raven: (middleman - sleepy wendy)
[personal profile] raven
I just finished The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. (Who is - to save y'all my strained thought processes - the same person as Sarah Monette! She's the same person who wrote Mélusine, the tortured terrifying idfic of my inner teenager's heart!) But The Goblin Emperor is not like that at all. Well, it's a secondary world fantasy of elves and - surprise! - goblins, with a very little magic and also airships. It is not at all the sort of thing I like, except I loved it, it made me happier than any book has in a long time.

Here is the non-spoilery premise: Maia, who is half-goblin half-elf and the despised exiled last son of the emperor, is woken up one evening by a messenger who tells him that his father and all his brothers have died in a freak airship accident and he needs to come home and be crowned. The court is complex and full of warring factions; no one there knows him and many people already hate him; his merest courtier has had about ten years' more education than he has; also his abusive guardian is coming with. He is eighteen years old and terrified. Hijinks, as they say, ensue.

I didn't think I would like this. I loved it. Without spoiling it too much, , it is just a warm bath of a book. People make hard choices and the world is difficult and Maia is sad and broken a lot of the time, but people are sometimes - often! - kind for no reason. Early in the book the goblin ambassador sends Maia a small good-luck talisman, for no reason other than he thinks he needs it. His household staff worry that he might get cold and insist he wear jumpers. His secretary gets upset on his behalf in his correspondence. His grandfather shows up and is loudly and gloriously wonderful at him. Everything is DELIGHTFUL.

I am a little chagrined that there are eighteen (!!!) fics for this in Yuletide this year and NOT ONE features my favourite character, who is Thara Celehar. (A brief side-note - my absolutely favourite piece of worldbuilding (of which there are many; see also airships, meditative elf religions and FANTASY COMMUNISTS) is the way Maia's government consists largely of Witnesses. There is the Witness for the Treasury; the Witness for the Universities; the Witness for the Judicature. There are also the Witnesses vel ama, who are the Witnesses for those who have no voices. In a land dispute, there are the Witnesses for the rivers and the land themselves; there are the Witnesses for the Dead; and, in the sort of detail that twists a knife in its perfection, the Witness for the Emperor is a Witness vel ama. Because the emperor is sovereign, he may not ever speak in his personal capacity, even if he is personally harmed by a crime - so the Witness speaks for him. My heart!

Anyway, Thara Celehar, yes. He is a grieving apathetic queer who is always morose and absent - except that he is a Witness for the Dead, and he recites the prayer for compassion for the dead with the same conviction and clarity for the last in a long list as he does for the first. I LOVE HIM no one is surprised I want a gazillion fics about him.

I've seen criticism of this book that suggests it's too nice, it's too lovely, it's just too damn delightful. I'm not unsympathetic to that criticism in general - I've levelled it at other books, most recently Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen - but on the one hand, I think the narrative does earn it for the most part, and on the other, I don't care. Here at the dying end of the old year I am glad to have read something so sustaining. I don't think it's a coincidence that I was recommended this book by one of my colleagues, who has been seen reading it with one hand outstretched loosely over a sandwich. Having had a great deal of my faith in human nature eroded this year, it has been so nice to sit here and read five hundred pages of people being people: kind, decent, moral people, as much as they can be, in troubling circumstances, which is more than a little. Such a gift.

on 2015-12-29 10:04 pm (UTC)
hannah: (Library stacks - fooish_icons)
Posted by [personal profile] hannah
I described Maia to someone as a character whose idealism and wish to be trusting is gradually tempered by realism and pragmatism, not cynicism, and I think that's where a good portion of the book's charm comes from.

on 2015-12-29 10:32 pm (UTC)
fyrdrakken: (Frodo - book)
Posted by [personal profile] fyrdrakken
I think I missed that the author was Sarah Monette -- I also loved the books under that pen name I've read (I think there are still a couple of earlier ones I haven't gotten around to yet), which is a consolation since I was wistful at not seeing anything else by Katherine Addison after I finished The Goblin Emperor.

on 2015-12-30 01:22 am (UTC)
princessofgeeks: (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] princessofgeeks
I loved it too and am glad to be reminded to look for fanfic for it.

on 2015-12-30 03:21 am (UTC)
happydork: A graph-theoretic tree in the shape of a dog, with the caption "Tree (with bark)" (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] happydork
*immediately buys*

on 2015-12-30 04:10 am (UTC)
hokuton_punch: (bodleian library books)
Posted by [personal profile] hokuton_punch
Oh man, I feel so sad because I enjoyed the book but just - am not fannish about it at all. But I really did like it, it was such a lovely read! And I love seeing other people being enthusiastic about it. ♥

on 2015-12-30 05:16 am (UTC)
carthaginians: ([comics] open your wings to wind)
Posted by [personal profile] carthaginians
putting this on my reading list for the new year, thank you!

on 2015-12-30 02:54 pm (UTC)
shinyjenni: Alicia from The Good Wife, seen from behind, wearing a red coat, in front of a wall of bookshelves (alicia books)
Posted by [personal profile] shinyjenni
I loved it too - I read it last week and kept thinking that I must recommend it to you if you hadn't already read it! I think the thing I found most affecting was the way that although Maia always tries so hard to be kind, he never really expects people to be kind to him. MY HEART. I also liked how matter of fact it was - sometimes people are kind, and that's just how the world is. ♥

on 2015-12-30 03:39 pm (UTC)
musesfool: Suki, being AWESOME (the girl with the boom)
Posted by [personal profile] musesfool
It's such a lovely book! It was so nice to read something where people are genuinely kind and also good at their jobs!

on 2015-12-30 10:39 pm (UTC)
soupytwist: Miranda Otto dancing (dancing crazy)
Posted by [personal profile] soupytwist
I am SO PLEASED you've read this too! I love it. I definitely think of it as "but what if a NICE person ended up emperor of elfland?" and I love that the answer is that his example and existence encourage kindness, he stops the bad guys without lots of murdering, and he gets to be entranced by a steam powered bridge. It's quiet, but so charming and lovely and not at all boring. Although TBF I would absolutely also be entranced by the bridge. :D

And I think that putting kindness, and the consideration of others including servants, so central is beautifully revolutionary in its own way. Like the meditation bit - there's so much about human (or ok, goblin or elf) needs, the fact that even the emperor has a mother who he mourns. It's wonderful.

on 2016-01-02 03:06 pm (UTC)
soupytwist: Miranda Otto dancing (dancing crazy)
Posted by [personal profile] soupytwist
HAH yes omg, like, I have read GoT, and I enjoyed some aspects of it, but I spent quite a lot of time going, 'if we were all this horrible all the time WE WOULD BE EXTINCT BY NOW so lighten the fuck up' in my head.

on 2015-12-31 04:30 am (UTC)
riverlight: A rainbow and birds. (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] riverlight
I DID NOT KNOW THEY WERE THE SAME PEOPLE.

Okay, I musssst get this book now!

(If only because the main character shares my name, more-or-less!)

on 2016-01-13 03:34 am (UTC)
riverlight: A rainbow and birds. (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] riverlight
Maja, tbh, but it's Swedish, so it's pronounced the same as Maya! Not many folks in the US with whom I share it (though of course in Sweden it's a different story; apparently it's a v. common name there.)

on 2015-12-29 10:10 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] daegaer.livejournal.com
I've also just finished it and am full of joy! Elves! Goblins! FANTASY COMMUNISTS!! (Higgins' books have a plethora of fantasy communists, if you like such characters, but as the setting is a fantasy AU mash-up of late imperial/revolutionary/Stalinist-era Russia the characters' viewpoints are not similar to Maia's).

I'd read people saying that nothing happened in the book, to which I say, er, what now? I was relieved to find they were incorrect, and loved reading about what did happen, and the good people and things Maia found (as well as the unpleasant people he could actually easily recognise, yet still had to endure because that's just life sometimes).

on 2015-12-30 05:57 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] loneraven.livejournal.com
Yaaay! Yay, I'm so happy you liked it too! And, you know, I have a lot of feelings about things happening, or otherwise, in this book. Because things do happen! But then there are other things that aren't so exciting, that also happen - like finding people new jobs, and assuring other people they are still trusted, and looking after scared children, and conducting public inquiries. And maybe that's not super-fantasy-exciting or whatever, but it's so important and I love so much that the novel deals with it.

on 2015-12-30 12:36 am (UTC)
jamethiel: A photo of leatherbound book spines (BookSpine)
Posted by [personal profile] jamethiel
I too love this book! Sometimes people can be kind, and the family you choose can be better than some of the family you're born with. Also, people treating you badly doesn't mean that you deserved it, or that you're a bad person or that you have to treat others that way, or that nobody will treat you well in future.

It's just unrelentingly decent. And sometimes I need decency and not grim-dark nihlism.

on 2015-12-30 05:58 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] loneraven.livejournal.com
ME TOO FRIEND. Such a lovely book, and so valuable.

on 2015-12-30 01:55 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] biascut.livejournal.com
Do you know, I've come around to completely the opposite view on Gentleman Jole. Cordelia seems SO detached and cool in it that I actually find it quite a dark book. Nothing about her relationship with Miles or her plans for her daughters struck me as any kind of serious consideration of motherhood, in the way that Barrayar is. I kind of feel like her love for Aral was the only intense emotion she had left, and the best she can summon for Miles or her grandchildren or Jole is kind of a pleased general interest.

Also I am confused that you've only just read The Goblin Emperor, as I read it about two years ago and I would have sworn it was a recommendation from you! I loved it too - I thought some of the linguistic invention was a bit too much (I don't like books with glossaries) but I loved the syntax, and the careful and awkward delineation of degrees of familiarity and status and Maia got used to his role.

on 2015-12-30 06:06 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] loneraven.livejournal.com
That is a very interesting reading of Gentleman Jole! And I can totally see it - there is such, I don't know, lack in that book. I wanted to like it, and I just... didn't.

Hee, you're actually not the first person to say they thought I'd recommended it to them earlier! I am also not keen on books with glossaries - my writer-brain says catty things about failure of adequate exposition - but I do love authors who take so much time with their worldbuilding. I think it really shines.

on 2015-12-31 05:07 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] shadowfireflame.livejournal.com
Reading it now! But the author is actually Sarah Monette?!?! Awesome! I didn't know that! I also enjoyed the Iskryne books she wrote with Elizabeth Bear, but haven't read Melusine (yet?--you liked it? Is it similar to the Goblin Emperor?).

on 2016-01-01 05:27 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] loneraven.livejournal.com
I like Melusine a lot! It is basically my tortured id in book form. But do be warned, it is not at all like The Goblin Emperor. (Other than being a, y’know, secondary world fantasy novel with lots of people with interesting names.) It’s much, much darker and in particular if you have triggers or other concerns relating to psychosis or graphic sexual violence, I would advise strongly against it. But given that, it’s as moreish as popcorn and I do like it.

on 2016-01-01 07:23 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] shadowfireflame.livejournal.com
Cool! Thanks for this--I may check it out after I finish the Goblin Emperor!

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