#WitchWeek2021 Day 3: Intrigue in the Elflands

Map of Ethurevaz, after Sarah Monette

This year’s host looks at a (so far) two-book series by fantasy author Sarah Monette, here writing as Katherine Addison

Intrigue in the Elflands:
Katherine Addison’s Ethuveraz
Chris Lovegrove

Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor was a near instant hit when it was published back in 2014, but the reasons of its success weren’t easily discernable at first sight: nothing much seemed to happen, there was a lot about courtly etiquette, a murder mystery was solved — off-camera as it were — and the protagonist initially appeared to have little or no agency.

Seven years later a sort of sequel, The Witness for the Dead, was set in the same world — Ethuveraz, the Elflands — except now in a provincial city with a different though equally diffident protagonist, threaded through with multiple strands and a key murder mystery to solve. As with its predecessor it’s hard at first sight to work out how its low-key approach might hold readers’ attentions and appreciation, but hold them it largely does.

Another prominent aspect to both novels, one that is pertinent to this year’s Witch Week theme, is the incidence of conspiracies, treason and plots: states like Ethuveraz and Barizhan, inhabited respectively by elves and goblins, are no less susceptible to these intrigues than those with humans; these being gaslamp fantasies — fictions set in some fog-shrouded late Victorian metropolis or other — Ethuveraz in particular could just as easily be a country on the fringes of Europe as in another world.

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Bridgebuilding

imperial_sofa_topkapi
Interior of the Imperial Hall (Hünkar Sofası) at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul (by Gryffindor)

The Goblin Emperor
by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette).
Tor Books 2014.

When readers whose judgement you trust recommend this novel and even go as far as re-reading it within a short space of time you know there is something special about it.

And yet what on the surface of it makes it outstanding? It’s fantasy, yes — the title suggests as much — and there’s worldbuilding, and there’s the disregarded child who’s an orphan, and there are seemingly unpronounceable names, everything in fact that screams at the lover of contemporary novels to pass over this book. And I too, who ordinarily enjoys fantasy, am one who tends to put a book back on the bookshop pile when faced with a cast list of — it feels like — thousands, all with alien names.

So I have to ask myself then why I found this such an unputdownable title, and then perhaps attempt to persuade you to give it a try.

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