Book Review: The Goblin Emperor

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

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.

The Goblin Emperor has received many praising reviews and when I was presented with the chance to read a review the book, it was too good an opportunity to pass! It has been praised on introducing some themes that aren't normally seen in traditional fantasy and I am always on the look out for authors who try to take new steps with their book and in this, Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor, succeeds to the fullest. Katherine Addison is the pseudonym of Sarah Monette who has written the Docterine of Labyrinths series and collaborated with Elizabeth Bear on the Iskryne World series. 

The story of The Goblin Emperor opens up directly with the focus on the main protagonist of the story, the half-goblin Maia. He soon receives terrible news that not only his father but also all his brother have died in an accident with their airship. This leaves Maia as the sole heir to the throne and it is his job to pick up where his father left it... But don't think that Maia's history has been kind on him, Maia, ever since being born has been despised and hated by his father and was sent into exile. Maia has never been trained in court etiquette since there were three potential heirs in line in front off him. You can therefore imagine that Maia has quite a task at hand (and that is heavily understated), when he is confronted to pick up the reigns of control and navigating through a perilous elven court. Who can you exactly trust and who not? But above all can an unexperienced, keep his head above the water or will it turn into a uncontrollable rapid downhill? The story that Katherine Addison manages to write down in The Goblin Emperor is a powerful story of finding oneself and not giving up how hard the situation might seem, when throwing in the towel and running away is the easy way out. Just brilliant.

As I already mentioned above, the main protagonist of The Goblin Emperor is the young half-goblin / half-elf Maia. The story is all focused on how Maia navigates through the treacherous court and I found that Katherine Addison greatly build up his character from start to finish never letting him falter in his development. In the beginning Maia is really like how you would picture someone who has just gotten terrible news and has to process it all, but Maia hardly get the chance to do this decently as he is immediately thrown into the depths of courtly proceedings, of which he has entirely no clue as to go about them. And when Maia makes his first steps into he is present with a lot of people who he doesn't know and many of them all want to be his friend. Now for some of those you can certainly believe that the hold the best of intentions for young Maia but there are always those that have bad intentions... As a reader it was very nice to be able to make up your own mind about several of the court characters and what the nature of them is. All the new friends of Maia greatly boosted the development of his character as he learns more and more about several motives that play around him. In the midst of all Maia's adventures you really get to see he emotional side of him. Again this was something that I really liked about Maia's character and makes him a well thought out and executed character. Nothing is just presumed, Maia reacts in the most natural way to many different perils that he has to face. You can definitely feel the loneliness of Maia eventhough he is surrounded by many people. Besides many sad and difficult moments, Maia also has moments of joy that really makes his shine with happiness. Very beautiful. 

Another aspect that makes The Goblin Emperor unique amongst many others is the way that the story is being told. It's done via the third person perspective with the focus on Maia, but Katherine Addison gives a definite interesting tone to the story. Where the majority of the stories that take place in court have a somewhat loose, informal feeling to it, Katherine Addison goes into an opposite direction and produces a very formal story. I haven't encountered such stories very often. Writing the story in a formal way only further bolstered all the hard life and times of the newly young goblin Emperor Maia. It also helped to really draw me in as a reader as you got a laydown of some very fine details that made this court go around, this was very nicely done. 

As for the world itself in which The Goblin Emperor takes place it's again not something you see very often. It has influences of steampunk with the airships and some other little details. Some details make the world very alluring. The only races that make an appearance in The Goblin Emperor are elves and goblins. Often these beings have hints of magic in the system. However this is not the case, there isn't a magic system in the book, no devious wizards that tend to stir the pot a little extra. In building up the world that features in The Goblin Emperor, it comes to show that Katherine Addison invested a lot of time and effort in setting up both the big lines of the story and not forgetting the small and very fine details. This is definitely a world to dream away in. 

With The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison has created a very rich and unique story, I can safely say that I haven't encounter such a story recently. A story wherein the authors dares to go into a new direction by flipping some tables upside down. The Goblin Emperor is a mix of both steampunk themes and epic fantasy, Katherine Addison shows a lot of details from both themes when setting up her story. I for one am always a big fan when an author creates a dynamic world and Katherine Addison's is just that. The story is never dull and the writing style that she uses readily draws you into the world. Next to her engaging writing style Katherine Addison has created a very strong protagonist, that never stops developing a long the way. Maia is a character that a lot of people will be able to relate, the combination of the whole setting, having lost his parents and now being thrown in the depths of the courtly intrigues and the writing style of Katherine Addison really makes you feel sad for Maia as you get a front row seat for all the hard times that he has to go through. All I can say is that you really have to give The Goblin Emperor a try, I think you will be amazed. 


  1. Hi Jasper,

    I've been eyeing this book but my reservation is a comment I read somewhere, that this is a great YA. Is that the tone of the book ? I abhor YA so I'm not sure if I should invest time and $ into this one.


  2. Hi Katt,

    I wouldn't place this book in the YA genre, it might feature a young and naive to be emperor but the themes that Katherine Addison tackles are far more complex that what you would see in YA fiction. The tone that she sets is towards much darker!

    If you do pick it up, please let me know your thoughts!



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