Maia Drazhar is an 18-year-old half-elf, half-goblin prince, living in exile with his embittered guardian, when a zeppelin accident (yes, the elves have zeppelins) takes out most of the royal line. Suddenly Maia is Emperor of the Elflands. As the fourth son of an unfavored and long-dead empress, he was never expected to rule. His guardian always punished him for talking too much, and now he’s expected to give speeches. No one has taught him even to dance, far less negotiate a divisive trade agreement… or investigate the treasonous sabotage of the previous Emperor’s airship.
This high fantasy follows Maia’s efforts to navigate his new position, as a bullied youth forced onto a very public stage, learning and choosing how to wield unexpected power. The charm of the story is that Maia is a thoroughly decent individual, winning readers to his side even as he alienates many of his courtiers. Hastily made over with new robes and crown jewels, Maia confounds the court with such gestures as attending the funerals of mere servants and asking daughters of royal houses who they would prefer to marry. (Not him, unfortunately.)
With a leisurely pace and old-fashioned speech, forsooth, this is a fantasy for readers who enjoy the complicated politics of historical novels but who aren’t in the mood for a George Martin-style slaughter of characters. It’s much like the court at Versailles, but with dirigibles, and an enemy is more likely to attack via a courier with a strongly worded letter than at swords’ point. As she’s shown in previous novels, the author is particularly dedicated to world-building, and that set dressing of costume, language, and protocol makes Maia’s Untheileneise Court come to life. Oh, and I thought I’d read enough fantasy not to be bothered by such things, but I do recommend that you read the appendix on names and forms of address before you start. I can’t remember the last time I had so much trouble keeping track of character names and titles… oh, yes, it was Wolf Hall. At least the Tudors were all Tom, Dick, and Harry at home, not Edrehasivar, Varenechibel, and Cstheio Cairezhasan. Ai, Elbereth Gilthoniel!
Katherine Addison is a pen name; as Sarah Monette, she has written the delightful, Gothic tales of Kyle Murchison Booth, collected in The Bone Key, and an involving four-book fantasy series that begins with Mélusine.
Check the WRL catalog for The Goblin Emperor.