The Emperor needs necromancers. The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman. Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead nonsense. Tamsyn Muir's Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as arcane revenants. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy. Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won't set her free without a service. Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will be become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon's sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die. Of course, some things are better left dead.
Maybe I just wasn't in the mood the first two times. I'd been reading a lot of nonfict and picking my way through some David Mitchell / M John Harrison, when Gideon the Ninth
By "popped up on my radar" I mean that EVERYone has been talking about this series lately, probably because the second book came out. I also know that my erstwhile editor is very keen, and many of my writing friends. It didn't look like my usual kind of book at all, but I tried the free download.
The sample ended, and I had mixed feelings. Gideon has a fantastic voice (and on that note, if you are not enjoying the voice, the book won't work for you) but I wasn't sure it would pan out. I put it down and didn't download the rest.
I kept thinking of odd phrases, though, just on and off. Things or expressions Gideon had said. And honestly, it was weirdly refreshing to have a snarky character in third person for once. Sidekick snarky characters are usually in first person, for narrative reasons that I won't go into here, so it was interesting to see that done differently.
Eventually, I ended up circling back to Lesbian Necromancers in Science Fantasy Gothic Spacestation Book and downloaded it properly. Tried again. Stopped again. Picked up where I left off and tried a third point.
Somewhere along the way, Gideon clicked. She grew on me, as she grows on her compatriots in the novel, and by the 50% mark I was completely invested in the plot. Voice carries a long way, which is good, because some aspects of the worldbuilding were a bit overwhelming/confusing for me initially.
Well worth a read, and bitingly written.
I mean, I liked Harrowhark, but sweet mother above, I *loooove* Gideon.
The tagline for this book is "lesbian necromancers in space!" Sounds amazing. I bought this book as soon as I heard about it. Unfortunately I bought it on audiobook. There are more than 20 important characters in this story. They all have really long names, with titles, plus shortened names and even nicknames. This makes it very hard to keep track of the characters. Plus, once the trial starts there are almost constant battles with body parts and people flying everywhere. Characters died in battles and I would be unaware of that until another character mentioned their death a few chapters later. Even the dramatic ending was lost in this confusion. I'm definitely going to have to get a copy of the physical book and re-read this at some point. And I am definitely reading the second book in the series when it's released this summer.
Basically, Gideon is a servant of a noble house in a space empire, and goes with her mistress to a meeting of all the noble houses to solve a puzzle. I think this book very much lives or dies on if you care about Gideon. I never did. A lot of the character points are deployed weirdly late in the narrative; near the end, you learn something Gideon always thought was true is actually not true, but even though Gideon always thought it was true, you the reader learned about it so recently the reversal has no impact. The worldbuilding is thin; I never felt like I had an understanding of how this society functions. Who does this empire actually rule over? What actually is the magic system? Gideon talks like someone from a 2020s streaming series, not someone from a far-future feudal society.
It eventually became a chore to read this, one of those books that's over four hundred pages long, but if you asked me what happened, I could only come with about two hundred pages of incident at best. It's published by Tor's Tor.com imprint, and indeed, it reads like a mediocre Tor.com novella stretched out to novel length. I'm prepared to believe that, like last year's finalist Trail of Lightning, it's a good example of a genre/type of book that's Just Not for Me, but I don't really see anything award-worthy in what's at best a competently executed action novel.
Cons: slow pacing at start, hard to keep characters straight
It took me a while to get into this book. I really enjoyed the characters and there’s conflict immediately, but there’s so much to take in with regards to
The worldbuilding is rather neat, with different houses (each on their own planet) having their own style of necromancy. You really get to see the powers on display towards the end of the book. You only learn as much as you need to in order to understand this story, so there are no info dumps and a lot of unanswered questions regarding the larger universe.
The characters were highly varied and interesting. I did have some trouble keeping the various house members apart so I’m glad there was a list of characters by house at the front of the book. You’re introduced to everyone all at once which made it hard for me to remember who was who.
The book is told from Gideon’s point of view and she’s a cool character. There’s a fair bit of profanity and sarcasm. I really enjoyed seeing her develop as the story went on. I’m not entirely sure I believe how quickly she adjusted to a few revelations, but there was some emotional punch to the story.
The mystery of how to obtain Lyctorhood (immortality) was interesting and the story really kept me guessing regarding the murders.
It’s a unique book and worth picking up.
In truth, it took me a few chapters to get into the story. The premise, the characters, and the world are all so bizarre that it takes time for your mind to wrap itself around each of them. For example, Gideon and Harrow detest one another, but you have no idea why. You just know that Harrow is unfathomably cruel to Gideon for some reason, and you have to shrug and accept it without understanding their backstory. The same goes for the House of the Ninth and its inhabitants. They are borderline inhuman, and you don’t understand how such a decrepit society can survive or why it even should.
Once you get past your confusion, or simply decide to just go with it, the story becomes this delightfully macabre horror story with a heart. Gideon is such a badass, but more importantly, in spite of the truly shitty childhood she had as an orphan of the Ninth, she is one of the most compassionate people we meet. She truly cares about others and yearns to experience love of her own. All the years of solitude and torture from others never hardened her heart.
Ms. Muir does reward your patience by providing the necessary backstory to understand Gideon’s and Harrow’s relationship as well as Harrow’s infuriating penchant for silence and misdirection. Plus, we finally get an understanding of just what Harrow and the other heirs are trying to accomplish. The reveals don’t necessarily redeem some of the characters’ behaviors, but they do help make sense of the entire story.
By the end, I could not get enough of Gideon. I simply adore her. Not only do I appreciate a character with a good sense of snark, but I love her fierce determination, her loyalty when no one deserves it, and her inability to give in to bullying or a losing situation. We could all learn a little something from her.
I have no idea where the story is going but I cannot wait for the next installment of The Locked Tomb trilogy. Ms. Muir has a phenomenal story going here, with characters that are bizarre, hilarious, and dark. Truly, Gideon the Ninth is everything I love in a story.
Muir has created an impressive cast of 17 necromancers and their cavaliers, each having clear characterisation, something I can’t imagine is easy for a writer to achieve. Their individuality is facilitated by each of the 8 necromantic houses having their own traits, something you can choose to read into or not, however it does further enhance the experience. Luckily, I had the Illumicrate edition which came with 8 House reference cards, otherwise I think I would have been a little lost remembering all of the key players and their agendas (my short-term memory is atrocious).
While I casually enjoyed the first half of the novel and Muir doing her own weird thing, shiz hits the fan about halfway through, and this is when I really came to love her work. I was taken by complete surprise when this weirdo science fantasy story morphed into a murder mystery, then slowly degenerated into a horror fest with moments that definitely made me squeamish. The tension and complex relationships between the characters seemed to materialise out of nowhere, and there were twists and turns in the plot I hadn’t seen coming at all. 97% through the book I still had no idea what further mysteries would be solved, and Muir answered questions I hadn’t even thought to ask.
The tone of this book is distinctive in that there is a lot left unexplained – I have no idea why the houses are all on different planets, how they have spaceships when they essentially live in crypts, or where the hell all the people who aren’t necromantic warriors are hiding. While this may not be for everyone, and it may or may not be expanded on in the sequel, I found that I didn’t really mind being slightly confused as the book unfolded into its own unique thing.
What I was expecting was complex dark fantasy with necromancers.
The following is spoilery
What I got had a great deal more Christie in it, as the deaths piled up, in increasingly bizarre manners. I will not fault Muir's imagination here, although in places I was glad that I don't visualise what a writer is giving me, as I may well have been more unnerved than I was. There were also some long and involved fight scenes, which I presume were necessary for the plot, but which I struggled through -- particularly the one at the end with the unexpected Big Bad.
-Snark =/= personality
-Bickering =/= chemistry
-Constant unsubtle teasing of a romance that is just no
-Undeserved redemption of an abuser
-So much telling instead of showing
-MC keeps acting in ways inconsistent with her stated core values
-A character who comments that she’s never even seen someone swim before is able to swim no problem??
-A tantalising mystery set up at the beginning is completely dropped till 3/4 through
-MC talks like a fanfic character from 2012
-Huge life changing events happen with zero emotional reaction from affected characters
-Huge life changing events keep happening off camera
-Frequent mentions of an intrastellar army and battles but there’s never any mention of any other systems they could be at war with. Like there’s one military for all the planets so they can’t be fighting each other and some characters have fought battles so it’s not like it’s idle but no one even seems to be aware of any life on other solar systems
-Such an interesting idea for a world but all the world building goes into aesthetics with no consideration for how it actually works
This is so good. The worldbuilding is excellent with an intriguing blend of the familiar and the new, the characters have depth and develop in believable ways, there is just the right amount of humor to offset the horror, and the story is riveting. I found myself liking almost all of the characters, even the ones who seemed horrible at the beginning.
There are a ton of characters in the book - any book that starts with a list of characters with weird names is going to be difficult. Muir generally does a good job of giving the characters enough distinguishing characteristics that you can keep them straight even if you can't remember all the weird names. I listened to the audiobook, which meant I couldn't flip to the front and look up the list of weird names when I needed to, but the narrator did a good job of distinguishing the voices of the different characters. There were still scenes where I wasn't exactly sure which characters were involved, but those were generally scenes where it wasn't very important to keep the characters straight.
All in all, this book is strange, delightful, and fun. I can't wait for the sequel!
F L A V O R (bone broth?)
But it lacks so much I wanted from it, like a fully-explored setting, comprehensible magic/tech systems, and a romantic subplot.
Essentially, the story is a mystery, and like most mystery books it lays down a lot of exposition
Overall, I enjoyed it, and I intend to read the sequel. I can see how it would suit some people perfectly, but for me it was only good and not great.
It is impossible to really describe this book accurately but I’ll try.
Gideon the Ninth
And there is to be a tournament in which each House sends a necromancer and a cavalier who is an expert at sword fighting (although there are clearly more advanced technologies around, these Houses feel very ancient somehow, including the tournament’s preference for the cavaliers to use rapiers).
Gideon Nav is the cavalier (well, sort of, more like a sub really) to the Ninth House, to Harrowhark, with whom she has had a mutual hatred since they were young. But she has been promised freedom if she accompanies Harrow to this tournament to become a Lyctor. Lyctors are insanely powerful and work directly for the Emperor in his war against an unknown enemy (I’m guessing it’s to be revealed in the rest of the series). And guess what, this tournament takes place on another planet. And it turns out all the Houses exist on different planets.
So yes, let’s see, there are necromancers, there are warriors, there are skeletons and death magics and they all take place on a galactic empire. And the Ninth House is the creepiest, the weirdest House of all, the kind which has people avoiding their gaze in case they inflict a curse on them or something (and yet dying to watch every little thing they are doing). Sounds a bit insane but it is gloriously brilliant (and also insane).
Ok so this might sound a bit too “out there” for some but this was for me, an absolutely compelling read. The crazy world building, the heart-thumping action, the dark whimsical magic, and that Gideon, that funny, irreverent humour, that hate-not-hate relationship with Harrow, it was everything.
I read a library copy of the hardback and don't recommend it. The paper is unpleasantly rough and the ink, probably, has a strange smell, and the black edges kept me inspecting my fingers for dirt.
Plot is basically necromancers in space - add in a interesting social divisions, and a bunch of devious heirs intent on winning a seat with undying
by Tamsyn Muir
4.0 / 5.0
Gideon the Ninth was a fantastic story, but it will definitely not appeal to everyone's taste. It's a
book for people who dare to imagine. The writing style is unusual, but endearing to the book once you get use to it. There was a point I almost gave
Gideon the Ninth begins when Gideon, a lesbian necromancer, decides to leave behind her life of servitude in a nunnery and her afterlife as a living skeleton, and prepares to make her escape. The Emperor needs a new necromancer, and because of her legendary sword skills is invited to a sword fight. The Emperor has invited the heir to each of the Houses to a sword fight that cannot be won without wisdom and skill. Harrowhawk is the Reverend daughter of the Ninth House and is a witch. She want to become immortal and all-powerful at the Resurrection, but she cannot win without a cavalier. Without Gideons sword she will fail. The Ninth house will no longer exist.
The plot thickens when we learn that each of the Nine houses have a door. Behind each door are studies that contain notes on the theorum. The notes combined form a megatheorum, a key needed to the secrets of the Lyctorhood, who are responsible for the disappearance of people from different houses. Gideon must avoid the living skeletons, ready to attack and always be ready for masterful sword fighting, if she wants to survive, and gather enough information to unlock the tomb, and stay Harrowhawks cavalier.
Will she succeed??
Worth the read. A stunning ending....