The Goblin Emperor
An apparent accident with an airship has led to the death of powerful elven emperor and his immediate successors – these elves apparently do not follow the British tradition that says that monarch and heir or similar combinations should not travel by air together. Suddenly, then, to his own great surprise and the outrage of most of the remainder of the court, a young half-goblin called Maia, the only child of the tragic fourth wife of the previous emperor, ascends to the throne. Having been held in little regard by the court (there is also a suggestion of discrimination which is not outwardly mentioned in a world of glacial, deeply bourgeois manners and mannerisms), the new emperor is utterly unprepared for this change of lifestyle. He had been raised in an abusive household with an unloved and unlovely guardian and lacked basic knowledge about the empire, not to mention the poise and ability to converse with his subjects that might have been expected of him. Learning how to acquire this burnish, savoir faire and ability to survive in what turns out to be quite a dangerous environment forms the main content of this thoroughly entertaining novel. Presumably, this being the fantasy genre, the author is planning a series of such books and, if so, I would be happy to read more of them.
The elven empire is based quite strongly on the historical Chinese empire of about the Sung dynasty in vintage, albeit with the addition of some steampunk-like technology, mostly in the field of communications. Gender relations in the aristocracy, for example, are comparable, although in China Maia would have been considered something of a late-starter and his father would have been expected to have an extensive harem of wives in various categories and additional concubines. The nature of the imperial household and the work that was expected of the emperor also rings true, more or less. There are some delightful additions drawn from the elfishness of things, such as the telltale signs of emotion given away by twitching of the ears. Formal names are also pleasing, since they contain an apparent wealth of meaning (although they are not explained). For example, the previous emperor was known as Varenchibel, while Maia takes the regnal name Edrehasivar VII Drazhar and occupies the court Untheileneise. It is there that he entertains the Great Avar of Barizhan, who is the leader of the Xi Xia to Maia’s China. I would anticipate seeing more of him and his people in the future. Presumably, having established himself as the legitimate emperor, Maia will be required to look outside of the court and deal with foreign relations, warfare and natural disasters and so forth.
The writing of the prose is consistently done and has a certain poetry to it, particularly the dialogue, although I would have liked to have seen more of the discourse and conversation informed by cultural phenomena (e.g. poetry, legends) as would have been engineered by the great Dorothy Dunnett. Tastes would vary in this regard, since many readers would find the text forbidding as a result. There is also a slight issue, to my mind, as to how Maia arrives at the epiphanies that help him navigate the court, since these seem quite easily come by without sufficient suffering or intellectual struggle. However, this is a minor issue and the book itself I can heartily recommend.