The blurb printed on the front of this book reads “challenging, invigorating, and unique.”
I’m afraid I’m not impressed in the slightest. I found no aspect of the novel challenging, except keeping track of particular name-forms: there is an appendix in the back, but as the table of contents is excessively large and I didn’t read all of it, I wasn’t aware of this resource until I finished the book. *looks* Oh wait, it’s not even listed on the TOC! How… unique.
As far as invigorating, it is quite a passable bit of entertainment, but nothing more. Not boring, but not a compulsive page-turner either. It doesn’t have a downer ending, though – perhaps some readers accustomed to gloomy depressing books like The Three Body Problem and find a hopeful ending invigorating.
As far as unique, there must be some new definition of “unique” that means “checks all the boxes” – we have the dark-skinned half-breed (racism, check!), the proto-feminists in a patriarchal culture (sexism, check!), the abused orphan victim who’s suddenly the most Important Person Of All (victim-worship, check!), and the Understanding Foreign Cultures box, due to a guest “appearance” by the Mongol Horde in court discussion, which is mentioned in the book solely to check the multi-culti box. I’m serious. They serve absolutely no function in the plot whatsoever, except to show that
Harry Potter I mean Maia, is A Good Person!!!
This book is court intrigue, and that’s all it is. Literally. There are no pressing concerns outside the court: the rest of the world sends the occasional representative, but all of them are bit-players in the grand tale of Blossoming Mary Sue Maia, the Goblin Emperor, who appears to go from a half-educated political exile to Emperor Secure On His Throne in the space of a single season. *cough* I guess I’m being a little too hard on the only character in the entire book, though. If you were expecting to get to know any other side characters as well, unfortunately you’ll be disappointed. None of them get enough screen time for the reader to get to know them. And Maia isn’t allowed to have any friends, because he’s the emperor.
I’m not quite convinced that this novel qualifies as fantasy, honestly. Elves? Goblins? Other than some references to ear-twitching and eye color, their society is human-vanilla. Completely. There is magic, but nobody ever uses it for anything significant that couldn’t have been just as easily accomplished with readily-available technology. (The tech-level is steam-powered industry, but not much of that appears in the novel either.) There’s minor hints of divine intervention from the local pantheon, but that all happens to somebody else offscreen, not our sole character Maia. There’s no mystical or technological McGuffin, no arcane powers. Not even any quirks in “elf” or “goblin” society that makes them any different than any fictional human society, either.
So basically, this book is the opposite of challenging or unique. Which doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining, if coming-of-age stories and court intrigue plots are your thing.