The young half-goblin Maia suddenly becomes the heir to the Imperial throne of Elfland. He gets embroiled in the workings of court and the intrigue, and the accident that killed the previous Emperor may not have been an accident at all. The perpetrators might come for him next.
This fascinating book comes with a lot of warnings. The Goblin Emperor’s opening chapters are quite challenging, and if you approach them as a quick beach read you might find yourself bouncing back from the pages. The book is best appreciated by taking a quiet moment and burrow yourself into the text with some concentration. As it is a book about court intrigue, there are lots of names and the dialogue is full of tensions and hidden intentions, and it pays to give it an honest chance at a good evening moment.
The story is a kind of fairytale about a misfit goblin being crowned as emperor of Elfland. As you would expect from that departing point, the environments and names and general world-building are quite out there. From the first pages, Addison goes heavy on the fantasy names. She conjures up a few dozen dynastic names with quasi-biblical, mythological undertones, such as Varenechibel, Ethuveraz, Edrehasivar, and the like. Not only that, but they also have invented titles so that the same character is addressed in different ways. She goes overboard with it, to be honest, and I had some serious trouble to keep the characters straight. Thank heavens she included a listing of names at the end, because I found myself needing it after only three chapters, but often the name I looked up wasn’t there.
I can’t really tell how serious Addison takes this approach. I think that she is very aware that the fantasy genre can be overenthusiastic about elf and dwarf royalty and everything that comes with it, with the halls and palaces and long histories, but that she also simply enjoys it, and The Goblin Emperor as a book knowingly enjoys and revels in it. It is hard, heady stuff, but what helps a lot is that Addison divided her story in lots of short chapters that give a lot of breathing pauses.
The strength of the book lies in the good, consistent characters. Everyone is different and reacts in complex yet consistent ways, so that you form an impression of interesting, complex people. The writing style is also very beautiful and flows well, but the content is very descriptive. It takes 100 pages between main character Maia traveling to the palace and him getting crowned. In between, there are lots of paragraphs about halls and clothing and ceremonies.
A unique and affecting work, and so fully realized that you feel as if the world will continue after you put the book away, and you wonder what Maia is doing right now. It’s alive.
It’s the kind of book that either you give up on quickly, or you are drawn in deeply. I had some trouble with Addison’s approach and that took away some enjoyment, but the quality of writing shines through. Anyone who reads all the way to the end will therefore no doubt love it. Whether I should recommend it therefore depends on how drawn you feel to reading about fantasy court intrigue with lots of big history and fantasy names, and then take some time to get into it. If you like that, and if you can, you’ll be richly rewarded.