Book Review : Gideon the Ninth

Book Review : Gideon the NinthGideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #1) by Tamsyn Muir
Published by Tor on September 10th 2019
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, LGBTQ
Pages: 448
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The Emperor needs necromancers.
The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.
Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.
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 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.

Gideon the Ninth is honestly unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s perhaps one of the weirdest mixes of space, magic, murder mystery, and dystopian society in a book ever. Though I struggled to get into it, the sarcastic humor of titular character Gideon, and her amazing relationship with her friend/rival/enemy Harrow, combined with the sheer originality of the content was what sucked me into the novel.


Gideon the Ninth takes place in a world that is governed by the undying Emperor, his most powerful necromancers, known as lyctors, and his army the Cohort. Serving him are nine houses of different varieties of necromancers, which are spread across the universe. When the Emperor summons the heirs of the nine houses to compete to become lyctors, the book becomes a very deadly game, filled with murder, mystery, and political battles between houses. Honestly, it feels like reading about the necromancers of Elder Scrolls in a Hunger Games scenario. 


“You forget yourself, Gideon Nav,” her teacher said shortly. “You’re no slave, but you’ll serve the House of the Ninth until the day you die and then thereafter, and you’ll commit no sin of perfidy in my air. “


Gideon, who grows up as something of a servant for the dismal Ninth House, finds herself trapped into the role of cavalier to her most bitter rival and heir to the Ninth House, Harrowhark in her quest to become a lyctor. As a cavalier, Gideon must defend and serve Harrow, who she’s hated for her entire existence–brandishing a rapier and knuckles to protect her. Gideon finds herself protecting her against not only the other houses, but also the ancient and deadly experiments laying in the decaying mansion on the First House planet. These experiments point to powerful and lost necromancy techniques that hold the key becoming a lyctor.


The mystery of the secrets in the mansion were really interesting and intriguing to me. It only got more interesting as members of the other houses started turning up dead, unable to be revived by necromancers. But what captured my interest the most was the characters of the book and their relationships. Sadly, for the life of me, I cannot tell you who was a member of what house though. Even though Gideon the Ninth helpfully provides a chart of the members of each house at the beginning of the novel, I was doomed, even with references back to it. Each member of every house is referred to by their first name, last name, house numbers, such as “sextus,” and other names, which made it literally impossible for me to keep everybody straight.


Despite my eternal confusion at which character was which, the author still managed to make me really care about her characters, their decisions, and their relationships. For me the standout of Gideon the Ninth, was the friendship between Gideon and Harrow. The two started out hating each other’s guts, were trapped together on a planet with no one else they could trust, and forced to help each other survive. I absolutely loved the progression of their bond and development of these characters. 


“Isn’t this the part where you give me intel,” Gideon said, standing up and flexing her stiff muscles, “tell me all you know of the tasks ahead, who we’re with, what to expect?”

 “God, no!” said Harrow. “All you need to know is that you’ll do what I say, or I’ll mix bone meal in with your breakfast and punch my way through your gut.” Which was, Gideon had to admit, entirely plausible.


I freaking loved Gideon. She was such a piece of work, sassing anything and everything–even making “that’s what she said” jokes–bettering others who had actually trained their whole lives as cavaliers in a duel, and proving herself at every turn.  Not only is she a capable warrior, but an empathetic person, so it’s no surprise when she falls for the fatally ill necromancer, Dulcinea of the Seventh House, despite Harrow’s disapproval. Though I wasn’t nearly as invested in Gideon’s crush on Dulcinea as I was with her relationship with Harrow, it definitely went down an interesting path. And that’s all I will say to that, cuz spoilers.


“Dulcinea had the dreamy, confiding manner of someone who, despite spouting grade-A horseshit, was confident you would understand everything she was saying.”


So on top of all the other genres in the book–science fiction, dystopian society, coming of age, mystery, suspense, horror–there’s also LGBT+ romance.  I honestly don’t understand how the author combined so many genres in one book–I’m still in awe–and made it such a coherent and gripping story. It was also initially off-putting that there was so much modern day slang in fantasy novel, but once I got used to it, I really enjoyed it. My only other complaint with Gideon the Ninth, besides my inability to keep the cast of characters straight, was that there wasn’t more time spent on world-building. I barely understood what type of necromancy each house used, where these house planets were, how they co-existed, how/why the Emperor was undying, and why he needed new lyctors.


 Perhaps this lack of exposition was a definitive choice on the author’s part in order to drive home the point of what black sheep the Ninth House were, and how their tomb-like planet and way of life voluntarily isolated from the rest of the world. I see that as entirely plausible, as any one who can successfully weave so many genres together, complete with modern slang, is truly a master of their craft. Like the rest of the novel, I also found the descriptions in the book peculiar, unsettling, and engrossing: 


The man who’d put the sword to her neck was uncomfortably buff. He had upsetting biceps. He didn’t look healthy; he looked like a collection of lemons in a sack.


The author does such a great job of describing things in an utterly unique way that almost shouldn’t make sense, but somehow does. So despite the lack of time spent on world-building and the fact that I couldn’t even keep all of the characters straight, I was entirely invested until the very last page of Gideon the Ninth. I know a lot of other readers found the ending unsatisfying, but I didn’t. To me, the entire reason that Gideon ended up being a cavalier was for her own freedom and independence, and in my eyes, that was something she gained. View Spoiler » And I’m really excited to see what role Gideon will play in the sequel, Harrow, which I frankly needed yesterday.


If you love to escape into worlds in your books, Gideon the Ninth, will suck you into a wholly unique experience. When I say this novel truly has something for everyone, I mean it, and fans of any genre should be able to find something that speaks to them in Gideon the Ninth as easily as necromancers speak to the dead.


Book Review : Gideon the Ninth - Blogging with Dragons

Posted July 13, 2020 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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4 responses to “Book Review : Gideon the Ninth

  1. I loved Gideon the Ninth! Harrow the Ninth is even more bonkers – the story and the writing style. I can’t wait to see what Tamsyn Muir does with the third book.

  2. Rachel

    I too had great difficultly keeping track of the characters from the other houses during my first read through. Which is a shame because the glimpses of who they are and the world they come from is fascinating. It really makes it doubly impressive that almost every ‘oh shit’ moment works so well. And that the deaths that hit Gideon hard also hit the reader hard.

    Speaking of Gideon, what a great character. Sometimes quippy, outwardly cocksure hits the wrong note for the story they are in, but the way her PoV never shies away from her vulnerable heart below the bluster while still allowing her to be an absolute badass works so well.

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