say? Anyone else want to look at me funny?”
There were parts of the story, as well as characters and certain explanations, that seemed to be mentioned very briefly throughout the book only to be explained and tied up in a neat little package at the end. It also really bothered me that Maia seemed to be quite taken with a certain female character for a good portion of the novel – and you would think a book written by a woman about a young man who intends to liberate women would at least focus on the character that catches his attention a bit… but no. So many characters, including Maia’s kinda-sorta-sometimes love interest, appeared and disappeared with such frequency that it was hard to even tell who they were when they returned to the tale (to be honest, I can’t even remember her name!!), not to mention that most of their names were entirely unpronounceable. Steampunk elements flitted in and out of the pages without explanation and seemed to have been added only to provide us with the “device” and the “airship” which made up the main sort-of-mystery here, and about 80% of the way through the novel magic suddenly became a factor, though no magic was previously mentioned or alluded to (this latter element really disappointed me, as I love magic and might have liked the story more if the author had done away with the needless steampunk additions and focused more on the magical fantasy aspect). Addison really needed to do a better job editing her novel, I think; she should have trimmed a little of the fat and focused on one particular aspect of the story.
Because of the meandering way introductions were done and the story proceeded, I felt a huge disconnect while reading this novel and had a hard time truly liking anyone involved in it.
As has been noted by the other Ladies, there is an Appendix in the back of the novel. But I personally don’t want to have to study a book; if your story isn’t interesting to me, then I just don’t care about your research and notations.
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: Csevet. He seemed to have it together and was really organized. And he’s basically the one who runs the country, so… Csevet for Emperor!
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.