The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Published in 2014 by Tor Books.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: purchased (paperback).

Genre: high fantasy.

My rating:

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.


I’ve had The Goblin Emperor on my to-be-read list for a while now and I finally decided to give it a go, partly because I included it on my Summer TBR list and I like crossing things off lists. It makes me very, very happy that it is a standalone novel and that reading it doesn’t mean I’m in for six more 500-page books. (I’m slightly disillusioned by series these days, *sigh*.)

I usually start with the good things in a book because it’s just more optimistic, but here I’ll go with the bad first because the good definitely wins (which I totally mistyped weens right now) over the bad. So. The bad things.

I pity the poor audiobook narrator. Look, I know it’s a fantasy world so the author has the right to do anything she wants, but the names (both character and place names) were so hard to keep track of. I have to say that my paperback version included a pronunciation guide and a list of weird expressions at the end, but I didn’t find it until I had already finished the book because I have this irrational fear of paging through to the end of the book (*whispers* I hate spoilers). So I never check if there’s a guide like that at the end.

It’s not just that the names were difficult to pronounce – each character is called about four different names, depending on the social situation, their place in a family, function at court, and also gender. It was very confusing but I kind of got used to it by the end.

The other thing that I have to say is that if you dislike courtly/political intrigue, this might not be the book for you. It took me a while to really get into the story because all the relations were so bewildering and convoluted, but then that’s exactly the point: Maia, the main character, is thrown into this horrible situation where he’s expected to run a nation with zero experience. So the confusion I felt was probably nothing compared to what he felt at being thrust into this role.

And that’s it. Everything else was really, really well done. You can see that these two points didn’t bother me all that much – I only removed half a heart/star. :)

The main reason I loved this book so much is Maia. He is the best leading character I have read in a long time. He is such a good guy! I can only compare him to Julius, who is also adorable. Maia is just so inherently good despite the unhappy childhood he’s had, he is trusting and smart – and I wasn’t even bothered by his occasional naïveté, because it definitely made sense for a country-bred half-goblin to be naïve sometimes. His self-doubt was heartbreaking at times, especially because I just felt how he must have suffered as a kid to have gained such a poor opinion of himself.

I also enjoyed the secondary characters. There are a lot of them and while Maia was hated by some for the simple fact that he became emperor, he really insipired loyalty in others. The secondary characters were well written and fleshed-out, so I liked them despite having trouble with their names.

The pace of the story really picks up in the second half of the book. The first half encompasses the events of a week or so – the death of Maia’s father and his older half-brothers, Maia’s arrival at court, coronation, etc – so it’s very detailed and there’s a lot of world-building and explaining (though I never felt bored, there aren’t any massive info dumps if that’s what you’re worried about). But the schemes and plots really come into play in the second part of the book, so I got sucked into the story. I read the last 150 pages in a single evening, unable to put the book down.

I think this is one of those books that benefits from being read in a short amount of time, instead of being stretched over several weeks, for example. I think it would be even harder to keep track of all the names and relationships. So I’m glad I took the time to read it in a relatively short period of time, I think it made me like it even better! I’ll definitely be looking out for Addison’s next book (I know she writes under another name as well, so I might even check those out).


Have you read The Goblin Emperor? What did you think?

Do you like courtly intrigue or do you prefer quest-oriented fantasy?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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  • I hated the names (and the pronouns) at first, until I realised that they follow patterns. After that, I was able to pick it up, probably using the same part of my brain I used for Icelandic sagas…

    • I don’t know, maybe I was too lazy to really get invested in the names? I did figure most of them out by the end but it’s definitely one of those books that a person should reread after a while. :)

  • I love both Maia & Julius. I did listen to this on audio, and award winning narrator Kyle McCarley did an excellent job that totally deserved the award..

    • Ah, okay, I’ve been wondering about that! It’s good that the end result is satisfactory.

      And yes, Maia and Julius are both fantastic characters! So easy to like and root for.

  • I haven’t read this but I’ve been wanting to read some more high fantasy so I’ll definitely be on the lookout for this! Great review! :)

    • Thanks! :)

      This is a good one if you like courtly/political settings! And it’s a standalone novel, which is a bonus with high fantasy, I think – other series tend to be SO LONG! This one is very manageable.

  • A fantasy standalone which involves political intrigue? I think I want to read this book. I mean, the name thing scares me a little because I already have trouble with names when they’re easy to pronounce so to have complex names which change frequently for various reasons and what hope do I have of remembering them? I may add this to ‘if I spot it buy it immediately TBR’ list because I would never normally read something like this because I don’t like the cover. I know, stop me and my shallow ways but I need someway to weed out books!

    • You don’t like the cover? Really? It’s one of the things that drew me in with this one. :) Look at his pointy ears!

      Eh, you’ll get past the names, I think – and there’s a glossary at the end, like I said, so you can always check them up.

      And yeah, I’m sure you can wait for a Kindle deal or something, if you’re not in a hurry, it’s always good to give it some time and see if an opportunity presents itself.

      • It’s just so plain. I think it’s the fact it’s the muted colours. I like the sound of the book, though, and that matters way more than the cover.

        And a glossary always helps because I am the worst at keeping track of things. I do love a book with a glossary, it recognises readers are forgetful but I almost never find them until I get to the end of the book!

        I am adding to my ebook watchlist and if I see a cheap used copy that will be mine. I have plenty of time to wait to add it to my shelf.

        • I know, I always discover these glossaries at the end (because I never flip to the end) and then I feel stupid for having made such an effort to memorize and figure the names out on my own. *sigh*

          I like it when I find a book I want to read but don’t absolutely have to read it RIGHT NOW, so I can wait for a good deal or a discount code or something. :)

          • I don’t get that feeling enough. I am an impulsive must have now or I may never have it person. I am getting better about employing that thing called patience which is supposedly a virtue or something crazy like that. I do love that feeling of getting a bargain when you wait for a deal, though. I’ve just thought, I should definitely check the library!

  • I’ve heard so many positive things about this book that it surprises me that I haven’t picked it up yet. Have no fear though: it’s already on my tbr! And as soon as I finish typing this comment, I’m off to bump it up to wishlist status LOL! I LOVE the idea that this is a standalone and I dig the political intrigue :D Gimme!

    • I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did! I like that it’s a standalone, too, that’s so rare in fantasy these days. More authors should write them! :) (We should start a petition.)

  • Jolien @ The Fictional Reader

    This one has been on my to-read list for a while, but never as a priority. BUT now that I’ve seen your review that will probably change. I love that you compared the main character to Julius, because I absolutely love him (and how much of a good guy he is). And I do love me some political/court intrigue, so I think this might be a good pick for me.

    Great review Kaja!

    • Thanks, Jolien! I really enjoyed The Goblin Emperor.

      Another point that works in its favor is that it’s a standalone novel so it isn’t such a huge time/money investment as you’d normally have with new fantasy books. I did check whether the author had any other books (I’d totally read them), but it seems she writes other stuff under a different name, but has no other fantasies.