Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor starts off in territory similar to that of Jemisin’s Hundred Thousand Kingdoms—a young outsider, raised in exile from the court, is summoned back to it after a tragedy, and has to navigate unfamiliar intrigues after being thrust into a position of power.
The similarity doesn’t go too far past that, because whereas Jemisin’s novel is one of dark gods and ancient secrets, Addison’s is a coming-of-age novel. Or maybe not quite that—a coming-to-power novel? It’s about someone learning how to do what needs to be done, and becoming who they need to be.
This is a very satisfying plot, and I tore through the book in a day. If I’m to be critical, I’ll note that it’s all very familiar, and doesn’t transcend its genre. Does our hero have an affinity for the common people that is rare for someone in his position? Yep. Does he wish for his relationships with people to be personal and meaningful and not merely as required by formality and duty? Sure thing.
In a way, the biggest flaw of the book is that it never quite lives up to its title—it certainly seems like it ought to be a big deal that a half-goblin is taking the throne of an elvish empire, and the book sets it up as a potential problem, but mostly it just never matters. Sure, there are are people who oppose him for various reasons, but basically never because of his race. It’s more an element thrown into the background to explain his position than anything that matters for the story itself. I think the book could have risen above its breezy familiarity if it had done more with that element.
Still, if this doesn’t rise above its genre, it’s nevertheless an enjoyable court intrigue fantasy. Recommended.