Friday, July 17, 2015

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

The Goblin Emperor is the fifth Nebula nominated novel I'm reading this year.  Katherine Addison is a pseudonym for Sarah Monette, a prolific author but one I do not remember reading without looking it up. 

The book itself is billed as a court intrigue novel, and that it is.  Pretty much all it is.  But perhaps some expectation setting is in order.  Let's compare this with the Song of Ice and Fire series, though this one is not nearly so ambitious...

In Westeros, the rulers seem to pretty much have no rules, and blood runs freely.  The weak and even not so weak get knocked off in gruesome fashion.  The magic is rare but grandiose--there are dragons. 

By contrast, Ethuveraz is a quiet country. The world is peopled with elves and goblins (the latter from Barzhin) but this is pretty much a cover--a way to talk about races with only as much of the freighting of black and white (goblins are black, elves white) as the author wishes.  Worst case scenarios run to banishment--while there are scenes of violence and attempts on the protagonist's life, they just don't seem serious.  While the central episode of the book is the assassination of the emperor and all his family but one--our protagonist Maia, banished at birth from the court--the blood and gore do not resonate in everyday life.  Magic is present but just barely.

This is a tale of court intrigue in something close to the Great Britain of the 19th century.  The technology is positioned there, with the inexplicable exception that airships have been invented but cars have not.  Our protagonist is thrust totally unprepared into the emperor role, and spends most of the book regretting what he does not know.  He is despised by many (his mother was a goblin princess) but seems to grow on all who meet him in spite of his awkwardness. 

The intrigue of the story is undergirded by a sense of the stability of the country.  Not much is really going to go wrong.  So the story is mostly about a rather unassuming, caring person thrust into a role of power and making his way. 

Not a lot of roiling excitement--it's hard to say how a peaceful and prosperous reign makes a story--but here we have one.  And it seems to be well regarded--it's on the World Fantasy Award list as well.  I give it 3 stars, solid but not that exciting.

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