Saturday, June 13, 2015

Hugo 2015 Reads - The Goblin Emperor

I first picked up The Goblin Emperor in December, but I didn't have a chance to get into it while home for Christmas. This, it turns out, was a good thing, as I was completely enthralled once I started in earnest, and I would have given either it or my family visit short shrift :)

The book is (spoiler alert!) about a goblin emperor. Maia has been raised in a remote location by an abusive, disgraced former courtier of his father. Maia's mother, a goblin (the emperor was a lighter-skinned elf), was sent away from court almost immediately after her wedding night. She raised Maia without any contact from his father, and the only time they met was at his mother's funeral when he was 10. Not great preparation for 8 years later, when Maia is woken by the news that an airship accident killed his father and three older brothers -- he's emperor.

The book details Maia's journey to becoming emperor and adjusting to his new role. He faces internal and external challenges, racism, provincialism (he had spent no time at court) and isolation because of his status. His general good nature, intelligence and a handful of loyal servants are all he can count on.

The Good:
  • Maia! He's the rare, truly good person in fantasy (really, in fiction/non-fiction). He fights to be fair to all, even his enemies.
  • The prose. Addison writes with a light touch -- it doesn't read as a fairy tale, nor is it grim. There's a light sense of humor and wonderfully descriptive passages throughout.
  • The very low level of magic (it's used only a handful of times, almost as an aside) is part of the world, not the focus. This is a world at the start of an industrial revolution, with all that entails. 
  • While it does leave open room for a sequel (which she says will not happen), it stands alone. This is a rare accomplishment in fantasy.

The Bad:
  • There's not going to be a sequel
  • It's a very light read, so it's not quite as thought-provoking as some of the others on the list, nor is the prose as intricate as, say, Station Eleven
  • The book is told entirely from Maia's perspective, so the other characters don't get as much development. It's there, but the structure restricts us from getting too much of those around Maia.
4.5 out of 5
So, it was an excellent read, and it currently is tied with Ancillary Sword for the lead in my vote. I'm not sure if ties are allowed, but if not, I'll rank it first, since Ms. Leckie won last year.

Where I rank it in my Read of the Hugos:
The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman (Not a nominee, but amazing)
(Tie) The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison 
(Tie) Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Not a nominee, but very good)
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
No Award (this is an option in the rather complicated, but logical, voting process)

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