Review: The Goblin Emperor

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.



After realising just how much tissue paper I was going through with my cyclist’s sniffle1, even if it does then go in the compost, I’ve made the decision to switch to handkerchiefs. 

I had one cotton one kicking around in my box-of-fabric-bits, but also ordered a box of 8 organic cotton flannel hankies which arrived yesterday.  Conclusion: nice and soft (more so than the old regular cotton one), although if I had a full-on cold I’m not sure if they’d be as soothing as the disposable aloe vera ones.  (I can however try applying actual aloe vera in this instance, from the very healthy plant in the living-room.)  The advantage of cotton though is that it softens with use and washing. 

(I have a discount code for these people now which I’m free to hand on — let me know if you want to use it.)

Discussion with a friend gave rise to the question “but if you have to boil or boil-wash them is it actually environmentally better?”.  After due consideration I can’t really see the need to boil them: I don’t do that with any other piece of clothing that I might get bits of bodily fluids on (& we’ve just acquired a dog: I’m not about to boil any clothing that gets dog-slobber on it either), and I don’t see that hankies would be that much more germ-laden as a rule.  As & when I actually get a cold I’ll probably rinse & maybe soak in hot water before I chuck them in the wash. 

(Amnesty also do fair-trade organic hankies if you want to try those.)

This Times article (scroll down) discusses the environmental benefits of hankies: the average European tissue usage is 13kg per person per year, which is kind of boggling.  I’m even more pleased now that I’ve ditched the disposables.

1. Going fast and/or cold weather makes your eyes water, which makes your nose run.  There’s a reason why bike gloves all have that little soft absorbent patch on the back of the thumb.  In fact my sniffle doesn’t seem to be entirely cycling-induced, either; most annoying.