Read-along: The Goblin Emperor – week four

The Goblin Emperor - A Wyrd and Wonder Read-along

A state visit by the forcefully impressive Great Avar is the cue for social events, family gossip and alcohol-fuelled discussions that could have international ramifications. But as the hunt for the former Emperor’s murderers narrows in on the culprits, how to talk to goblins at parties may be the least of Maia’s worries…

Welcome back to the Wyrd and Wonder Read-along! This final week is quite the rollercoaster – I couldn’t resist jumping aboard early and screaming to the finish, and having done so I am exhausted with the most delightful feelings. I love this book; it is even better on a reread and will surely be revisited again in future when I need the literary equivalent of a big hug.

So, let’s talk about the final act of The Goblin Emperor. As ever, our host Lisa of Dear Geek Place has posed us some questions to mull over…

Let’s start with Maia’s grandfather! What do you think of the Avar, and his budding relationship with Maia?

I am here for it. The Avar is a fascinating character: physically huge, a political heavyweight, and historically a bit ruthless. But we meet an older man than the one who abandoned his daughter to a loveless marriage thanks to shitty patriarchal traditions, and it’s clear that he has regrets (whether he’ll admit to that or not) and a great deal of love for his family.

He’s forceful, but he’s not always direct. I loved the scene in which Maia’s younger aunt Nadeian tells him about his runaway pirate aunt (hallo yes please can we hear more about Aunt Shaleän). On the one hand, Nadeian seems to be worried she’ll say too much and anger her father; but I got the distinct impression in a roundabout way that the Avar is fiercely proud of his seafaring daughter. He’s a little too happy that Maia refers to the carving on his gift box as a glorious dragon (the name of Shaleän’s ship).

The Avar shamelessly bullies everyone around him – I also loved the scene where the Avar told Csevet to back off Maia’s diary so he could have some time to himself… to do what the Avar had planned for him instead. Don’t get me wrong, I think Maia taking up horse-riding will be a brilliant leisure pursuit (and one Csethiro will likely enjoy pursuing with him), but the irony was far from lost on me (or, I think, Maia).

Overall though, it’s clear the cantankerous old leader grows to love his grandson over the course of his visit. He’s shamelessly in town to check Maia out, and he likes what he sees. And Maia? Maia comes to appreciate that he has a large and loving family – and that he doesn’t have to be cut off from them. It’s the best gift of all.

Another plot against Maia is foiled… Were you surprised by the reveal of Tethimar as the one behind the late emperor’s murder? And what are your thoughts on this reveal, in light of the way this part of the story played out?

In some ways, I think the subplot of who killed the Emperor Varenechibel is a bit of a red herring. I loved that everyone was so focused on it in the first week of the read-along (and I’ve adored the conspiracy theories), but it’s almost incidental to the larger themes of The Goblin Emperor. For me, making the creepy nobleman with the horrifying backstory the villain sort of underscores this. After all, all Tethimar needed was a moustache to stroke or a t-shirt with Wicked embroidered on it.

And what a rubbish villain he turns out to be under pressure. Having orchestrated his intricate plot, he goes off the rails completely when it unravels. Did he really think he’d be able to just walk up to Maia and stab him? Did he think he would get to walk away from that? Tethimar seems to me the least likely person to embrace a suicide mission; although I suppose he might see it as the lesser evil to revethvoran.

But arguably he too is a red herring: the real villain is the rather more interesting Mer Shulivar with his radical ideas. Tethimar may think he’s using the Curneisei, but Shulivar is the one who pulls the strings in the end. I wasn’t entirely certain he (unlikely Tethimar) remembered Maia would inherit; that he tells Maia he did it all to put him on the throne may be the simple truth, but Shulivar is as manipulative as they come. I’d as easily believe that he says it purely to challenge any ideas Maia might have about bloodright and make him uncomfortable. Poor Maia.

I love that there are multiple socialist movements within this highly-structured fantasy society, from the innocuous Cetho Workers’ League to the terrorist Curneisei. We’re given enough reason to see why they’re needed: this steampunk empire works children to death in factories, and its wealth is hoarded by a powerful minority. The lace so fine it sends its weavers blind is just one of many horrors underpinning the pageantry of the Court.

…and Maia, of course, is deeply uncomfortable with all these inequities. You can’t condone murder, but Shulivar is right: he has – intentionally or not – put someone on the throne who may in fact bring about the sort of change Shulivar dreams of – or at least get the empire headed in the right direction.

For all of the enmity that’s shown to him, our emperor has a much more hopeful nickname by the end… Looking back, are you satisfied with/pleased by the way Maia handled all of these situations in which he had to make or break relationships? Was there anything you were left questioning or that you feel should have gone differently?

Not really – I do feel The Goblin Emperor is a bit too neat and tidy in some ways, but it leaves me so very satisfied overall that I refuse to criticise it for that. And I like that while Maia ends in a much stronger, happier position than he begins, we still leave him at the beginning of his reign. There will surely be many challenges ahead and I hope we’ll find out what some of those may be in The Witness for the Dead, although I understand that will be set during Maia’s reign rather than about Maia directly. Will we get to see Mer Celehar in his new role? We’ll have to wait and see.

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