I bought this book outright because of a one-star review.
I saw it up for nomination in the Goodreads Choice Awards, and I was intrigued by the cover. A goblin and an awesome crown/city...thing AND an airship? Seemed like something that might go somewhere interesting. But poking around looking for reviews I dug up a one-star one that said something to the effect of "I guess it might be okay if you like political fantasy." Woah, woah, woah, let's back up right there.
I love political fantasy.
It is kind of a hard genre to track down. I like court intrigue, not necessarily cloak-and-dagger or war-is-happening stuff. Although I like stories set in pseudo-European universes (Hello A Song of Ice and Fire series!), I prefer stories set in magical fantasy lands, or at least places quite different than what we have here.
This was an amazing read. I debated giving it a five (and I still might go back and do that), but I am notoriously stingy with those and I wasn't sure. If I go back and re-read (and I will, that is for sure), I will re-evaluate at that point and possibly bump it up.
Maia was great as the main character. He knew only slightly more than I did going into the political mess that was the royal court, which made him a fun guide since he couldn't lecture. We were learning together, watching the political machinations and learning the way the court and those in it move.
I loved that Maia was genuinely kind. Not goody-two-shoes kind; there was nothing sickly sweet about it at all--he absolutely gets angry and disgusted with people that he knows he shouldn't. He gets absorbed in his own problems and forgets about other people. He holds grudges. But in the end, he tries to do his best and to remember those in worse circumstances than he. His statement to his sister Vedero after her shock at the ease at which he accepts her desire to study and belief in the intellectual equality of women to men sums up the rationale behind much of his behavior pretty well, I feel:
"We were not considered worth educating, either"
His upbringing was pretty awful, especially considering he was royal. He sympathizes and empathizes with those being overlooked not due to their abilities but due to a circumstance of birth. He is the half-blood, the part-Goblin, son of a queen his father never wanted, ignored and thrust off in a corner so no one would have to be made uncomfortable by his existence. He understands being the odd one out and it makes him a better emperor.
I loved the language. I've seen a lot of complaints about the usage of the royal "we," but I thought it added a layer of color and history to the universe, and also allowed for the slipping into the less formal usage to be noticeable and to tell the reader about the political and emotional intricacies of the situation.
The world was fascinating. Primarily almost steampunk, there were just hints of what magic was and what it could do. There was a weight of history about the world that isn't often seen, especially in stand-alone novels. I'd love to spend more time here, whenever or wherever I could.
And bother, after all that rambling, I have just managed to convince myself to up the rating to five stars. So there we go.