Been taking time to enjoy a select few of the authors noted on this year’s (controversial) Hugos. I started with The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. Since I don’t have time to actually crack open a book and read ‘ol skool style – I bought an audio version. My intro into Addison’s book started with the crisp British voice of Kyle McCarley which began the story of a half-goblin, Maia, who experiences a sudden ascension to become the Emperor of the Elflands after years in seclusion (mostly due to discrimination because he is half-goblin.)
These were two flags as I don’t like stories about nobility and royalty and I don’t necessarily like stories that may be based in some type of Midieval European world (since I’ve read a whole lot of those already) or about the typical Tolkien world full of goblins, elves, wizards, sorcerers, etc. etc.. It was just the British accent that threw me. So my ability to listen to the story had three false starts where I had to restart the story three times to force myself to get beyond my preferences.
Now on Chapter 27, I am in that enviable phase where I hate to put the book away, where my daily life has become colored in Maia’s Goblin/Elvin world, and where I am so deep inside the main character’s head, Maia, that I can’t bear to be pulled out of it (into my dreary day job).
I’m not the most well-read person on stories about goblins and elves (since, as I stated, its not my preference for fantasy stories), so you can take my opinion for a grain of salt – but I am absolutely enthralled by the story that Addison has created, which, for nearly 20 chapters was mostly embedded in the everyday world of Maia as he attempts to learn how to reign as Emperor despite a childhood bereft of being around the court and the Elflands he now reigns over.
Addison’s carefully drawn world is so detailed with everything from the manner in which Maia is dressed and guarded over to the Byzantine type political meetings that Maia has to sit through day in and day out that you just get lost in it and you begin to feel as if you were in the same room as Maia. I was particularly in awe at how Addison was able to slowly drawl out with a very mild but clearly existent tension, the underlying conflicts of this world as Maia is learning about them.
To make it even more appealing – its clearly an Elvin/Goblin STEAMPUNK world! Wow! Maia is in a place of wonder where the technology of steam and its possibilities are just revealing itself to the world’s denizens. There were points in the story where I marveled incredulously at Maia’s decisions given that he was only 18 and had been raised in a highly secluded environment. His wisdom seemed to expand exponentially and sometimes unbelievably – but still I liked him enough to forgive the questions that came up in my mind.
Her third person point of view is perfect because I’m as ignorant as Maia – though I carry the benefit of our world’s conspiracy theories – as he learns day by day, the inner workings of his world. And with each discovery, I find myself growing more and more a stronger Emperor (whoops – I mean Maia is) – you just get so drawn into Addison’s well drawn strong characterization of Maia.
The narrator, Kyle McCarley, of the Audible version is particularly talented – modulating his voice and characters with each introduction of new characters with zeal and immense personality. His narration was replete with a rich cast of characters, all with their own voices of different tenors and personalities. He definitely does Addison’s story justice. As I’m reaching the end of the story, I’m beginning to feel prematurely the grief I will inevitably feel when I will reach the last “page” of this book. (I like to get the sadness out of the way early).
Addison’s details are most admirable because they are just never boring. How can that be? Sometimes she goes on and on about various discussion during the political business meetings of the various “witnesses” representing different segments of society. And yet I have not gotten bored yet – perhaps because the underlying social, racial, and gender tensions of this world – as seen through Maia’s eyes – are always ever present and interesting to me. I did feel like the novel mostly revolved around the day-to-day activities of Maia outside of two exciting events (and attempted coup and an attempted assassination). Problems in the novel also all too neatly wrapped themselves up towards the ending – and I had the image of myself wrapping a bow over a gift as I rounded the last few chapters of the novel.
Nevertheless, I think the Goblin Emperor is a true work of art, well done with a carefully crafted world and a very likeable main character that a reader can get themselves lost in – while learning a thing or two about various societal issues that exist in all of our lives. Well done Katherine Addison!