Goblins, steampunk, elves and a royal court with an emperor who never expected to be one.
The author, Katherine Addison joins us today to tell us how Goblins Get a Bad Rap!
A review of THE GOBLIN EMPEROR coming soon!
Goblins get a bad rap.
Whether you call them goblins or orcs, they’re always pretty much the same. They’re always green (cemented by Spiderman’s arch-nemesis, the Green Goblin). They’re always evil. And they’re always kind of stupid, a step down from humans in the same way elves are a step up. Perfect if what you want is an army of cookie-cutter villains for your heroes to triumph over, the kind of enemies you don’t need to have qualms about killing.
I decided a long time ago that I have an unsurmountable ethical objection to creating a species of villain who exist only to be justifiably exterminated. That’s genocidal thinking, and that is something we as human beings need to eliminate from our repertoire. And once I’d made that decision, it changed the way I looked at the imaginary races beloved of science fiction and fantasy.
In Tolkien, goblins (or orcs, as he later decided to call them) are irredeemably evil, because they are elves warped and de-evolved by Morgoth, the biggest of Tolkien’s Big Bads. And that’s logical and necessary according to the rules of the world he created, but there’s no reason that anyone not playing with his careful semi-allegorical balancing of good and evil needs to follow along.
And thus, being contrary by nature (as anyone who’s known me for more than five minutes can tell you), I started wondering about goblins, about what would happen if you *didn’t* assume before you started that they were villains. I began to think about ways to make goblins, not merely protagonists, but actually a noble race, equal to elves.
That idea drifted around in my head for a while, looking for something to hook onto. My experience is that you can’t get a story out of one idea. You need at least two, and it helps if they are sharply orthogonal to each other. In this case, the second idea was airships.
I like steampunk a lot, both as an aesthetic and as a way to re-imagine our relationship with technology. (I’m less on board with some of its other tendencies, but that’s not the point here.) And I adore airships of all kinds, blimps and zeppelins and Professor Fate’s ridiculous air-bicycle in The Great Race. I love the fact that both the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building were built with mooring masts.
I became consumed with the desire to write a story with airships in it, but I didn’t actually want to write the alternate universe Victorian world common to steampunk stories.
I wanted to write a story with airships and elves. And goblins.
It made for a rather different kind of world-building (possibly my favorite of the things I invented is the Amal-Athamareise Airship Company) and so it only seemed appropriate that elves and goblins should become rather different as well. I deeply enjoyed inventing their cultures, making two societies that were obviously related but also obviously alien to each other. My goblins–or Barizheisei, as they call themselves–turned out to be a warrior people with a semi-anarchic elected monarchy, very different from the hidebound and tradition-burdened dynastic empire of the elves. And the goblins had steamships.
Since the action of The Goblin Emperor takes place almost entirely in the monumental palace of the elvish emperor, we never got to the southern coast of Barizhan, the goblins’ country, to see the ports and the steamships and the sailors, but I knew they were there, and I worked in references to them when I could, because I had elves and goblins and airships and steamships and a giant steam-powered drawbridge, and there were honestly days when I was beside myself with the sheer glee of making this world up, of giving my goblins the dignity to go toe to toe with the elves, of finding out who they were when they weren’t green and evil and kind of stupid.
Turns out, they were some of the best people I’ve ever had living in my head.
A vividly imagined fantasy of court intrigue and dark magics in a steampunk-inflected world, by a brilliant young talent.
The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.
Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.
Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.
This exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.
Find the Book: Goodreads