Looking at the prospect of the next few novels to review on my Epic Reading List (a long stretch of scifi from the late ’70s that I didn’t particularly enjoy), I have suddenly and inexplicably decided that it’d be more fun to just review novels as I read them, particularly ones that I really loved, instead of trying to talk about them in any particular order*.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: Katherine Addison’s THE GOBLIN EMPEROR, Hugo nominated in 2015 (and my #1 pick for its category).
You guys. YOU GUYS. If you haven’t read this book yet, you are missing the fuck out. Fantasy! Politics! Worldbuilding! Court intrigue! People trying to behave as ethically as possible in a position which is inherently unethical! There is nothing not to love here.
I had some slight hesitations when I set out to read THE GOBLIN EMPEROR, because politics can get very dry in the hands of someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Court intrigue can get to be a real strain on the ol’ suspension of disbelief if too many of the characters start acting like they’re not real people — being evil and conniving for no reason beyond “The author needed someone to be evil and conniving”, for example. The thing is, you see, that people are basically the same everywhere: The vast majority of people act in accordance with their own moral code, whether they realize it or not. Most people don’t do things they know are bad. They do things that they think are the right and noble thing to do, and turmoil arises when their personal moral code diverges from the society’s moral code, or from another person’s.
(Which is not to say that we shouldn’t hold people accountable when their actions hurt other people — we should. We absolutely should. But a person who is setting out to Do A Thing generally tries to find a way to justify that the Thing they’re Doing is fine, really, whether it’s helping the little old lady cross the street or arming themselves and occupying a government building to protest ‘injustice’ — the brain finds a way to say, “This is necessary, this is important, this is a thing I have to do to uphold my personal worldview.” We can hold people accountable for their actions at the same time as understanding the mechanism of how they decided to do it. These things are not mutually exclusive.)
THE GOBLIN EMPEROR’s politics and intrigue works exactly because Katherine Addison understands this concept. She understands that 99% of people will act according to their personal ethical code, and if people act unethically, it’s proooobably because it didn’t occur to them that what they were doing was an asshole thing to do. So the book is full of people with contradictory and conflicting moral/ethical codes, who are all trying to uphold their own beliefs in a world which has suddenly changed around them. It’s FANTASTIC. It’s amazing commentary, and it investigates questions without beating the reader over the head about it. You can read the book on many different levels — read it shallowly and it’s a delightful story about an unpopular, semi-forgotten prince, the youngest of his siblings, who suddenly finds himself crowned Emperor when everyone else in line to the throne dies, and (being a generally decent person) what he does with his position afterward. Or you can read it more deeply and get your teeth into all this political and philosophical commentary. There is nothing not to love about this book.
As my final note, I completely, completely ship Maia (the titular goblin emperor) and his bodyguard Cala. I was begging them to make out the entire time. My god.
Love yourself: Read THE GOBLIN EMPEROR. I recommend it with zero reservations whatsoever.