Tuesday, 2 June 2020

The Goblin Emperor Readalong Parts 3 and 4

Ahem. Not at all late. Here's 3 and 4, all rolled together. Thank you everybody else who took part - going to have a look at everybody else's comments when I'm done with this! To have a look at what everybody else did, go to Imyril's or Lisa's round up

These chapters open with a very candid, yet significantly warmer than most, conversation between Maia and Arbelan, and from there things begin to change as Maia learns to act with more confidence. Do you think Arbelan's kinder treatment of him is what sparks this, and if so, how much of an impact do you think it had?

Excuse me one moment while I look up who Arbelan was again.

Ah! Yes. And yes, I do think it had an impact. Even the most self-sufficient people generally need at least one person who can say "Yes, this is good" and it's easy to downplay people who are in your employ. I feel like Arbelan is that person, and the first person to respond to Maia's attempts to push a different way forwards.

The river bridge scheme proves to be a delightful plot point to push a lot of character interaction forward, as well as opening up the scope of this world. Were you surprised by the developments involving Lord Pashavar?

Mm, not so much. I got the feeling fairly early that most of elf society seems fairly conservative and respectful under the trappings and as and when Maia said "yo, dudes, I am the Emperor" he'd be able to get a decent amount done with most of them. That's pretty much what happened. I did love the glimpse into intimacy, something which felt very rare in the novel.

I have to say that between Arbelan and Pashavar & co, it feels like a lot of this book has the more elderly being willing to break down barriers while the youthful are less sure. It's nice to see it done that way for once.

Like a train gathering steam, a great deal of plot drama happens here. Let's talk about Shevean and Chavar. Were you surprised by their gambit? And how do you feel about the way it all played out (ie. Idra's decision to put his foot down)?

When and how it happened? Yes. That it happened and who was behind it? Nope nope nope. They've both been wrong 'uns from the beginning.

The resolution was... hmm. Part of me did feel a little "Is this it? They've risked their lives and futures and everything on this, and it all turns on them being unable to put their foot down and just make Maia do it, and it all comes down to Idra saying no?" From that perspective, it's one of the fluffiest, least satisfying coups ever. But part of me really enjoyed how it came down to Maia being unwilling to cause more pain and Idra having more time and appreciation for Maia than the mother who overlooked him somewhat. But then again... the woman who's obsessed with being the mother of the Emperor didn't actually spend loads of time moulding her son? And Maia got through to Idra on one conversation?

I don't know. I liked it but wasn't sold by it. But I wasn't sold by it because the book had ceased to convince me of its internal logic/verisimilitude before then and I was reading it overcritically.

We get another surprising turnaround from Ceredin, Maia's intended empress-to-be, as well. What are your thoughts on her by the end of these chapters, compared to her initial impression?

Honestly, in the sea of characters, I didn't have much thoughts on her to begin with and didn't have much thoughts on the change, and wished there'd been more time with her to formulate thoughts.

Let's start with Maia's grandfather! What do you think of the Avar, and his budding relationship with Maia?

The Avar is one of the few characters who immediately leaves an imprint of who they are on the book and other than Cala, one of the few non-Maia characters I can actually picture. He's like Brian Blessed as Richard IV, only regal and empathetic and a goblin. And the way he and Maia bonded made total sense and was sweet and I wish this had happened a lot earlier in the book.

Another plot against Maia is foiled... Were you surprised by the reveal of Tethimar as the one behind the late emperor's murder? And what are your thoughts on this reveal, in light of the way this part of the story played out?

It took me a long, long time to remember who Tethimar was.

When it was all tied together though, it made a ton of sense and this was one of my favourite parts of the book.

For all of the enmity that's shown to him, our emperor has a much more hopeful nickname by the end... Looking back, are you satisfied with/pleased by the way Maia handled all of these situations in which he had to make or break relationships? Was there anything you were left questioning or that you feel should have gone differently?

I don't think Maia should have done anything differently, and admired the way he could put aside his occasional minor impulses to cruelty.

But I wish that Addison had condensed the cast and given Maia more time with Idra, with Ceredin, with the member of his council who offers to help him... I'd have been a lot more satisfied if they'd come at the end of long arcs, rather than short arcs.

And as always, feel free to add any other thoughts/feelings on the book in general, now that it's over!

Hoo boy. I like Addison's prose, I really like the idea of the book and I guess that yeah, overall, I liked it, but there were a bunch of things about it that I wasn't really sold on it and if this hadn't been a group readalong, I wouldn't have finished it. Which would be a shame as the ending was great. Getting there felt like a slog, with much of parts 2 and 3 feeling like the same scene over and over just with a different character at the other end. I got Maia's confusion a little too much. I pride myself on the ability to recall who's who in a book; this time, I was just lost. I really wish Addison had picked a different route through the middle - less characters with deeper connections, more pursuit of a single goal, more immediate threat level, more hard choices... something. Anything.

What the book is, and where it works well, is as Maia's personal journey. His triumph of resilience and grace. But that wasn't enough for me, lovely chap as Maia might be, and even then I feel like the journey would have benefited for more doubt, more temptation. I've just had a chat with a fellow blogger where I said Maia gets off about as lightly as any protagonist in the fantasy genre in terms of what he has to deal with. She disagrees with a long list of things that happened to him. I kinda get her point, I kinda stand by my point, but the big deal in terms of this is that Addison didn't sell me on them. And that's what it boils down to. Some of it I enjoyed, other bits I didn't and started looking for why.

For me, there's few things more frustrating than an objectively good book with a lot of subjectively good traits and a just right sized pile of subjectively bad things that I can't just enjoy it and I can't just write it off either.

That aside... I'm pleased that Setheris didn't do any more dickish stuff, and kinda enjoyed the resolution there, but am slightly nonplussed that was it after all the build up. Chekov's gun didn't get fired there for me. I enjoyed finally getting a little depth into Csevet, I wish we had with Cala.

And I guess that's it. Thanks for reading, time to read everybody else's.


  1. GAH when you have a big old response typed out then catch your trackpad with a thumb and the browser refreshes and you lose everything? THAT, dammit.

    So: erm, stuff.

    I think you have a good point in saying Maia gets off lightly: it's not that he doesn't have to deal with A LOT but almost everything is resolved quickly and relatively easily, albeit it with much emotional turmoil for him (and a few assassination attempts, yes).

    ...but that's why I love it. It makes for a very high personal stakes, oddly low threat fantasy that is incredibly cosy, wrapped up with fascinating world-building and delivered in delightful prose. It's a nice change to more epic narratives, and it has a place on my shelf for comfort rereading (a fantasy equivalent to why I love Becky Chambers). But it's definitely just one element of my reading diet - I've bounced straight off into the Dominion of the Fallen for its rather more vicious politics and gloomier outlook ;)

    On Setheris, I rather appreciated Chekhov's gun being left unfired. For the most part, The Goblin Emperor is incredibly tidy and that's a trait I don't love in books - I like a few loose ends. Setheris is relevant for his cruelty in the past and the effects that has on Maia's reactions in the present; and Maia's victory is in rejecting the chance to embrace that cruelty when put in a position of power. Simplistic morality tale? Maybe. But after waves of grimdark, I have to love a story that puts compassion and friendship at the heart (see also: the works of Melissa Caruso; although she gives her characters more protracted challenges, for my money).

    1. I totally get loving it for being a cosy, morally aspirational book with heart and I'm here for such things. Just that when trying to work out where the book and me parted company, I think the lack of dramatic tricks (i.e. pain) left in the box is part of it. I guess cosy and morally aspirational enough isn't always enough for me.

      And you make a good point about Setheris and the general tidiness. In complete, long after the fact hindsight I wish a bit more was done with the wife's complete surprise that Setheris would have done what he did. But maybe that's a challenge for a different book.