The Goblin Emperor

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The Goblin Emperor
AuthorKatherine Addison
Cover artistAnna and Elena Balbusso
CountryUnited States
SeriesThe Goblin Emperor
GenreFantasy of manners
Published1 April 2014
PublisherTor Books
AwardLocus Award for Best Fantasy Novel (2015)
(hardcover 1st ed)
Followed byThe Witness for the Dead 

The Goblin Emperor is a 2014 fantasy novel written by the American author Sarah Monette under the pseudonym Katherine Addison. The novel received the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel and was nominated for the Nebula, Hugo and World Fantasy Awards. It was well-received by critics, who noted the strength of the protagonist's characterization and, unusual for fantasy, the work's warm and understated tone.

The book tells the story of Maia, a young man of mixed Elven and Goblin heritage, who unexpectedly becomes Emperor of the Elflands, and has to contend with the court's byzantine power structure as well as racial and social tension in his realm.


Maia, youngest and least-favored son of the Emperor of the Elflands and of mixed Elven and Goblin heritage, unexpectedly ascends to the throne after his father and half-brothers are killed in an airship crash. Having been brought up entirely in exile from the court, living with an abusive cousin, the court is alien to him and his lack of social polish and connections make it difficult to take up his new responsibilities.

In the course of the first few months of his reign, Maia agrees to marry the noblewoman Csethiro; is seized by a crush on the opera singer Vechin; is visited by his maternal grandfather, the ruler of the Goblins; and slowly comes to terms with the loss of privacy that comes with being accompanied by bodyguards and retainers at all times. He survives an attempted coup by his half-brother's widow and his lord chancellor because his young nephew Idra refuses to usurp the throne, and his investigation into the death of his father uncovers a conspiracy by disaffected noblemen that had been using a group of worker revolutionaries to kill the previous Emperor.

The end of the novel sees Maia survive an assassination attempt by the conspiracy's ringleader, and push through a controversial project to bridge the realm's principal river. An epithet accorded to him by a courtier, "the bridgebuilder", represents his efforts to connect emotionally with the people surrounding him slowly coming to fruition.


Critical reception[edit]

The Goblin Emperor received positive reviews. At io9, Michael Ann Dobbs appreciated that the strong characterization made the novel "remarkably compelling and fascinating" despite consisting almost exclusively of court intrigue and not having the protagonist really do anything: the novel, according to Dobbs, "mostly eschews plot-heavy histrionics in favor of warmth, psychological depth, and hope".[1] Liz Bourke, writing an enthusiastic review for, noted the "compelling attractiveness of Maia’s character" as a fundamentally decent person, as well as the author's detailed worldbuilding.[2]

In Strange Horizons, Foz Meadows wrote that in addition to the novel's "elegant prose, intricate worldbuilding, compelling politics and (...) poignantly sympathetic protagonist", its appeal was as much thematic as structural in that it successfully joined the trappings of high fantasy to those of steampunk.[3] She also appreciated the novel's handling "issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality in subtle but important ways", and noted that, as "a novel about abuse and power", it did not personify either as a "cackling overlord" but as institutionalized, internalized practices of entitlement, pride, and callousness, while ending not in triumph but with a muted, steady sense of progress, trust and healing.[3]

Writing for Pornokitsch, Jared Shurin felt that the novel should not be classified as "grimdark" because the protagonist Maia Drazhar more closely fits a high fantasy style in which characters are driven by destiny, rather than a "fantasy Protestantism" in which they choose between good and evil.[4] Addison herself says that her protagonist turned the story "in a defiantly non-grimdark direction".[5] Shurin was disappointed that the "subtle, characterful and deeply emotive" novel was packaged in alienating genre clichés, including an excess of invented language, a "heavy-handed morality", and a "too-perfect protagonist".[4] In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews recommended the novel unreservedly as a "spellbinding and genuinely affecting drama", noting its "powerful character studies".[6] Publishers Weekly described the work as "less a novel than a series of anecdotes", but considered that it was "carried by the strength of atmosphere and Maia’s resonant good-heartedness".[7]


The Goblin Emperor received the 2015 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.[8] It was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel of 2014,[9] the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel[10] and the 2015 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel.[11]


On June 22, 2021, Monette published a companion book, The Witness for the Dead, set in the same universe. The second book is not a direct sequel, but instead is "a detective novel" focusing on Thara Celehar from the first novel.[12]

On May 1, 2022, she published "Min Zemerin's Plan", a short story also set in that universe.[13]


  1. ^ Dobbs, Michael Ann (23 May 2014). "Goblin Emperor Has One of the Most Lovable Characters We've Met in Ages". io9. Retrieved 14 February 2015.
  2. ^ Bourke, Liz (20 February 2014). "Building Bridges: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison". Retrieved 14 February 2015.
  3. ^ a b Meadows, Foz (26 May 2014). "The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison". Strange Horizons. Retrieved 14 February 2015.
  4. ^ a b Shurin, Jared (28 January 2015). "NEW RELEASES: THE GOBLIN EMPEROR BY KATHERINE ADDISON". Pornokitsch. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  5. ^ "SFF In Conversation: Katherine Addison on The Goblin Emperor and Grimdark". The Book Smugglers. 22 April 2014. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  6. ^ "THE GOBLIN EMPEROR by Katherine Addison". Kirkus Reviews. 1 April 2014. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  7. ^ "The Goblin Emperor". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  8. ^ "2015 Locus Awards Winners". Locus. 27 June 2015. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
  9. ^ "2014 Nebula Awards Nominees Announced". Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. February 20, 2015. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
  10. ^ "2015 Hugo and Campbell Award Finalists". Locus. 2015-04-04. Retrieved 2015-04-04.
  11. ^ World Fantasy Convention 2015. "WORLD FANTASY AWARDS NOMINEES". Retrieved 9 July 2015.
  12. ^ Madison fantasy author Sarah Monette has a hit by any other name, by Rob Thomas, in The Capital Times; published February 2, 2019; retrieved February 7, 2019
  13. ^ Addison, Katherine (May 1, 2022). "Min Zemerin's Plan". The Sunday Morning Transport. Retrieved September 15, 2022.