Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Review: The Goblin Emperor by Kathrine Addison

The Goblin Emperor by Kathrine Addison (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) is looking to be one of the most praised books of 2014 (at least from the bloggers/critics I follow), and I can see why, though part of me thinks this high praise is a much a reaction against the grimdark trend as for the book itself.

It seems to me that a lot of people out there are simply tired of grimdark. Really… the world right now kind of sucks for a lot of people, and for the vast majority of us, life is hard and stressful a lot of the time. So, do we really want to read about worlds that lack and hope and/or redemption? I suppose some people probably find some form of solace in reading about worlds that suck worse than ours, and others consider it a form of ‘realism’ that they can get behind. Me…well, I've not jumped on the grimdark wagon because when I escape to the worlds I’m reading about, I do want some hope, I want redemption, I want positive, progressive change. I want to leave my world behind.

Yes, this is about me and what I’m looking for. 2014 has turned out to be a particularly hard and stressful year for me, maybe the most stressful ever – even more than the harsh medical struggles of my daughter’s first year of life. That sucked bad – but I had no control over it, I could only go along with hope and prayers. The difference with now is that it’s much of my own doing, I often have direct control over how a thing will play out. That’s a whole new kind of stress for me, and way more pressure than I want to deal with. So, the urge to just walk away and escape it all is stronger than ever.

For me that, I think that’s why The Goblin Emperor worked so well. I got a journey into a world that was both an escape and something I could really relate to. Much of that that stress I mention above is due to me ascending to a position of leadership – one I accepted/volunteered for, but also one that is turning out way different than I had thought/hoped for. It actually sucks most of the time and I don’t have the time and energy that I need to devote to it. But, I’m the one in charge, so I've got to move forward anyway, because it really does all come down to me.

As a result, I could strongly relate to Maia and his ascending to the role of emperor. Now, my own situation is not one of life or death, there’s a big difference in the scope of leadership addressed, and my own situation doesn't come with racial baggage (though perhaps a little bit of the family baggage). But it was still a position I could relate to – feeling completely out of my league, no comfort zone in site, helplessness in reliance on others, those moments of losing every bit of confidence in one’s decision making abilities, and yet an overriding duty to live up to the opportunity and make things better.

Because that’s what it’s all really about, isn't it? Striving to make the world a better place regardless of what gets thrown at you. Whether that world is the small world of your own family, your place of work, or the actual, literal world around us all. It really is a fundamental part of human nature to be optimistic in the face all the contravening information, and to really want to make the world better.

Grimdark refuses to admit that about human nature, and that refusal often does nothing more than highlight just how strong a part of human nature hope really is. It deals with the exception to the rule of hope, and that’s why I don’t think it will last. That’s also why much of what gets called grimdark is anything but (however, that’s another discussion entirely). So, it’s no surprise that a book like The Goblin Emperor is receiving so much praise. And it really is a great big breath of fresh air among the stench of grimdark.

I still have another admission to make – when I was reading The Goblin Emperor, none of this was evident to me, or at least not at the level I’m exploring here. I was just enjoying a good book. A fantasy book that largely lacks violence, and is the better for it. A fantasy book that embraces the idea of hope, change, and progress. A fantasy book that has one of the best, most uplifting endings that I've read in years. But after sitting down to write this review, having no idea that it would end up being what it’s become, I realize that The Goblin Emperor affected me at a much deeper level than I imagined. Only a truly great novel can do that and I now realize that The Goblin Emperor is a truly great novel.

For the record, I've also realized that for some reason I can never spell the word emperor correctly – my hands are incapable of it. Perhaps I should unpack that one in my next post?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Herein I Do That Whole Year-In-Review Thing

Having used the word herein in the title of a blogpost, I can just about say all my goals have been met with this blog. Of course that would imply this blog has ever had goals, which it may have at one time (or several), but those goals have long since passed into irrelevancy (or perhaps) apathy.

What a brilliant way to cheerfully begin the blog post that’s supposed to celebrate 2014. Did I mention that I never bothered to do one for 2013? I think that was the first time in the 8+ year history of this blog. Oh well.

The truth is that anyone still bothering to read this blog well knows that I don’t have the time I used to. I only posted 16 reviews in 2014, and a good number of those were books I read in 2013 because it takes me a while to write a review these days. And most were shorter reviews. So we’ll just stick with posts that were actually posted in 2014 for simplicity’s sake. Of those 16, 7 were written by women (~44%), which is easily the highest annual percentage for this blog. While that’s certainly a big step forward for me, I should also point out that 0 of those 16 books was authored by someone who would be classified as a minority with typical definitions. And only 1 of those books was authored by someone whose primary language is something other than English. So, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

But the truth is that I don’t see this as the year for improvement. Life is overwhelming for me as I've become way overcommitted. One result of that is that when I read, I’m finding I mostly want relatively light reading that’s not out to challenge me. This is leading mostly to what would often be considered rather escapist reading that is much more about entertainment than anything else. Though something particularly absurd and/or overflowing in biting satire would also work well. Anyway…it’ll be interesting to see where these attitudes lead me for reading choices this year.

I do expect things to lighten up again after September, so hopefully that will bring back to the blog and my @nethspace Twitter account more regularly. That’s certainly the plan.

As mentioned above, I reviewed 16 books in 2014. I suppose I should highlight 5 of those reads that appealed to me most at the time.

  • Caine’s Law by Matthew Woodring Stover (review)
  • Half a King by Joe Abercrombie (review)
  • Breach Zone by Myke Cole (review)
  • City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (review)
  • A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (review)

So…44% books written by women. I list five favorites, of which only one (20%) was written by a woman. And did I mention that my thoughts about what was one of the most talked about books of the past few years were contrary to most? That in combination with my thoughts on this book perhaps raise an eyebrow or two. Yeah, well…interesting.

Anyway…2014 for me in blogging terms has been something along the lines of not dying. 2015 will probably be more of the same. After that I’m hopeful for more time. Of course who knows what the state of things will be by then – how much of a dinosaur will I be clinging to a blog? Just maybe I’ll find time to attend a convention or two – but likely not until 2016 or 2017.

For what it’s worth – I've read and not yet reviewed 5 books. 4 of those actually have drafts in progress. Since I've tended toward posting in bursts, it wouldn't be surprising for a few more posts to come online in the next week or so, probably at least one before that rather arbitrary division in time known as the New Year. This should be a cause of mass celebration with parties everywhere on Dec. 31st. At which time everyone should resolve to make changes to become better people. Yes people, it’s always been about me.


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