Review copy provided by Tor Books.
In the last 3/4 of The Goblin Emperor, I caught myself making excuses to get up and do other things. Sort the laundry, write an email, get another glass of water. Not because I wasn’t enjoying it, not because I didn’t want to see how it ended, but because I knew that when it was over, it would be over. And I didn’t want it to be over quite yet. I wasn’t ready to be done yet. The Goblin Emperor is, as its author indicated in Q&A yesterday, a stand-alone. So it’s not just “it’s over, until the next book in the trilogy, which is scheduled for October,” or, “it’s over, until the sequel which is due next year if all goes well.” It’s, well, over.
And, I mean, this is great, because there is the whole story, no waiting. There is no biting your nails through another volume or three or twelve wondering if the whole thing will fall apart (it doesn’t) or turn out to have a point after all (it does). All your cynical horrible friends–you know you have them–we love our cynical horrible friends–can be presented with this volume with full assurances that this is the whole story, no cliffhangers, no to-be-continued, no chance of bloating into a thirty-volume epic. Beginning, middle, end, airship crashes, court politics, astronomy, all right here. Airship crashes! Court politics! Astronomy! These are the things Mrissas like best! Also architectural proposals and people tripping over things they assume other people will know (but do not) (in mutual directions) and more court politics! And layers of etiquette and loyalty and more court politics!
But I want more goblins, she whined ungratefully. And more steppe nomads. And more elves would do, but really: goblins and steppe nomads, this is what I want. Not in this book, I hasten to add. This book had the proper proportion of these things.
This is a fantasy novel, and will get labeled with fantasy court politics and steampunk tags–and rightly so, I think, although some of the things I find most annoying about steampunk are absent–I think the group who might miss out and should hear about it is people who love Cherryh’s atevi books. There is even tea (albeit more pleasantly, in samovars), there are very interesting servant and bodyguard characters, there is attention to logistics, there is intercultural diplomacy, there are pieces where people think they understand just when they do not and things go awry…it’s not the likeliest “if you like this, you should try that,” but it seemed worth mentioning.
One of the things I’ve seen in a few other reviews that also seems worth mentioning: Maia, the main character, is very concerned with treating others well. My father once told me that our parents are patterns for us whether we like it or not, but we get to choose whether they are positive or negative patterns, whether we follow their lead or make sure we don’t do whatever-it-is, large or small scale, as they did. And Maia is a character who is living that, sometimes with his literal parents and sometimes with other figures who have passed in and out of his young life in parental surrogate roles. But the thing I said in the comments section of my Gilman review, about how I can deal with all sorts of darkness if people are kind to each other: Maia is kind. He does his best to be. Even without airship crashes and court politics, that would have been worth a lot to me.