I had this book on my TBR list before CBR10 Bingo came out, purely because it was being read by Kyle McCarley. He’s the narrator for the Super Powereds series by Drew Hayes, so I’ve spent many an hour listening to Kyle’s awesome talent. (Note: none of this book was read in anything close to his normal speaking voice, which I discovered by looking up an interview on YouTube.) The language is often old and formal, with a lot of thee’s and thou’s, which Kyle pairs with an English (?) accent. I was trying to figure out what I was going to read for the Snubbed! category, when lo and behold I discovered that The Goblin Emperor was one such book!
This book starts out by throwing Maia, the half-goblin son of the Emperor of the Elflands, into sudden emperor-dom due to an airship accident, killing his father and the other, preferred heirs to the throne. Maia was the youngest son, the unwanted one, and he had been raised far away from court by an abusive and bitter relative who was being punished, but not so severely as to kill him. Maia has been isolated for his entire life, and so is unprepared to be thrust into the chaos and constant scrutiny that comes with becoming an emperor, let alone at 18. He was raised in isolation, but he remains somewhat isolated, even when surrounded by people.
The elves are the favored race in the empire, and elves have white skin and fair eyes. The goblins, on the other hand, have shades of dark skin and varied eyes. The elvish Emperor of the Elflands reluctantly took on a goblin as his fourth empress for political reasons, and his half-goblin son is what he had to show for it. There are the obvious connotations (are they connotations when they are splayed out in the open?) about the reaction of a white ruling class suddenly being ruled by someone of mixed race. Honestly, it seems that they took it much better in the book than what would happen in reality.
There are some familiar elements and words, but there are far more titles and positions that are completely foreign. And like Maia is being thrown into a new world of court politics and new situations and power, so are we thrown into this universe. It may be easier to grasp in text, and there may be a glossary or something in the book, or family trees or something. And I’m not great with names to begin with, so I was just rolling with it and hoped that I would catch up at some point.
Maia may be Emperor, but we see how little he gets to control his own life. He can make some decisions as Emperor for the petitioners that come to him, but he does not get to control his wardrobe, his schedule, or who is to wed. And yet some of the choices he makes have greater consequences than he realizes at first. He grew up being so far down the social ladder that he did not have any friends, and now he is too high on that same ladder with the same result. He is finally free from his prison that was his childhood home, but he is still imprisoned by his station. He is doing his best to be a good emperor, and some of the things that happen are heartbreaking on a personal level. Maia as the protagonist doesn’t actually get to do much, but the novel is spellbinding with it’s world-building, court intrigue, and character development.
The fulfills the CBR10 Bingo square of “Snubbed!” This was nominated for, but did not win, the 2015 Hugo Award, World Fantasy Award, and Nebula Award.