Review: The Goblin Emperor

Posted: June 22, 2021 by in Books that are Mediocre (2.6/5 single_star) Meta: Katherine Addison, Fantasy, Speculatively Lite

A while ago we published a new page on the site that listed out a few handfuls of books that we thought were the best examples of fantasy fiction to be had (EBR Page). One of the comments we received on that page suggested that our list was missing this exact book. I have to admit that I wasn’t particularly enthralled by the cover or the title though, and so I passed it by as I did so many others that just didn’t tickle my fancy.

Recently, however, the audiobook was released, and so I figured that I might as well give it a go. After all, I’m always up for another suggestion of a great read.

Turns out, I probably should have just passed it by.

THE GOBLIN EMPEROR is, ostensibly, a stand-alone book about a relatively young individual, Maia–half-goblin, half-elf, and suddenly heir to the throne of the elvish empire–that is given the opportunity to be something he never thought he’d be: emperor. When his father, the current emperor, and all of Maia’s elder half-brothers are killed in an exploding air ship, he’s retrieved from his life of obscurity and exile in a far-off location and suddenly given control of the empire.

The rest of the book is about how he navigates the political aspects of his new position.

By and large, the beginning of this tale was my favorite part of the book. In it, the biggest portion of Maia’s character is built as we learn all about his history and then subsequent placement upon the throne of the elves. We learn about his mother, his life with an abusive cousin, and his lack of any kind of education. In short, he’s been placed in a home, far away from everything important, because he’s useless to the empire.

Until he’s not.

Past the pretty decent introduction to the character of Maia, very little characterization follows. Most of the political entities surrounding him are the typical set pieces: overwhelmingly haughty or properly meek. As each character comes into the story, filters through their interactions with Maia, and then eventually leaves, exit stage right, I kept wondering when the conflict was going to come into play. There’s some pretty heavy suggestion that it might come through his cousin, Setheris. And then, with the introduction of the idea that the explosion that killed his father, the emperor, wasn’t actually an accident as first assumed, but triggered purposefully. And then when we learn that Maia’s grandfather, the high muckety-muck of the goblin empire, is coming to visit. Maybe that’s where the conflict would eventually come in.

But no.

THE GOBLIN EMPEROR is a fantasy book with almost nothing fantastical inside it. A book about an outcast learning how to be a politician.

There are some that would complain that there’s little to no action that happens in this book, but that’s not really the problem. The real problem is that there’s little to no conflict that survives past more than a handful of pages. There are definitely moments of conflict. Just nothing of substance. Maia puts his cousin, Setheris, away as neatly as his father once put him away. The conspiracy to kill his father and the resultant investigation is forgotten until nearly the end of the tale. The goblin king brings no great surprises. Instead, it’s one chapter after the next about how Maia learns to deal with his new political powers, and tries to impose his will upon those of the court. Some of them push back. Others don’t. Along the way, we learn that Maia has many sensibilities that are abjectly opposed to the general opinions of all those around him, but–oddly enough–line up quite well with how someone in today’s day and age would think. Normally, kind of a red flag for me, but it didn’t bother me overly much because most of the discussion stayed within the context of Maia and those with whom he interacted.

The largest difficulty I had with this book though was the fact that there’s essentially nothing about the story that couldn’t have happened if this wasn’t a fantasy story. Because, it’s not a fantasy story. It’s a story about a made-up political sphere and what happens inside it. The only partly overtly fantastical is that the main set pieces are goblins and elves, but essentially nothing of substance that is magical or speculative happens in the entire book. And that’s just really disappointing. Especially because this author obviously knows how to string words together. The prose very well-written and structured with purpose. I just don’t get why anyone would want to read the thing. But then again, politics are either very boring or very aggravating for me. So, in general, I hate ’em.

This definitely isn’t a bad story. Not poorly written. Not poorly told. It’s just very not fantastical, and very not fast, and very not exciting. Still, if you like politics, and moderately good characters, in a setting that doesn’t need to be very fantastical at all… then you might just like this book. Judge for yourself, if you’d rather. Or listen to us, and forget about this one. Really, you’re not missing out on anything.

  • Recommended Age: 13+
  • Language: There might be a few instances of mild language
  • Violence: References to people dying, a brief assassination attempt
  • Sex: A few brief references to the MC's virginity and a "proposition"


  • Ana says:

    Agreed and also thought for someone who did not understand politics, the court and history, he progressed remarkably quickly and became unrealistically adept in the space of a month in dealing with conflict and standing up to his oppressors and tormentor of 10 years!

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