One of the truly loveliest fantasies I read this year was The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. This one came highly recommended to me on a facebook group where I asked for non-grimdark, political intrigue fantasy. The recommender really hit the mark, and I recommend it to any lover of fantasy! It’s steampunk but not in-your-face about it, bittersweet but not everything-is-s*** like grimdark, and it’s also an award winner! It won the 2015 Locus Award (and was also nominated for the 2014 Nebula and the Hugo 2015 awards). Since the Locus award is on the CBR list of approved awards, I’m counting this one as my tick in the #Award Winner bingo square.
The book is about Maia, the half-elf, half-goblin son of the Elven emperor. He’s the youngest son of four, sent away from court with his mother when young. After Maia’s mother died, he lived with a distant cousin, knowing full well that he will never be close to power or a favorite at court. Until his father and three brothers are killed in a freak steamship accident, leaving Maia as the only remaining heir to the throne. He is made emperor without knowing any of the political intricacies or etiquette of the elven court. And when he finds out that the steamship accident that killed his family was not an accident, he suspects someone might be out to kill him, too. The only problem is, there are just so many people who would rather he were dead…
This is not a book about fantasy war or struggles for power, even though Maia’s life is under threat and he is continually entangled in political intrigues with the remaining imperial family and high-ranking officials at court. It is, quite simply, about Maia’s search for happiness. He is a young man who has been abused much of his life, who was loved only by his mother, and who desperately seeks meaningful relationships with others.
I really loved this one, and I’d definitely count it among my best fantasy reads this year (possibly in the last five years). Maia was an utterly compelling protagonist and there is a lot of deliciously complex political intrigue here, which is very much my jam. The names were a little tricky; there are several that sound similar, or some characters who have the same family names, and it can be difficult trying to remember exactly what political alliances or connections certain characters have. If you prefer sword fights and showy magic, this might not be the right read for you, but if you just want a quiet book with an actually sympathetic main character, this comes highly recommended.