I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while. Three of my friends from my undergrad book club had read it, and it was just sitting on my shelf mocking me, and I didn’t want to be left out of any more discussions. FOMO is a great motivator to read, isn’t it?
This book is kind of labeled as steampunk, but that’s not really the focus of it. The steampunk comes in minor details like the airships or the bridge technology. What this book is really about is Maia, a young half-goblin half-elf, who becomes emperor of [LAND] after his father and all of his half-brothers die in a tragic airship accident. What follows is a delicious story of court intrigue and…not much else.
Alright, so I really loved this book, but there is a lot that’s not “good” by any stretch of the imagination. There’s very little conflict aside from Maia’s naivete, having been raised on the outskirts of [LAND] by a distant cousin after his mother, the ex-empress passes away. And what conflict there is, is episodic and easily resolved. You’ll also notice my use of [LAND] because for the life of me, I can’t keep all these four-syllable words and names straight. I mean, I got the names eventually, but I had a hard time figuring out what each jurisdiction (for lack of a better word) was and who related to what. There’s a much-needed glossary in the back. My poor friend listened to the book on audio and didn’t have the appendix, so she had to borrow another friend’s hard copy. Now, even though it’s a bit discombobulating–you really get dunked into the middle of everything, and you know even less about the culture than Maia does–you eventually get the gist of things.
One aspect I really wish Addison had touched upon was the race relations between goblins and elves. You get a vague sense of things, such as people calling Maia a hobgoblin derisively, so you suspect that elves think they’re better than goblins, but that’s about it. The Great Avar, the leader of the goblins, comes to visit Maia in the palace, and there’s no sniggering about the “barbarians” or incredulousness at goblin customs. Heck, the goblins are a black-skinned people, while the elves are pure white! Which is tired and uncreative, but should at least be a touchstone for expecting racism. I dunno, maybe Addison felt like she wasn’t equipped to handle writing a mixed-race person’s experience of race, but maybe she should have made some different choices in her story then. Because, like it or not, she’s suggested that racism and prejudice are a part of elven culture, and she just skims over it. Weird.
So it’s not too deep of a read, but it’s incredibly imaginative, and I really enjoyed it. I love intrigue, and I don’t read it as much as I’d like to. And believe me, after GMing my first Pathfinder campaign–quasi-St. Petersburg intrigue–I know just how much effort needs to go into these things.