Sunday recs: The Goblin Emperor

A novel for today’s Sunday recs:

I just read Katherine Addison’s novel The Goblin Emperor and was, quite frankly, blown away. I haven’t loved a novel this much in ages! It was the perfect escape amidst a very busy couple of weeks. I may or may not have uttered a “noooooo” when I realised the story was done and the rest was appendix-type stuff.

Things that I especially loved:

  • The main character, Maia. Ohhhh Maia! I love characters who strive to be good, and Maia really does. He is also just so endearing in his awkwardness. <3
  • The use of language! In addition to writing really compelling prose, Addison appealed to Linguist Me by having the elves’ language (represented as English) include a distinction between formal and informal 1st and 2nd person pronouns. Such a lovely detail, and so revealing of their politeness culture. I especially enjoyed that at first the reader has to start figuring it out themself. Also: the “early modern English” features (thou/thee, etc.) were all grammatically correct! This is especially awesome because so many people do weird shit with pseudo-Shakespearean language. In Addison’s hands it felt natural instead of stilted.
  • It was so optimistic! And not in a saccharine way – just, people were decent, and the ending made me so happy.

My only sorrow is that this is a standalone. I really hope Addison writes something else set in this world… I would’ve wanted to learn more especially about Maia’s betrothed.

It’s interesting that the novel seems to be classified as steampunk. I suppose it shouldn’t be so surprising to me – after all, TGE includes developing steam/clockwork-powered machinery and revolution – but this book is just so different from any steampunk I’ve ever read. While reading I was just like “well this is a great high fantasy -esque novel with a post-medieval society, yay”.

I do urge you to try out The Goblin Emperor though, especially if you’re in the mood for optimistic fantasy! I read this as an ebook as part of my Hugo voting packet, but I ordered the paperback halfway through the book because I want to treasure this thing as a physical object as well.


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