rymenhild: The legendary Oxford manuscript library. Caption "The world is quiet here." (The world is quiet here)
[personal profile] rymenhild
I have been trying to write a review of Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette)'s new novel, The Goblin Emperor, and it's coming out in clich├ęs: A beautiful book, a moving book, a book about loyalty and building cross-cultural bridges and making a place for oneself in a terrifying world, a book I did not want to end.

Maia, the protagonist, has been raised abruptly from an exile in a forgotten house, where he has been beaten and insulted by his drunken guardian, to the decadent heights of the Emperor's throne. As a half-goblin in the Elflands he is an outsider, caught between cultures, and he knows it. Maia has no allies until he makes them, no trustworthy supporters until he finds them and earns their support.

The worldbuilding here is glorious, if ridiculously complex. For instance, the inhabitants of the Elflands speak a language that is quite difficult to translate into English, with pronouns (or, I suppose, conjugated verb forms) in first person singular informal, first person singular formal (here rendered as "we"), and first person plural, along with second person informal and formal. The language choices matter, and we learn about characterization largely through the forms of address that characters use towards each other. When Maia's guardian tells him, in second person informal, "Thou must be emperor, boy," the informality shows lack of respect for his emperor, not presence of love for his ward.

Naming rules are carefully developed but quite confusing; I had to read very closely to keep track of the difference between emperors Edrehasivar and Edrevenivar. There are a pronunciation guide, an explanation of forms of address, and a character list in the appendices. I wish I'd realized they were there while I was reading.

Sarah Monette has previously written a four-book series with lovely writing and strong worldbuilding. My problem with Monette's Doctrine of Labyrinths has a name, and his name is Felix Harrowgate. Felix's tormented soul and his history of horrific abuse do not excuse him from being an abuser on his own account, so I spent most of the series telling the other protagonist, Felix's half-brother Mildmay, to get away from Felix... very far away.... right now. Of course then Mildmay swore a magically binding oath of absolute loyalty to Felix, and Felix wasted no time before betraying the trust Mildmay had placed in him. Sigh.

I am much happier to spend time in Maia's head than in Felix Harrowgate's. Maia quite desperately wants to do right, and he has no idea how good of a person he is. His wretched case of imposter syndrome makes him mistrust even himself. But as readers, we can see how Maia's honesty, his kindness, and even the harsh judgments he places on himself begin to bring him loyal allies and even, at last, real friends.

Yes, this is a steampunk world with airships and steam bridges and clock towers. Although the technology is present, and frequently pivotal to the plot, it wasn't nearly as important to me as the character development, the depictions of culture, and the FRIENDSHIP ♥ ♥ ♥.

Sequel, please! I especially want more of the tantalizing glimpses we got of women's cultures in this world. Maia of course cannot enter them himself, but he begins to see them as he earns the trust of women around him. I want to meet Maia's aunt the goblin sea captain and her wife. I want to know more about the secret organization creating a space for women's education. I want to see the inside of the goblin culture as we saw the inside of the elf culture. I want to know why the goblin and elf languages are related. I don't want to leave this world.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-04-10 06:03 pm (UTC)
thewickedlady: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thewickedlady
I am frantically not reading lots of this to avoid spoilers, but oooh! Good to hear other people like it! It is in my samples 'to read' pile!

(no subject)

Date: 2014-04-11 02:01 am (UTC)
thistleingrey: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thistleingrey
It is billed as a standalone, yes? (I've been seeing a fair bit of positive reaction from others as well, and spoilers don't bother me.)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-04-11 04:43 am (UTC)
cahn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cahn
The language choices matter, and we learn about characterization largely through the forms of address that characters use towards each other.

...This (and everything else you say) make me think I will absolutely adore this book.

My problem with Monette's Doctrine of Labyrinths has a name, and his name is Felix Harrowgate.

HEE. I'm glad you said this, because when I first started reading your review, my first response was, "Sarah Monette? I don't know if I want to read another book by her... I didn't like her other books because of that Felix character..." So... now it's definitely going on my list :)

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