Read-along: The Goblin Emperor

The Goblin Emperor - A Wyrd and Wonder Read-along

Until yesterday, Maia Drazhar was the youngest, least-loved, half-banished hobgoblin son of the Emperor of the Elflands. Today, everything will change. But are the Elflands ready for a goblin emperor?

Welcome to the Wyrd and Wonder Read-along! This year, Lisa of Dear Geek Place has picked a book that is highly acclaimed and much loved – but not as universally read as you might expect. Following a gorgeous new UK release (to join the glorious US cover art visible in our banner), this seemed like the perfect time to enjoy a modern classic with our favourite band of fantasy readers.

Lisa is our host for this read-along, posing questions mid-week for us to blog and chat about each weekend. So, let’s get started…

The first thing that struck me about this book is the formality in the way the characters speak. What do you think of this style? Do you enjoy it?

I have a helpless moment of pure fear whenever a fantasy author starts rolling out the thees and thous, because a shocking number somehow get them wrong. No such fear here: Katherine Addison’s use of language is beautiful. She’s unafraid to roll out complex sentences and archaic terms and does so with aplomb; and I love that she nails that thee and thou were the informal modes of address, which almost everyone gets wrong.

The reader, much like Maia in his newfound role, is given very little time to get comfortable before being thrown in at the deep end. How do you feel about this approach to the story? Does it help you to empathise with the newly ascended Emperor?

The first time I read The Goblin Emperor, I didn’t find the Traveller’s Guide to the Elflands – or the notes on pronunciation. I tripped over a passage I’d highlighted in which Maia tells a story about a famous maza who dies tragically in defence of his Emperor (and oh, Maia. So desperate for your father’s approval, and so clearly aware it will take literal magic – if not death – to win it) and my plaintive first-time reading note is ‘I should be enjoying this but I’m drowning in vooooooowels‘. To be fair, I wasn’t in a great place that weekend and by the end of the day, The Goblin Emperor had gone a long way to restoring me – but it was a difficult start.

This time around, I’d page backwards from where the Kindle edition automatically opens (beginning of chapter 1) to take a picture of the cover art. OH LOOK. SO MANY THOUGHTFUL HELPFUL NOTES. Ah, Past Me, should’ve checked the table of contents before diving in. I never learn.

None of this stopped me feeling for Maia from the beginning. I think it does help that he’s at sea, but it also helps that he’s reflective, conscientious and compassionate: a total cinnamon roll, in fact. I can’t imagine not liking him, and Setheris is such an asshat I immediately felt protective of him too. Stir in Maia’s overwhelm and isolation, and it’s a brilliant way to get me on side.

Too many cooks spoil the political broth, or so it seems. Are there any characters in particular who stand out to you as being the most potentially troublesome? And on the other hand, who catches your attention as being unusually (potentially) helpful?

The machinery of the Imperial Court is so clearly unhappy to see Maia on the throne. Chavar in particular, although I wonder how much of his sweeping presumption is due to active disrespect for Maia vs his natural mode when unchecked by crushing authority. I suspect this is how the rest of the Court always sees him behave, and an inexperienced young man from the provinces – let alone a diffident half-goblin young man – probably doesn’t even register on his radar. Not that I’m letting Chavar off the hook for being racist – pretty sure he is – I just don’t think it’s the only asshattery he routinely engages in.

I loved his shock when Maia asserted himself, although not half so much as I loved the scene in which Maia firmly and coolly put the Widow Empress Csoru in her place. She has trouble written all over her, and I thought his handling of her was brilliant. He may not have much court experience, but he’s clearly learnt a lot from Setheris (asshat) (yes, I’m going to add that every time I mention Setheris, I make no apology for my partiality).

Last call goes to Csevet, who is remarkably helpful from the get-go. Remarkably. As I’ve read this before, I’ll save my remarks for now. Oh, maybee I won’t, I’ve got to say this: I adore that when Csevet brings the news to Edonomee and Setheris (asshat) makes no effort to grant Maia his newly-bestowed honors, Csevet so gently but deliberately makes a point of saying Serenity to emphasise it. He’s unfailingly kind and supportive here, and I’m so pleased that someone was there for Maia.

See also: the nohecharei, who are adorable. Yes, even Beshelar with that judgemental stick up his ass – he may disapprove of everything (thanks, Bee) but I love his quietly fierce emphasis that he and Cala are Maia’s First Nohecharei.

So the late emperor was killed deliberately, and now Chavar effectively has control of the investigation. I have to know: do you suspect him at all of being involved in the incident?

…hilariously, I can’t recall who was behind the incident, but I don’t suspect Chavar. He’s an arrogant over-privileged bully, no doubt, but his power derives from the Emperor. Although I could see an argument for him conspiring to put the teenage nephew on the throne as a puppet, I’m not sure why now rather than when the nephew was a young child. So no, I don’t suspect him.

What are your other thoughts/feelings/first impressions?

I under-rated this book. Coming back to it, I’ve realised this is one of my all-time favourite reads. It’s immersive, the characters mean so very much to me, and I love what it chooses to focus on and how it chooses to explore those things. It’s so personal. Sure, it’s about an emperor and therefore about affairs of state, but it’s not about gods and dragons and saving the world: it’s about trying to be a good leader in difficult circumstances, and remaining true to who you are. Ahoy, the Feelings Boat!

The Archives

But wait, this is a read-along – what did the rest of the party have to say?

Watch out for the Twitter chat this evening on @WyrdAndWonder and #TheGoblinEmperor