Maia half-goblin

The Goblin Emperor - Katherine Addison

I know that many of you loved this novel. As I hate to disagree with the majority, I was tempted not to review this book, just rate it and leave it. Then I reconsidered and decided at least to explain what turned me off.

First: there are tons of persons and places, and their names pepper the story. In the end of the book, the author offers a glossary of proper nouns used in the novel. The glossary is 12 (!) pages long, with an average of 32 names a page. A total of over 380 names for a novel of 430 pages are way too many. I couldn’t possibly remember even half of them.

Second: the author invented special terms for things and concepts that have good, serviceable English versions. I love English. I savor English. It’s one of the richest languages on the planet. Why did the author decide to create new monikers for such common words as ‘guard’ or ‘servant’ is beyond me, but it was irritating to stumble upon those words again and again. They didn’t make the text ‘authentic goblin.’ They made it pretentious.

Third: most of the names also sound alien, with lots of Zs and uncomfortable consonant combinations. Unlike the regular English approach to naming, the names in this story change spelling with their position in the sentence, like in Russian. Besides, many of the names look similar, as if the same letters were reshuffled in a slightly different arrangement. As a result, I read and wondered: was it the hero's sister, a courier, or one of the generals? In the end, I stopped reading the names altogether – I couldn’t recognize them anyway – and deduced the meaning of the sentences from the context. It felt like learning a foreign tongue. Reading a book in English shouldn’t produce such a feeling.

One of the few names that didn’t require my non-existent tongue-twisting ability was the name of the protagonist – Maia. And he was the reason I actually liked this book despite its naming flaws. Maia is the real hero of this novel and the only character who is truly alive.

He is an eighteen-year-old half-blood goblin prince. His father, the emperor, disliked his mother and despised him. After his mother died when he was eight, Maia lived away from the imperial court with an abusive guardian. Suddenly, his father and his three older brothers are killed in one freaky accident, and Maia, the only remaining son, is speedily crowned emperor. Neither he nor anyone else ever expected such an outcome. He never wanted it either and he is drowning in his ignorance. He also doesn’t know anyone at court but he has a strong sense of duty. His duty brought him to the throne, and he wouldn’t shirk it, no matter how hard his task becomes.

Maia’s story is an unusual quest. He doesn’t fight battles, doesn’t wield a sword. He learns: about the court and the people, about politics and diplomacy, about friendship and family. His quest is a quest for knowledge and experience. It’s also an emotional journey of a teenager who has to grow up in a hurry. His self-doubts and bouts of self-hatred are totally convincing.

Fortunately, despite his father’s neglect and his guardian’s abuse, Maia didn’t become bitter. A kind and considerate boy, he recognizes the poisonous trappings of power thrust upon him so abruptly. He still misuses it occasionally – and who wouldn’t in his place – but he is always ashamed afterwards.

He is such a positive hero in the modern flood of dark swashbuckling fantasy that I almost fell in love with him. His vulnerability is endearing, his common sense reassuring, and his quiet tale original. Thrown into the deep waters of the court intrigue to sink or swim, he learns fast and comes out the winner from every encounter. And only the reader is privy to the emotional turmoil he suffers with every small victory.

Maia is one of the best heroes in the modern fantasy fiction.