The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (book review).

Maia Drazh is the unfavoured fourth son of Emperor Varenechibel the Fourth and has spent his entire life away from court when he receives news of his father and three elder brothers’ deaths due to the crash of their airship. He is now the Emperor of the Elflands or Ethuveraz and is entirely unprepared to take up the title. This book follows his struggle to understand the ways of the Untheileneise Court and the governance of the Elflands whilst trying to evade plots to undermine his rule and various assassination attempts.


Maia is the result of a political marriage between Emperor Varenechibel of the Ethuveraz and Chenelo Barizhan, the daughter of Maru Sevraseched, the Great Avar of Barizhan, the ruler of the goblin kingdom. Varenechibel’s hatred for Chenelo was due his dislike of goblins and his unwillingness in making the marriage alliance. As soon as Maia is born, both mother and son were sent to live far from court in Isavaroe and, at his mother’s death, at age eight, Maia is sent to Edonomee with his cousin, Setheris Nelar, who had lost favour with the Emperor. Setheris is a violent drunk who abuses Maia both physically and mentally. Maia is given a basic education of the world but not about the Untheileneise court or his goblin heritage.

Maia, on receiving the news of the Emperor and his heirs’ deaths, knows that he will be killed if he does not become Emperor, though he has no wish to. On arriving at court, he has to deal with his father’s Lord Chancellor, Uleris Chavar, who does not hide is disdain of Maia and his inability to rule a court he does not understand. Maia manages at last to rid himself of Setheris Nelar and gains a new household which consist of his secretary, Csevet Aisava, who is invaluable in educating Maia about the court, two pairs of guards called the nohecharei who take it in turns to protect the Emperor constantly. One soldier protects the Emperor’s body with his own and the other a maza (a magic user) to protect Maia with the spirit and strength of his mind. Finally, his edocharei who are his personal attendants and help dress him and take care of his quarters.

Maia as a half-goblin is thought of as a barbarian by many, as he does not look like an elf with his grey skin and blue eyes. Goblins have dark skin, tending towards black and orange/red eyes, unlike the white-skinned light-eyed elves. Both races have large expressive ears which can move to express their emotions. Maia struggles to gain friends and allies in this new alien world. Even his nohecharei, who are sworn to die for him, judge his actions as weak and make it clear they cannot be his friends. His brother’s wife, Shevean, whose son, Idra, is Maia’s heir hates him as does his father’s widow. His sister Vedero distrusts him and the Corazhas (government officials) knowing him to be ignorant make decisions in his stead and pressure him to make a marriage alliance of his own.

The crash of the airship is found to have been due to foul play and the search begins for the identities of those responsible. Maia hires his own investigator to find out the truth of the bombing with surprising results. Meanwhile, Maia slowly gains support of both his household and the common people due to his kindness and genuine regard to improve the lives of everyone in Ethuveraz. He makes allies in the court, as well as enemies who try to assassinate him in a bid to gain power themselves. Maia must try to survive these dissenters and stick to his principles as he attempts to rule the Ethuveraz.

Maia is a very likable character, a kind person who has lead a downtrodden and lonely existence. He slowly comes into his own, as time goes by from the ignorant youth who doesn’t believe in himself to a good and canny Emperor.

Whilst I enjoyed the book, I struggled with the numerous difficult names in the book. Many of which are long and sound very similar to each other. The glossary at the back was invaluable in making sure I understood what was going on and who was doing what. A map of both the goblin lands and elflands would have helped and I would have liked to have known more about the culture and history of the goblin lands.

As long as you are patient with the names and titles in this book and the author’s decision to have the elves at court speak in the second person constantly, I think you will find it an enjoyable read.

Supreethi Selvam

January 2016

(pub: TOR/Forge, 2014. 446 page small hardback. Price: $25.99 (US), $29.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2699-7)

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