I read the Goblin Emperor as part of the Sword and Laser book club on Goodreads. Great group!
This is a standalone fantasy, with some steampunk elements. It’s very much a character piece, without a lot of plot. If character studies are your thing, then this book is definitely up your alley. With all the character moments, however there is definitely a story. A pretty basic story concept that you’ve probably heard before- the young prince who was too far down in the line of succession to ever think of actually ascending the throne, until a tragic accident changes everything.
The young prince in question is Maia, a half goblin, half elf who was the son of one of the emperor’s many wives. The emperor hated the fact that he had a half goblin son, so he was sent away into exile, far away from the court. When the emperor and his heir die in an airship accident, Maia becomes emperor. (This all happens very early in the book, so not really a spoiler). The rest of the novel is spent chronicling Maia’s early weeks and months as emperor. It follows his triumphs and missteps along the way. Maia is a likable character. He’s very normal, and has very natural reactions to the strangeness of the court. He’s not such a quick study that within a few chapters he’s perfected everything and becomes the greatest emperor ever. This makes Maia relatable and real.
The only “complaint” that I would have is that I would actually like more plot. There are some big moments that happen, but they are still very subdued. They happened quickly and were resolved quickly. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. Heavy action sequences would not have fit with the overall tone of the book, but I think, a more intense, suspenseful sequence would have upped the stakes a bit more.
As I got to the end of the book, it felt like I had read the first book in series, where the world was set up and the rules established, and so now in the second book, we get to the meat of the story. But there is no second book. It was only a beginning, and now we are left to fill in the rest of the story for ourselves. I enjoyed the story while I was reading it, but I am ultimately a bit unsatisfied.
I would also warn you that there are a lot of long, somewhat difficult names, along with naming conventions that can get very confusing. There were times when I had to figure out who people were by the context, not because I knew a particular character’s name. There is a glossary in the back that I suggest you reference. Often.
I would recommend the book if you are looking for a pleasant read and you don’t want to commit to a series.