The past several weeks feel like I've been inundated by horror. Tales of people catching ill, and dying horribly, by a pandemic that continues even as I type. Some times I've become overwhelmed by the horror around me, and felt like hope was the dream of the deluded.
Hope is not that. And in a dark world, where all-too-often everything seems brought down to a grim dog-eat-dog mentality, where horrible behavior seems the norm… what could be more against the grain than hope? What could be more against the grain than valuing comradery, working together, and not being a jerk? It's from that ethos the Hope Punk is born. Fiction that raises up the values that people say they hold close (but often only give lip-service to). This is the genre that's caught my eye as of late, and offered me something of a break from my own moribund thoughts. It is not an everything is sunshine and rainbows genre- but it is the hope of people making a difference, in their own ways.
The first book in the genre that I've read was The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. Set in a high fantasy world, with lithe and pale elves and dark goblins, we are presented with Maia, an unfavored half-goblin son of the former emperor, raised in abject poverty, who is thrown head over heels into a world of political machinations, rich trying to get richer, and a sharply divided class system. We watch as he slowly learns the ways of his new home and the people around him, going from meek to self-assured as he decides where his values lay, and goes from someone aping an emperor to someone who holds a bit more securely, the reins of his power.
Unlike some fantasy realms, Addison's has some marks of a more modern setting- there are clocks, airships, and steam power, indications of a diversifying world, with distinct cultures and religions, and different attitudes to the changing world- attitudes that differ also based on social status and where different characters grew up. The world is deftly crafted, also taking into account things like economics and how an empire feeds and maintains itself and its hold on people; and even a relatively stable empire is not a thing of small complexity.
While at times I was reminded of tales of a Pilgrim's Progress or Golden City type, the story does not come across as parsimonious. There's no preaching here, so much as the observation of one small goblin finding his own values in a big, and often times, dark, world and keeping himself going even when times are dark.
This is a quick little read, and a delight that gave me a break from the past weeks' oppressive news cycles; and if you need a break, you might enjoy reading The Goblin Emperor, and following young Maia's journey. It is 430 pages, took me about three days to read at an easy pace. Some of the language may seem a bit stilted at first, and the names a confusing mish-mash, but don't let the dramatis personae hold you back from this gem.