Saturday, 21 November 2015

Review: The Goblin Emperor

The Goblin Emperor The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lot of people have been talking about this book, so while it was on sale I picked it up.

The main complaint I'd heard was that it was boring, but I'd also heard that it was excellently written, and sometimes books with a lot of depth get dismissed as "boring" by people who are used to shallow action. What I found was that it was dull sometimes, but I still wanted to keep reading.

I think what people are reacting to is that there's not a lot of conflict, and what conflict there is is often over quickly, and frequently the main character wins the conflict without a lot of struggle. This is the opposite of how to write a fast-moving thriller. It wouldn't be true to say that nothing happens in the book; plenty of things happen, it's full of things happening, but most of them aren't conflicts. It's rich with worldbuilding and description, there are dozens and dozens of characters with long, confusing names (I stopped trying to keep track and just let them wash over me in the end), and even the solving of the murder mystery happens offstage. This last is inevitable, since the viewpoint stays with the title character throughout, and he is stuck in the palace while other people do things like solve murder mysteries on his behalf.

The overall feeling I got from this book was similar to the main character's situation: overwhelmed with the complexities of the court and its denizens, occasionally bored, but wanting to press forward anyway.

Someone, I suspect the editor, has wisely given it very short chapters, so at least there are frequent breaks and more of a sense of progress.

So far I've damned it with faint praise, but it is a beautifully written novel by someone with considerable command of her craft. It's heartening to me to see that something that isn't filled with conflict can get published and command an audience. The book is like an enormous tapestry, every stitch intricate and precise. It's not exciting, but I don't think it's meant to be. It's meant to be beautiful, and it is.

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