By Katherine Addison
Available now from Tor (Macmillan)
THE GOBLIN EMPEROR grabbed me tight and didn't let me go until it finished. Not an easy feat for a book with approximately one half of an action scene in over four hundred pages. That doesn't mean the scope of the book is small - the health of an entire empire is on the line, as civil war and external war both loom on the horizon.
Maia was the youngest and least favored son of the emperor. He's half goblin and not exactly attractive by court standards, to top it off. When his father and brothers die in an accident shortly before his eighteenth birthday, he his unexpectedly crowned emperor. Given his youth and isolated childhood, he's ill prepared to take the throne. That doesn't mean, however, that Maia is prepared to roll over and be a puppet. He's critical of his father's rule and determined to do better, but he'll need to find allies he can trust if he's going to figure out how to make "better" happen.
Katherine Addison is a new penname of Sarah Monette. I've read her novels as Monette, but I didn't know she had something like THE GOBLIN EMPEROR in her. It has the elegant descriptions I expected, but it works in a way The Doctrine of Labyrinths didn't work for me. Part of that is Maia himself. He's a terrific central character, thoughtful, clever, but perhaps a bit too trusting and with a potential for cruelty. And cruelty is a bad trait to be seeded in an emperor.
I quite liked the other characters too. Maia has bodyguards that must constantly be with him, as well as a secretary who is far below him in class and rank but far above him in interpreting the people of the court. He also has a fiancee, because he must guarantee the succession. I wished for more of their awkward courtship, although I understood the book already had so much going on. But it was quite fascinating to see two people who don't want to get married attempt to make overtures to each other.
And, okay, while there's only half an outright action scene, there is tons of intrigue. I love me some intrigue. There is backstabbing, opportunism, trade disagreements, fear of progress, and more. It's delicious. I could eat it up with a spoon, and I did.
I felt that the ending of THE GOBLIN EMPEROR came too soon. There is a resolution, a true indication of the type of ruler Maia will be, but honestly I could've spent five hundred pages more with these characters in this world. I would give my left arm for a sequel. (I will, however, need my right arm to turn the pages.)