Read-along: The Goblin Emperor – week three

The Goblin Emperor - A Wyrd and Wonder Read-along

As winter deepens in Cetho, Maia fumbles through social engagements and retreats from matters of government, beset by feelings of inadequacy. There are hints the people behind the titles are less daunting than they seem, but the lonely Emperor needs friends as much as allies…

Welcome back to the Wyrd and Wonder Read-along! This third week has given my heart strings a thorough tugging as our cinnamon roll struggles to come to terms with his isolation as well as twin surprises of shocking betrayal and unexpected support. Lisa of Dear Geek Place is our host for this read-along, so let’s take a look at the questions she posed this week… (‘ware spoilers)

This week opens with a very candid, yet significantly warmer than most, conversation between Maia and Arbelan, and from there things begin to change as Maia learns to act with more confidence. Do you think Arbelan’s kinder treatment of him is what sparks this, and if so, how much of an impact do you think it had?

…I don’t. Maia offers Arbelan unexpected courtesy and kindness, and she responds in kind; but he remains awkward and insecure in other contexts. Our poor Emperor is no more comfortable in society nor in dealing with the Corazhas (for all Arbelan’s support and Berenar’s coaching). While I don’t think her friendship is transformative, I’m grateful for its much-needed comfort, a space in his week where he can relax in the company of someone he knows will not judge him.

Likewise, I loved that Maia’s response to rumours that certain sections of the court were a little too interested in matters of succession is to meet his nephew Idra (and I think that friendly gesture pays dividends later on); and I was in stitches with the unexpected, slightly cheeky support offered by cousin Cora in handling Csoru. Maia is not alone.

For me, the turning point is his judgement on the dispute between the Prince of Thu-Cethor, the Dorashada and the township of Nelozho. His epiphany that he can’t make everyone happy and is under no obligation – nor would it be just – to make any one faction happy is liberating. Consequently, he makes a sensible, grown-up judgement none can argue with. Setheris (asshat), for all his faults, drilled Maia in logic and law (even as he told him he was a failure at both), but this is the first time Maia puts that to practice and realises he might actually be quite good at (some of) his job.

It’s notable to me that he is driven partly by frustration and by the conviction that everyone is at fault: it helps him set aside his fear of being disliked. Subsequently, we see his curiosity (with the help of some wine) help him break through his reserve at Marquess Lanthevel’s dinner – and unintentionally win the regard (if not necessarily the support) of senior members of court.

The river bridge scheme proves to be a delightful plot point to push a lot of character interaction forward, as well as opening up the scope of this world. Were you surprised by the developments involving Lord Pashavar?

Not surprised (as a rereader), but I love the space created for Lanthevel’s dinner party. Weeks at court can be glossed over, but we get a chapter lavished on this intimate event and it reveals that some very intimidating characters are people too: friends, who tease one another and are willing to tease (and be teased by) the Emperor. We also get an unexpected side serve of world-building which serves to underline Maia’s faith and compassion. He is such an idealist; but I think it’s the rational arguments he backs that up with that impress Pashavar.

…what I really like about Pashavar though (along with his sharp sense of humour) is that he is both willing to listen and to grant Maia the support he needs to be heard by others without being won over himself. He respectfully disagrees that bridging the Istandaärtha is feasible, but – unlike, say, Chavar – he will not block Maia (or in this case the clocksmiths) from making their case. Good man.

The other part of this scene that stands out for me is the vicious exchange between Dach’osmin Lanthevin and Osmerrem Pashavar about a woman’s duties (and their hints about Csethiro Ceredin). Ah, the patriarchy will take some smashing. Someone pass Maia a hammer, will you? Or better, give it to Csethiro and Dach’osmin Lanthevin and he can cheer them on.

Like a train gathering steam, a great deal of plot drama happens here. Let’s talk about Sheveän and Chavar. Were you surprised by their gambit? And how do you feel about the way it all played out (ie. Idra’s decision to put his foot down)?

So sadly unsurprised by them – they are so stupid as conspirators go – but delighted, always, by Idra, and delighted also by how completed his resistance wrongfoots them and how quickly everything then unravels.

The bit that entirely undoes me, though, is Maia’s interview with the Witness for the Emperor (and isn’t it wonderful that the river judgement means we know what a Witness vel ama is, and that this is applied to the Emperor?). All his insecurities are laid bare here, along with his fear for his life and his uncertainty of being supported. Throughout this act (see also: the interview with Hesero) Maia’s pained exposure is punctuated by small, deliberate acts of kindness by Cala and Kiru (HE GOT A LADY NOHECHARO HOT DAMN) and small explosions from Beshelar.

…and this, folks, is why I adore Beshelar. He has a stick up his judgemental ass but he will FITE YOU for his Emperor and he is appalled to find that Maia doubted it. Dazhis’s betrayal is surprising (and oh, so selfish); but the other nohecharei are a joy.

We get another surprising turnaround from Ceredin, Maia’s intended empress-to-be, as well. What are your thoughts on her by the end of these chapters, compared to her initial impression?

Speaking of people who will FITE YOU for their Emperor… there are several hints this week that Csethiro Ceredin is also going to be a joy. Yes, she was remote and disapproving at Nurevis’s parties (but then: there’s her fiancé flirting with an opera singer) and coldly dutiful at public ceremonies. But we are told the Ceredada women have foolish, progressive ideas and there’s a strong indication she knows the much-maligned goblin arts of duelling – and would rather like to run Sheveän through.

Oh yes, this one is fierce and intemperate (her hilarious comment that Min Vechin has the sense not to frighten Maia; I’m still not entirely sure how aware she is of how intimidating she can be) – and, apparently, loyal. We already know she’s academically inclined – it seems to me that she and Maia will be a perfect match, once they have some privacy to get to know one another.

Last thoughts for this week: Maia’s capacity for forgiveness (of Dazhis, of Setheris) and his inner battle to hold true to that in spite of the ultimate provocation stands out for me. For me, The Goblin Emperor – for all its court dramas – is a fantasy of personality; whether Maia’s elevation will break him or whether he will be able to remain his essential self whilst rising to the office. And it gives me ALL the feels.

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