REVIEW: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

The Emperor needs necromancers. The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman. 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.

Warnings: Abusive relationships, horror, violence

Category: F/F

Gideon the Ninth is a sci-fi/fantasy horror novel, set in a universe ruled by Nine Necromantic Houses. It follows the political movements of the representatives of said houses as they explore an ancient haunted castle to discover the secrets of necromancer immortality. It also deals heavily with abusive relationships and power exchange dynamics, and features a slow-burn enemies-to-lovers lesbian romance at the forefront. It is at times gruesome, creepy, emotional and irreverent all swept up into one thoroughly atmospheric bundle.

The author’s voice is extremely unique, combining the creepy ambiance of a story about a bunch of necromancers with a dry sense of humour and a lack of reverence. Gideon’s POV was especially perfect for the author’s style and seeing the world through her eyes was a treat. Although everything around her is very serious and ever other person in the entire story treats the narrative with a solemn sense of gravitas, foul-mouthed Gideon alone sees things with the ‘am I supposed to be impressed?’ kind of attitude of a teenager with more than just a small chip on their shoulder. It was incredibly fun and charming, especially given the direct contrast between that and just how much weight there actually is to the going’s on around her. That duality played off itself very well.

The writing’s biggest weakness, however, is in being a little dry and hard to follow. A lot of very long, winding sentences that seem to take detours this way and that before arriving at their final point make the book hard to parse at times; I found myself very often having to re-read a paragraph a few times before truly comprehending it. The plot is also just a little slow to start and the first chunk of the book is more mood and tone establishment than moving pieces. (Also the author maybe should have done a bit more research into swordplay.) When the plot does get going though, it really gets going, and it ended up being a thoroughly thrilling little horror story that kept me reading to the end and grasping to buy book 2 immediately.

I adored every single character in this book (which is dangerous with a horror story!) Each character had such a breathtaking amount of personality that it was hard not to fall in love with every single one of them. The political landscape meant that there was little way of knowing who to trust (in fact, I don’t believe I trusted anyone) and even the especially nasty characters were a treat to see waltz their asshole way across the stage of the pages. Gideon and Harrowhark, especially, shone in breathtaking character developing arcs and gradual revelations of backstories. The way they work through their traumas and push past the unhealthy nature of their relationship into healing together was absolutely gorgeous and I adored them both, even if they are both at times insufferable asses. In general there was a beautiful amount of emotional resonance, especially in some of the big reveals, that made them feel like real breathing damaged people. Their pain felt relatable, and their experiences were lamentable. I was seriously blown away.

The worldbuilding here is incredible and the author should be incredibly proud of this setting. It’s fleshed out as lovingly as a character itself, from the rich centuries of history behind it to the systems of decay that govern it in the current time period. Humanity has settled space, and is ruled by a Necromancer Emperor who as all but ascended to godhood, and the religious rituals of the people now governed by houses of Necromancer Adepts is incredibly interesting. It’s a dark picture of religious devotion and I don’t think I’ve ever read a more fully realized fictional religious canon. The way magic works in this setting is also beautifully explored, and it’s fascinating that it seems as though necromancy is the only form of magic that exists in this setting at all. And finally the political aspects involving the way the Houses interact with each other, their mistrust of each other and disdain for each other’s specific practises was absolutely perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a more interesting sci-fi setting and it delivered something that made me continue to yearn for more information that I can’t wait to get from the next books in the series.

Unlike most of the books I review, Gideon the Ninth is not an erotic novel. Which is unfortunate as hell because dear lord could there ever have been some steamy smut additions to this story! Alas, I suppose that not every novel needs to have sex in it. What this book does have, instead, is copious amounts of fascinating power exchange that left my heart in knots. Gideon has been raised a servant of the Ninth House her whole life, and abused by not only the sect itself but also specially by the Reverend Daughter, Harrowhark, her whole life. Theirs is an incredibly toxic relationship that is built on years of resentment, hatred and bitterness on both of their parts which is always one of my favourite things to see explored, and this explores it very well. Harrowhark owns Gideon’s life in a very intimate way that I absolutely adored to see; even more, I adored to see the entire toxic waste of their relationship come to a head and burst like a blister, and see how they continued forward with so much baggage already behind them. Again, this could have had such interesting sex in it, but I don’t really begrudge the author the lack of it seeing as they gave us so much else in the way of power dynamics.

It’s really hard to find a sci-fi/fantasy novel this unique and I applaud the author for every bit of it’s beautifully dark world. While it can be a bit slow moving at times, and doesn’t have any sex (booo!) I absolutely adored it and will continue to read the series as it comes out. Harrow the Ninth is the next one, and I can’t wait to see more of the world unfurl and more heart achingly beautiful character exploration from this continuation.

Have you read Gideon the Ninth? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!


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