The Goblin Emperor - relaxing fantasy
If you've burned out on the political machinations of Westeros, or real world politics in general, and are looking to lose yourself in something relaxing, then you need The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. It's the fully realized world building and personal storyline that sets this book apart from other recent works. The story follows young Maia, half-elven and half-goblin, as he struggles with his sudden ascension to the throne of Ethuveraz, the elflands. The obvious themes of racism, youthful insecurity, and the power of a good heart could easily become too sweet but Addison carefully blends them into the story.
The unwanted child of a political marriage between the elven Emperor and a daughter of the goblin Avar, Maia was raised in exile with only a bitter noble "guardian" and a few servants. The story begins with a messenger bringing the news of an airship crash that killed not only his father, but also his three elder brothers, and leaving Maia as the new Emperor. With only rudimentary knowledge of his new court and no experience in social situations he is naturally lost and overwhelmed. While his mixed heritage is a disadvantage among the noble elves, its welcomed by the lower classes where such heritage is common, and a decided advantage in political relations with their goblin neighbors still ruled by his grandfather. Others see Maia on the throne as a mistake to be corrected providing some intrigue and action.
This is a fantasy world with a small amount of magic and light steampunk elements such as the zeppelins and the inventors of the clockmakers guild. Both the elven and goblin cultures are fully realized with language, religeon, and even unique facial expressions with their ears. The smooth easy style draws you in and nothing breaks that illusion making this an impressive example of world building without the heavy wordiness of some. Rather than fast action adventure, Maia deals with issues that are easy to identify with such as political controversy, family relationships, and living a life in the public view with no privacy. I agree with many reviewers that this is not what I expected from a book of court intrigue, being a kinder, gentler storyline, but still thoroughly satisfying.
The Goblin Emperor, 2014, received the Locus Best Fantasy Award as well as several award nominations. Katherine Addison is a psuedonym for Sarah Monette which explains why I hadn't seen more from this author. The audio version is read by Kyle McCarley who has a long list of highly rated books on Audible and great reviews of his narration of The Goblin Emperor.