The Goblin Emperor started out incredibly promising. This look into the reluctant life of a coddled emperor directly opposes the wave of Grimdark we’ve seen in Fantasy lately (of which I’ll admit I’m a big fan). Here we have a protagonist who is…dare I say it, is kind.
That instantly grabbed me in the opening pages. Katherine Addison is currently one of the brightest voices writing in the genre. Is the pendulum of grittiness swinging back to the fantasy stories of the 80s?
Honestly, I was expecting to be more frustrated by a kind character, because they’re usually the ones that make bad decisions and piss me off in other novels/movies. That’s definitely a highlight of this book—the compassion shines throughout and simply works without coming off as fake.
Now on to why this went from being a 5-star book to how it ended up being only 3.
I’ll be straight up and say that this is quite a deviation from what I usually read. Nobody was in danger of evisceration or even death for most of the novel. There were no actions scenes whatsoever. Still, I expected that coming in and it didn’t detract from the novel.
What bothered me:
– Fantasy authors routinely fall into the trap of world-builders’ disease, and Katherine Addison has it in spades here with court intrigue and names. She tried to emulate Tolkien’s love of language and, well, failed. It was too much in too little time, at the expense of the story. None of your world-building matters if it doesn’t serve the story, and if you don’t give the reader a reason to care.
– There wasn’t one unifying story that the audience could cheer for. The book hopped around from one little event to the next, and you wandered along like a myopic ant with no clear goal.
– There was no motivation. The characters weren’t set up that well and a lot of the conflict fell flat. Because of that…
– It was simply not satisfying. You never cared about what was happening, and not enough time was spent making you interested in the plot or characters.
– Maia was constantly reacting to things going on around him, and never took proactive steps. An interesting character, sure, but ultimately boring.
Overall, this story quickly lost steam and even before halfway I was already counting down the pages until it was over.