Literature / The Goblin Emperor
The castle is not actually on his head. We think.

A novel by Katherine Addison. Maia, fourth son of the emperor of the Elflands, finds himself in a position he never expected when his father and all three of his older brothers die during a mysterious airship accident, leaving him next in line for the throne. Unfortunately for Maia, his half-goblin heritage meant he was The Unfavorite of his father, and he grew up largely in seclusion, exiled to a manor in the countryside. Thrust suddenly into the spotlight at the Untheileneise, he is woefully unprepared to deal with either the backstabbing that goes on or the actual administrative and diplomatic work required of him.

Published April 1st, 2014.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Abdicate the Throne: Lord Chavar and Sheveän try to force Maia to abdicate in favor of his nephew Idra. It goes badly when Idra doesn't want the first thing to do with it.
  • Abusive Parents: Maia's father despised him and put him out of sight, out of mind at some back-country estate, while his guardian Setheris was emotionally and physically abusive. Maia's mother, on the other hand, is never described as anything other than loving.
  • Acrofatic: The Great Avar, Maia's maternal grandfather. Maia's first impression is that he is "monstrously fat" but he is surprisingly light on his feet.
  • All-Loving Hero: Maia's very nearly this. He's exceptionally generous to his servants and makes a point of knowing their names, tries to be kind to his family on his father's side even when they have nothing but disdain for him, and even tries to forgive one of his bodyguards for betraying him.
  • Arranged Marriage: Maia's future empress is decided by a vote in parliament. Almost all marriages between nobility are arranged for political reasons.
  • Attempted Rape: Implied to have happened to a younger Csevet at the hands of Eshevis Tethimar, who didn't proposition him so much as "grab"; when Csevet fought him off (and bit him), Eshevis ordered him hunted to death by his lackeys, and Csevet barely escaped with his life.
  • Badass Bookworm: Cala is even-tempered, kind, and often implied to be absorbed in his studies when he's not occupied with guarding the emperor. He casts a death spell on a would-be assassin.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Drazhada, due to Maia's father having married five times. The first wife was set aside for being barren, the second, third, and fourth wives were all dead before thirty, and the fifth wife is young and stupid with pretensions to grandeur. Not to mention all the minor members of the family running around.
  • Bury Your Gays: In a particularly cruel twist, Ethuveraz is a deeply homophobic culture and one gay is forced to bury another, at least in the backstory. Thara Celehar's male lover, unable to escape his marriage to an abusive wife, murdered her and hid the body; since as a clerical Witness, Celehar's job is Interrogating the Dead, he had no choice but to level the murdered woman's accusation against her husband, his beloved, who was executed. Luckily, Celehar himself survives the novel, and one of Maia's goblin aunts is explicitly reported to be living as a man, with a successful career as a pirate captain and with a wife of her own.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Maia soon learns to feel these.
  • Chessmaster Sidekick: Csevet has all the political savvy Maia lacks.
  • The Clan: Any of the elvish families.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Maia's caregiver Setheris did this, often to the point of being The Alcoholic. His wife, who was not sent into exile with him, is horrified to find out.
  • Drunk with Power: Defied. Once Maia realizes he can yank Setheris's chain, he forces himself not to.
  • Elves vs. Dwarves: The elves see goblins as barbarians and goblins see the elves as nancies, but in reality, both societies are technologically advanced.
  • The Extremist Was Right: Shulivar, the man responsible for killing Maia's father and brothers, certainly thinks he was. After he is caught, he happily tells Maia that the political reforms Maia has been working on throughout the novel were exactly the sort of things Shulivar wanted and expected from Maia if he became Emperor, and that while having to kill a bunch of innocent people (not to mention being about to be executed himself) was regrettable, he is very pleased with how it all turned out.
  • The Fair Folk: The story is about elves and goblins, though they could easily have been humans with very little changed.
  • Fantastic Racism: As a bonus, elves are fair-skinned and goblins are dark. Mixed offspring are common, and their skin runs the spectrum of grays.
  • Good Old Ways: Maia wishes to separate himself from the notorious corruption of the last few reigns, and does so by reverting to an older pattern for his reigning name. This only applies to the court ways, though—Maia is progressive with social and economic reform, and argues against his advisors when they try to suppress change in the name of tradition.
  • Happily Married: All reports of Varenechibel and his third marriage to Pazhiro are that it was a happy one until she died in childbirth.
  • Hero of Another Story: The other characters are shown to be having their own adventures when Maia's not around. Thara Celehar, the priest/private-detective, could support an entire novel on his own.
  • Hunting "Accident": Toward the end of the novel, Maia inquires about the family of Tethimar, an all-around terrible person. Besides several sisters, it's mentioned that Tethimar also had a younger brother that died many years ago in a hunting accident. It's not spelled out if this was an accident or an "accident", but since Tethimar is on record "hunting" another person at least once, the reader probably has good reason to be suspicious.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: It's revealed that in the past, Tethimar and his hunting party attempted to do this to Csevet as revenge/a cruel "joke" after Csevet fought off Tethimar's attempted rape by biting him.
  • Interrogating the Dead: Clerical Witnesses for the Dead have the ability to do this via magic.
  • Interspecies Romance: The main character is half-goblin, half-elf. Significant interbreeding occurs between the two species, particularly near the border of their lands.
  • King Bob the Nth: Varenechibel IV, Edrehasivar VII, and of course a number of historical emperors before them.
  • Liminal Being: A woman betrothed but not married has left her natal family but not been attached to her marital one — making her permanently this when her betrothed dies.
  • Liminal Time: Maia thinks on how his state between his ascension and his coronation is this.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Invoked when Maia's father tried to deny that Maia was his, but unfortunately for him he only slept with Chenelo the one time to consummate the marriage and she was obviously a virgin at the time.
  • Morton's Fork: Idra uses this on his mother.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Maia, occasionally to an inappropriate (if well-meaning) degree.
  • Offered the Crown: Idra is offered the chance to replace Maia. He wants nothing to do with the plot.
  • Our Elves Are Better: Subverted. The elves regard themselves as superior to the goblins, but are often seen as being punctilious and cold by foreigners. Although there are cultural differences, most differences between the species appear to be largely superficial.
  • Our Goblins Are Different: Subverted. The main character, Maia, is half-goblin. Goblins are apparently the same species as elves (they're interfertile), and the differences between them are mainly cultural, with some superficial but striking physical differences (hair, skin, and eye color).
  • Parental Neglect:
    • Maia was sent into exile with his mother and then re-sent into exile after his mother died. Basically his father tried to forget he existed.
    • Varenechibel was also lacking as a grandfather as he doted on Idra but ignored his granddaughters.
    • Sheveän is revealed to not be the best of mothers, either, as her daughters are much more attached to their nurse.
  • Parental Substitute: It lasted only very briefly, but after Maia's mother died another noblewoman took care of him for a while. They each remember the other fondly.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage:
    • Maia and Csethiro seem well on their way to this by the end of the novel.
    • It is mentioned that Varenechibel and his third wife Pazhiro had this.
  • Promotion to Parent: After Sheveän is arrested, Maia assumes the role of her children's guardian, which is awkward seeing as he's only four years older than Idra.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Maia becomes one by the end of the novel.
  • Royal Blood: The main character's father is the late Emperor of the Elflands.
  • Share Phrase: It's usually Csevet's line, but many characters will say this after Maia thanks them for doing their duties, offers them courtesies servants don't expect from an emperor, or saving him from making a mistake:
    "It is our job, Serenity."
  • Shout-Out: The Evressai barbarians of the steppes dispose of their dead by leaving them on a sacred rock outcrop for vultures - a reference to the "sky burial" practiced by real-life people of Central Asia.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Well on the idealistic side. Maia is a genuinely decent guy, and most of the courtiers get over their racism once they get to know him.
  • Spanner in the Works: Idra, to Sheveän and Chavar's whole coup — they had Maia cold, but his would-be-successor's adamant refusal to take the throne delays things enough for guards to arrive and kick down the door.
  • Spare to the Throne: Maia was never supposed to inherit the throne, and is totally unprepared for the royal court.
  • Succession Crisis: The only way the main character ascends the throne, when his father and three older brothers all die in a freak accident.
  • Steam Punk: There are airships, a subplot featuring a steam powered bridge and mention of a steam powered unicorn (although only the head and neck move).
  • Taking the Veil: Becoming a votary is the simplest solution for a woman who is betrothed but not married if her fiancé dies, as her legal status is ambiguous.
    • A rare male version is offered to Maia during the first attempted coup. After he abdicates, he'll be sent to a monastery of the goddess Cstheio, to take a vow of silence. The worst part is, it sounds so nice in comparison to the stress of being Emperor.
  • Title Drop: It happens during Varenechibel IV's wake:
    He could imagine all too clearly what Setheris and his ilk would say about the goblin emperor — and if they were not calling him that yet, then it was only a matter of time — chatting publicly with the Great Avar's representative.
  • Unexpected Successor: Maia is the Emperor of the Elflands' fourth son.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Shulivar, the proletarian airship worker who made the "incendiary device" that blew up the old Emperor's airship, double-crossed his employer Tethimar, deliberately detonating the bomb early so that Maia's father and brothers would die, Tethimar's plot would be foiled, and Maia would ascend the throne. Despite the fact that he committed treason and mass-murder, Shulivar is so reasonable and serene that he makes fellow half-goblin Maia very nervous.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Averted. The author uses "thee" and "thou" correctly to indicate the familiar you.