The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison, has been on my to-read list for a while. This is partly due to seeing generally positive things about it in many places, and partly because Katherine Addison was previously known as Sarah Monette. Sarah Monette wrote Melusine, which I read and thoroughly enjoyed, but by the time I discovered this, the remaining three novels in the series were annoyingly out of print.* The Goblin Emperor finally got bumped up to the top of the list after reading this review by Justin Landon, which mentioned both that it’s a work of genius, and, more importantly, that the protagonist, Maia, is actually nice.
As Landon observes, good-person protagonists are an increasing rarity in spec-fic. One of the other books I read recently was God’s War (Bel Dame Apocrypha #1), by Kameron Hurley. It too, in a different way, is an excellent book, but it’s a grim read, and protagonist Nyx is a long way from any descriptor like “nice” or “good”. I freely admit that I prefer my reading matter a bit on the positive side, and recently that seems to have been in short supply.
Anyway. I started out on The Goblin Emperor, and I fell in love, ooh, about three pages in. Maybe two. I galloped greedily and joyously through the first 3/4 of it, and then I slowed way down in the despairing knowledge that it was going to run out, and there are no sequels or anything (yet? please let it be ‘yet’). Then I did come to the end, and I stared thoughtfully at my Kindle, and then I hit the “go to start” button and I read it all over again. I managed not to read it a third time after that, but it was a close-run thing.
For a more thorough review, try Strange Horizons or The Book Smugglers or Tor (spoiler: they all loved it too). But what did I love about it? I loved the detailed world-building (airships and court politics and social structures and all the rest of it), and the gradual reveal of new parts and new aspects to existing parts. It’s beautifully handled, with confusion created and resolved at just the right rate. I loved Maia, the protagonist. (I really loved Maia.) He is, as Landon said, genuinely a good person. Not a perfect person; but someone trying to do their best, trying to do good in the world. I loved the racial and gender politics; again, beautifully and lightly handled. I loved the court politics and the wonderfully-observed government structures. I loved the interpersonal relationships. I also loved that it didn’t go for the “race to the grim” option; bad things happen, but they don’t feel gratuitous, and they don’t feel like the author is trying to demonstrate how TOUGH they are**.
Above everything else, I loved the feel of it; as several of the reviewers above mention, it is a warm, satisfying book that left me feeling better about the world.
I cannot recommend this highly enough, if you’re remotely into fantasy. And I really, desperately hope that there’s a sequel. In the meantime, I might just have to read it again.
* After reading this book, I now finally have them all on their way second-hand.
** I have this beef with quite a few recent spec-fic novels.