The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
I’m delighted to report that The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison has a premise that’s truly original. While plenty of fantasy books have trod the territory of the half-human, half-elf moaning about his semiimmortal lot, I’ve never before seen a book where the main character has to cope with being half elf, half goblin.
The Goblin Emperor opens when the emperor of the Elflands and his three sons die in a freak airship accident. (Yeah, right, it was an accident.) The emperor’s unwanted half-goblin fourth son, Maia Drazhara, legally is next in line for the throne.
Maia is thrust into an Elvish court he’s utterly unprepared for. He has to consolidate his power, deal with racist courtiers, and spearhead a murder investigation for his father and half-brothers. Oddly enough, the world of the Elvish court is a refreshing break from Westeros. Maia’s not an idiot, and when he meets some genuinely good people at the court, they band together to form a functioning government.
The worldbuilding! Addison drops in so many casual references to the broader world that the place feels vast. What are these lion girls that the pirates like so much? Addison hints at winds of social change when Maia meets a woman on the crew of an airship. Most of the supporting characters could handle novels of their own. I have to give special props to Thara Celehar, the priest of Ulis with a dark and troubled past. His clerichood gives him the power to speak with the dead, which he uses to solve mysteries. A priest detective. That’s cooler than sharks with laser beams.
I hesitate to call this book steampunk because Addison uses such a light touch. Yes, there’s airships and an automaton unicorn, but Addison remembers there’s social issues to the Industrial Revolution as well, such as the exploitation of factory workers. The technology serves the people of the story, not the other way around, and there’s mercifully not a single pair of brass goggles to be found.
I have a few quibbles with the book. When I read about Emperor Edrehasivar VII, son of Varenechibel IV, who lives at the Alcethmeret and takes audiences at the Michen’theleian, I mentally cut out all the syllables in the middle as if it was Worchestershire. And … damn. I was going to have another quibble, but I don’t have one. This was a very good book.