The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Medieval-level fantasy with goblins and elves, airships and intrigue, and race relations and gender politics and multiple sexual orientations. In a word, awesome.
Vivid and rich and alive in unexpected ways. The plot is rather basic — outsider unexpectedly inherits the throne, has to learn to rule people that look down on him — but the characters are so interesting, so well fleshed-out, that it held me all the way through. I might just read it again.
The big writing lesson for me from this book is exactly that: well-written characters that you want to spend time with will compensate for a lot of other shortcomings. For The Goblin Emperor, those shortcomings would normally compel me to stop reading.
I gave up trying to pronounce many of the fantasy words and names it introduces. The glossary of terms, which I found while desperately searching for some sort of help in keeping terms and titles and characters straight, proved to be worthless. Many of its definitions are either self-referential or refer to other terms which are. There’s also no map, so I had no idea of the relative size or placement of any of the cities and nations mentioned in the book. As some of the intrigue involves trade relations among neighboring realms, this was frustrating.
But I ultimately didn’t care. I cared about the main character from the first chapter, and cared about the others almost as quickly. I skipped over names, I couldn’t keep any of the titles straight, I had no idea where anything was, and I didn’t care. The main challenges of the book were people, and I wanted the main character to succeed with all of them. Everything else faded away.