My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Goblin Emperor is a fascinating and ambitious work. While I didn’t love it, the premise was interesting enough and the writing strong enough to merit 4 stars. Strong enough that I will automatically try the next novel Katherine Addison writes.
I really loved The Goblin Emperor at first. It was a breath of fresh air — a sympathetic and kind protagonist struggling with being forced into a life he was not prepared for. I loved the first 100 pages. Around page 200, I wondered when this story was going to go somewhere. At 300 pages I started to lose focus. I skimmed the last 50 pages.
Plot and Conflict
This book has no discernible plot structure. Sure, stuff happens, but stuff happening is not a plot. There is court drama, state dinners, discussion of proper manners, and characters agonizing over how to answer correspondence.
Compelling writing needs compelling conflict. The conflicts in the book are petty or go nowhere. A number of relationships are built up and then left unsatisfyingly unfinished.
– The conflict with Setheris just peters out.
– His relationship with his fiancee improves, but then is ignored in the conclusion.
– His relationship with his secretary and his guard doesn’t lead anywhere meaningful
– His relationship with his maternal grandfather is left hanging
– The only relationship that gets a satisfying conclusion is his relationship with the bridge
A couple of thoughts on Worldbuilding
For some reason The Goblin Emperor was set in a Medieval-Byzantine-Steampunk world. How do we know it was a steampunk world? Airships. Why steampunk? Hell-if-I-know. There are elves. And goblins. The only difference between them is the color of their skin and their ears. Why elves? I’m not sure. This novel could easily have been set in China and reminds me strongly of The Red Chamber.
The world is rich in manners and language and customs but not in a way that is gripping. The world is mostly rich in unpronounceable character names and titles. Please, fantasy writers, enough is enough. Enough unpronounceable names. Enough lengthy honorifics. Enough arcane, stilted language. These elements are like hot sauce — a little bit goes a long way, but a heavy hand makes a stew that only a few will enjoy.
My current “Best Novel” ranking is:
2) Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (may get bumped up or down)
4) No Award
5) The Dark Betweeen the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson
– I finished Ancillary Justice so I am ready to start Ancillary Sword.
– I’m on book 10 of the Dresden Files so it will take me a while to get to Skin Game. I’m a little burnt out on Harry, but I am enjoying the rest of the universe so I’ll come back to them eventually. So far the series rises above No Award but I’m not sure it is strong enough to rise above Goblin Emperor in the rankings.
– I read the first chapter of Three Body Problem and it looks really promising.