The Goblin Emperor

Katherine Addison's novel The Goblin Emperor was published almost ten years ago, but I hadn't come across it before. It was a recommendation from author Francis Spufford; I know we share very similar taste in books because I was captivated by his 2002 memoir, The Child That Books Built. So I was pretty sure I was onto a winner, and so I was.

The Goblin Emperor is high fantasy, set in a steampunk world of airships, pneumatic messages, elves (white skinned and blue eyed) and goblins (dark skinned and orange eyed). When Maia's father, the emperor, and his three older brothers are all killed in an airship explosion, this eighteen year old half-goblin finds himself unexpectedly ascending to the throne and having to negotiate the intricacies of court intrigues and competing political interests. As Spufford says, Maia succeeds by 'being nice to everyone,' and while it's not quite as simple as that, the story is all the more satisfying for having a solid moral heart of kindness.

The world building underpinning this novel is extraordinary -- trade, language, formal courtesies, food, technology, racism -- nothing is forgotten (there is an extensive glossary at the back of the book and some helpful notes, which I wish I'd read at the beginning). The Goblin Emperor is filed under adult fantasy in my local library, but it could easily be a young adult book (except there's not much sex or romance, which seems to be mandatory for YA books these days), or even a sophisticated older primary reader who would love to be immersed in this complete, complex world.

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