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.
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