The Goblin Emperor

Author: Katherine Addison

Subgenre: High Fantasy, Steampunk

Not too many years ago I picked up a book by a debut author, Sarah Monette. It was quirky yet immersive, with worldbuilding built right into the characters’ dialects. Absolutely phenomenal. As the series progressed, it failed to find a market, and Monette announced that her next book would be released under a pen name. This was in 2007. I loved Monette so much that I would occasionally check the web to make sure I hadn’t missed her next book, and even remembered the pen name off the top of my head after a while. I’d given up hope of this book ever seeing the light of day, but this winter, there it was on the Coming Soon book lists I trall for the next big book. I then haunted NetGalley so I could get my hands on The Goblin Emperor as soon as possible, because waiting the extra three weeks between NetGalley release and publication was just not acceptable. I’m delighted to say, The Goblin Emperor lives up to every bit of anticipation I came to it with.

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.

This exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.

The Speculative Post's Review

Setting

Characters

Plot

Writing Mechanics

Genre

If Monette has one weakness as a writer, it is perhaps that she is quite over-educated with a PhD in English Literature. Her dissertation was in English Renaissance revenge tragedies, of all things. Now, she’s not a dry academic writer, but she tends to put in an incredible amount of layers into her stories. Remember when I said her characters in her debut’s dialects tell you about the character and the world? The main protagonist/narrator, Mildmay, had an accent so thick (even through text) that he was a challenge to read. It was consistent, and it made sense, but not everyone wants to work that hard (which is a pity, as his sense of humor was a joy to read). Melusine and its sequels also carried the burden of not having a true hero. Protagonists, yes. Heroes...not even close. Just characters who vary from not-so-good-people to those who could never be anything but a major villain due to their nastiness. In a book market that includes Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence, a book as dark as Melusine has a place. 2005 may have been a bit too soon for Melusine, a year before The Blade Itself turned heads and caused a controversial stir. Now, all that having been said, The Goblin Emperor has seen Monette/Addison strip down her writing to a level that will likely be more palatable to the masses.

Addison is a master writer, even if she’s never gotten all the recognition her skill and talent deserve.

Don’t be fooled by the above statement: Addison is a master writer, even if she’s never gotten all the recognition her skill and talent deserve. The Goblin Emperor is set in the Elflands at a point in time where steam power and the industrial revolution are just starting to change the very foundations of society. Much of the worldbuilding in this book is centered around the Elven court, and that should tell you just how elaborate things get. Elves + Imperial Court = very pretty and very deadly. Her worldbuilding here is as detailed as in her earlier works, though it has been streamlined so that there’s less extraneous information to distract the reader. She has kept her system of incredible naming schemes, though. And that brings me to my one pet peeve about this book:

Addison has built a very formal society in her elven court. This I loved, including the use of formal vs informal English (yes, it exists, we just ignore it in modern usage). But! This also came with a laundry list of titles and morphing name suffixes that I found bewildering while reading. As an American, I’m so used to attaching meaning to personal names that I started getting a bit lost when personal names appeared and disappeared. When your gender and marriage status affect your family, that makes matters worse. Now, this is usually solved by having some sort of appendix to the book explaining these pesky matters. And The Goblin Emperor has two, one for naming conventions and one glossary of characters (with pronunciations!). But I read this book on an older Kindle. Skipping through e-books on my Kindle is difficult, as it’s really designed for reading straight through with no deviations. You can skip around...but it’s agonizing. I reached the end, found the appendix (since I ignore Tables of Content in e-books for the reason of limited usefulness), and went, ‘Agh! Where was this 200 pages ago?!’ This isn’t really a critique on Addison, but something I wish publishers and device manufacturers would work on: how to get an e-book to act like a print book in convenient and easy to use ways. Now, some of this may be alleviated if I get a newer device, but I’ve yet to hear of any device that makes flipping around within a book as simple as print does. Or at least linking portions of the text into the appendix so that I can at least pull up naming conventions where needed. I shall now *have* to get this book in print so that I can reread it with resources ready to go. (It will be such a burden. Whatever shall I do?)

The Goblin Emperor is also not burdened with the moral ambiguity found in Melusine and sequels. Protagonist Maia is a genuinely good person, and so naive that he needs help to stay alive in his deadly court. He’s perhaps the most relatable character Addison/Monette has presented us with so far, with the most straightforward motives. My one beef with this is Addison is showing an American idealism of royalty in Maia: someone who cares about the everyday folks rather than the power brokers. It’s endearing and it speaks to the American mythos of equality, but it’s not new or innovative.

Lovers of complex epic fantasies like A Song of Ice and Fire will find a lot to sink their teeth into here, while lovers of classical literature will appreciate the language and wordcraft.

As for dialogue: Addison has kept things more complicated than modern American language, but not to the extent where characters are speaking in really rough dialects. As I said before, Addison is using older English conventions in this book. What this means is that most members of the court, when being formal, do not say ‘I’ when referring to themselves, they say ‘we.’ This is often called the royal we in modern terms, but here it applies to more than just the emperor. Addison is also using ‘you’ and ‘yours’ as formal address, with ‘thee’ and ‘thine’ as informal. There are few places where informal address is used, as Maia inherits the throne in the very first scene of the book, so if ‘thees’ and ‘thines’ and other language you expect from Shakespeare bother you, don’t let it deter you from picking up this book. Otherwise, just know that ‘I’ is a very scarce word. I’m just a language nerd who loves it when authors mix things up like this.

There’s really not much else to say that doesn’t involve me fangirling everywhere. As you can see from the ratings above, this book is fantastic. Lovers of complex epic fantasies like A Game of Thrones will find a lot to sink their teeth into here, while lovers of classical literature will appreciate the language and wordcraft. How often do find an author who can combine that? Not often, which makes Addison/Monette a rare treat that you really shouldn’t miss.

Janea received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

Shards of Time

Author: Lynn Flewelling

Series: Nightrunner #7

Subgenre: High Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery

I’ve been a fan of Lynn Flewelling for a while, so I was rather excited to see Shards of Time start appearing on publication lists. And while Flewelling has been a groundbreaking author in terms of heterosexual protagonists, and even gender identity, I must say that I’m not entirely sad that the Nightrunner series is at least going on pause after this book. It’s simply more the same, rather than new or groundbreaking in and of itself. Granted, it’s still a fun read.

The governor of the sacred island of Korous and his mistress have been killed inside a locked and guarded room. The sole witnesses to the crime—guards who broke down the doors, hearing the screams from within—have gone mad with terror, babbling about ghosts . . . and things worse than ghosts.

Dispatched to Korous by the queen, master spies Alec and Seregil find all the excitement and danger they could want—and more. For an ancient evil has been awakened there, a great power that will not rest until it has escaped its otherworldly prison and taken revenge on all that lives. And only those like Alec—who have died and returned to life—can step between the worlds and confront the killer . . . even if it means a second and all too permanent death.

The Speculative Post's Review

Setting

Characters

Plot

Writing Mechanics

Genre

Before I get far into this review, a few disclaimers. 1) I read this book immediately after setting down a book that I gave a 5 star review to. Now, some of you may not have been following my reviews very long, but let me say this: I’ve been reviewing books for about three years now in some form or another. I don’t give out 5 stars. Ever. Any book that is read after that kind of reading experience is going to suffer in comparison. 2) Shards of Time also suffers in that it’s the seventh book in a series, and the tenth book set in this universe. The characters are fairly set in who they are, and how they react to various situations. There’s also a huge cast of characters, so that development needs to be shared out in small doses. 3) Shards of Time is a bit old hat: Flewelling doing exactly what she knows she’s good at. No surprises, nothing new, just exactly what her readers expect. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, but it does mean that my overall reaction to this book is somewhat lackluster. 4) I don’t generally get real excited about later books in long running series. Particularly when the series is episodic (such as Nightrunner) rather than building an epic level story arc (such as The Dresden Files).

By the time we got to the point where the adventure party goes “Aha! Dymagnos! #@&%!” I had gotten the point of “Why are we doing this again?”

Now, to catch up those of you who don’t know the Nightrunner series: the series starts with Luck in the Shadows, which was published in 1996. It’s set in a High Fantasy world with humans, the elvin-esque Aurenfaie, wizards, and necromancers. Our primary heros are Alec and Seregil, two rogues who over time become deeply devoted lovers. This makes the Nightrunner series one of the only High Fantasy series with gay protagonists, and I think it’s the longest running one being published by a major publisher. However, the tales of Alec and Seregil aren’t about the two falling in love, but about them stealing things, spying on people, getting involved in politics behind the scenes, and generally getting into all the kinds of trouble you expect in a Sword and Sorcery novel. Finally, if you’re going to pick up a Nightrunner book for the first time, do yourself a favor and pick up one of the first three books. Shards of Time doesn’t go back and cover old ground explicitly, so you’re going to lose massive amounts of worldbuilding and character development if you start here.

That being said, there’s a lot of plot elements in Shards of Time that are lifted whole from the second book, Stalking Darkness. Granted, it’s been several years since I read Stalking Darkness, but once again we have the same kind of enemy (a powerful necromancer called a dyrmagnos), and Alec, Seregil, and company (a surprisingly similar company) take this one out much like the first one. And where Stalking Darkness is about Alec and Seregil really figuring out their feelings for each other, Flewelling uses Shards of Time to flesh out the romantic relationship between two secondary characters, Thero and Klia. Now, there are a number of differences between the two books, but by the time we got to the point where the adventure party goes “Aha! Dymagnos! #@&%!” I had gotten the point of “Why are we doing this again?”

And that ultimately is my beef with Shards of Time: we know the characters, the characters know each other, and know themselves. There’s not a lot left to explore there. Over six books we’ve been over a lot of territory in terms of setting and worldbuilding, so what is there is either being carried over from previous books or is somewhat cursory. To use some of the same plot devices from a previous book...there’s not enough new and interesting to keep me excited. Some authors are able to carry off long running series and have most editions be fresh and new. Most authors struggle with this, and I’m afraid Flewelling is one of them.

That being said, I will happily welcome Flewelling’s next project, whatever that is. If the Nightrunner series ends up being nothing more than a vacation from heftier works (such as The Tamir Triad), I will read Nightrunner but will always be waiting for the next new surprise.



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