Sunday 13 October 2019

#CBR11 Book 73: "The Goblin Emperor" by Katherine Addison

Page count: 448 pages
Rating: 3.5 star

Official description:
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 na├»ve 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.

I'm not sure it would come as a surprise to anyone reading my reviews that I am an introvert, and even before I had a child, who now requires me to spend a lot of time at home, I would tend to prefer curling up on the sofa, either binge watching something or reading. While I work as a teacher (which works fine, because I know and am comfortable with my colleagues, and I am in control of the interactions in my classroom), I also suffer from social anxiety and find going out and meeting new people faintly terrifying. Frankly, going out and spending close friends requires a lot of mental preparation, trying to interact with strangers can be quite the ordeal for me.

Nevertheless, most of my real life friends are either very busy raising their own little humans, so we don't get to hang out much, or they live far away in other countries, sometimes on other continents, and that can lead to me feeling lonely on occasion. So my father in law, who is also an introvert with even worse social anxiety than me, set me a challenge and gave me "homework" the last time he and my mother in law visited us. I was to socialise with someone I hadn't really spent much time with before, and I needed to go out and join something new, without the support of my husband or an existing friend.

Step one, I managed by going to dinner with my new work team, where most of my colleagues are either new to the school entirely or ones I've never worked closely with before. It was lovely, even though I was nervous before going. My second, and scarier step, was joining something new. The fantasy/sci-fi/comics/nerd stuff shop in Oslo has a monthly book club, which has been running for years now. I've followed their Facebook page on and off, occasionally considering joining, but have always found excuses as to why I couldn't do it. Now, needing to find a new thing that didn't terrify me too much, I determined to finally go to a meeting. After all, hanging out with nerds who like books, even if all of them are strangers, couldn't be too horrible, right? The book of the month for September was this one, The Goblin Emperor, which had been on my TBR list for years. It was pretty much a sign from the universe.

Of course, by the time the book club met, I had, thank to a series of complicating factors in my life, only read the first twenty percent of the book or so. I forced myself to go anyway, and had a great time, discovering that I wasn't even the only new person there and that the veteran members were really happy about new recruits. Everyone was very welcoming and according to them, this was the first book in as long as anyone could remember they actually spent the whole hour discussing, without fairly rapidly digressing into other nerd topics, like comics, TV shows and movies.

Now, having sat in on a discussion of the book before I was even halfway through it, probably didn't exactly help motivate me to then pick the book back up and keep reading. I already knew the major beats of the plot and as several people in the book group pointed out, there's a lot of complicated court stuff going on, with the reader not really getting all the information they might want, since we only get the point of view of Maia, our young and deeply inexperienced protagonist, who has lived most of his life exiled to a small rural estate, only accompanied by an alcoholic, abusive, bullying cousin. Neither Maia, nor anyone else, ever expected him to become emperor, and he is wholly unprepared and has never received any of the training or education required. In one way, it's a good way of explaining to the reader, we know as little as Maia. But it is also inappropriate for him to have in depth conversations with his new servants, bodyguards and subjects, we are restricted in our knowledge about everyone else in the plot.

There is also a huge cast of characters in the book, who are difficult to tell apart because they are frequently referred to by different nicknames or titles in different scenes, making it really confusing and sometimes frustrating to keep track. There is a comprehensive guide to characters and a pronunciation guide at the start of the book, but as everyone is listed by full name, not necessarily title or nickname, it's not as helpful as it could have been.

I had a lot going on both at work and at home while reading this book, and a rather slow and intricate description of court life, spanning hundreds of pages with long stretches of not much happening (except descriptions of ceremonial garb, jewelry, courtly etiquette etc) failed to hold my attention. Seriously, every so often, there will be something very exciting happening, like a kidnapping, or an attempted coup, or an assassination attempt, but for the majority of this book, this is an exploration of a young man trying to learn to be a good ruler, in a very complicated and tradition bound society.

I suspect that if I read this at another time, my rating of it would be higher. Maybe I'll give it a re-read in a while to see. The principal characters were all very enjoyable and the world building is fascinating, so I'll be very excited to see what Katherine Addison does next.

Judging a book by its cover: I really like this cover, where the elaborate palace is also the crown on the goblin's head (possibly hinting at just how heavy the weight of responsibilities is for our young and inexperienced new ruler). The airship to the right hints at the sort of steampunky elements of the story. I think this whole design works.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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