The Goblin EmperorThe Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

pretty good! a promising start to a new series.*

our hero, young half-goblin/half-elf and 100% discarded fourth-in-line to the throne, Maia, wakes up one day in his dreary exile to find that his father the emperor and two elder half-brothers have all been killed in a horrible zeppelin accident. yikes!

Maia has alas not been well-prepared for the role, and anyway he’s only 18. old enough for the mantle, awfully young for the responsibility. he knows zip about court manners, current intrigues, who hates whom and why, or even the layout of the court buildings. yikes!

Addison does a very good job of painting his fish-out-of-water-ness. you really feel for the guy. it would be like being tossed into a foreign culture: you can’t help but be constantly offending people, saying stupid things, picking up the wrong fork at the table, and generally every day ends in a long list of Fail.

Maia does make a couple of allies, some mandatory and some serendipitous, but he also makes some nasty enemies, and all will come into play as the intrigue unfolds.

Addison also creates some interesting linguistic aspects to Maia’s world: forms of address and title, as well as things having generally no correlate in our world. i like it when authors do this–i especially love when they add words signifying concepts we haven’t got in English, like the name for those who are required by law to commit suicide, and the rituals attendant upon that. i like it for the same reasons i loved studying foreign languages: because every new concept expands my world.

but in this book, the forms of address and titling get rather cumbersome. it’d be totally ok if paying attention to them added something to the plot, but the super-clarity of rank doesn’t really add much here. adding three or four bits-n-bobs to a person’s name, on top of the already extensive cast list, makes it rather a slog to remember who’s who, particularly when a lot of the names skew pretty close.

that’s a relatively minor thing, though. what’s not is what’s missing.

i think Addison really missed an opportunity in the romance department. Maia is of course unmarried when he’s precipitously crowned, and of course must get married PDQ in order to fire up the heir factory. he’s given a list of suitables and picks one. this is, i must stress, not unusual in this world… but it would have been nice if he and his intended didn’t get along so quickly.

but the bigger missing piece is in Maia himself. he’s just such a nice guy. he’s got issues, to be sure, from having been dumped by daddy with only a nasty cur of a guardian, but he gets over most of those pretty quickly. he spends the rest of the book trying to a) not get killed and b) do good. his version of good is pretty modern, too, far more forward-looking than his peers.

it would have been far more interesting if he had a serious Dark Side and did some wrestling with it. i would have liked to see him do a few bad things along with the good. i mean, here’s this 18-year-old who has been spat on, if not worse, most of his days… and suddenly, He Has The Power. all of it. i have a hard time imagining anyone under those circumstances not making a shitty decision or two. or three. isn’t that what you do when you’re 18, even if you’ve been reared in the most loving possible home? of course you do. you’re 18.

so ya, i think there were some missed opportunities there. i’m sure Maia will have more interesting dilemmas in the next book, more opportunities to fail, more good to do. but he’s going to get pretty milquetoast if he doesn’t develop some internal conflicts and have to wrestle them to the dirt.

* I STAND CORRECTED: i’m informed that this is not a series start per se–that although there will be new works in the world, Maia won’t be starring in them.

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