Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Mui
Adult, Science Fantasy
Tor, September 10 2019
Gideon the Ninth is the most fun you’ll ever have with a skeleton.
The Emperor needs necromancers.
The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.
Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.
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 necromantic skeletons. 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 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.
I expected to like this book. Right from the first sentence, nay, the first sentence-long pitch on Twitter, I expected to like this book. However, I did not expect to love it as much as I do.
With a hook like lesbian and necromancy in space, you get a certain type of expectation, and I think Muir does a fantastic job of taking those expectations and throwing them out the door onto their ass.
The most notable example of this is with the protagonist, Gideon herself. She’s everything female main characters aren’t often allowed to be, brash and arrogant and delightfully stabby. Those traits are usually reserved for male hero types, and it was refreshing to see them in a character that wasn’t a straight dude. Her backstory was also unique and fascinating, and it’ll be interesting to see what other information about her is revealed in future installments.
I also think, given the current trend of squad focused books, that the decision to have both a large ensemble cast and still give Gideon a significant amount of time to shine by herself was a choice well rewarded. It really showed her strengths and gave her room to develop both within the relationships she did have and as a character alone. It led to her interactions feeling more organic, and the procession of the plot to feel earned.
Speaking of plot, wowza. Muir somehow managed to pack a space epic, a murder mystery and a puzzle-based thriller into one 450 page book and did so without divesting any of the plots of their finer points. The murder mystery element held me in suspense, whilst the puzzles left me confused and hungry to understand. It doesn’t quite reach space opera status, first and foremost missing the necessary quality of interplanetary battles, but it definitely has many of the other features that define the subgenre.
I really feel the need to comment on the plethora of side characters, all of which are fully fleshed out and absolutely scene-stealing. I don’t know how this book has 18 scene-stealing characters without feeling stuffed full, but Gideon the Ninth manages it without pause.
I was actually somewhat surprised at the lack of romance but in a relieved way. It was refreshing to see a sapphic character that was allowed to exist without being immediately shoehorned into a relationship as if being single negates her sexuality. The brief flashes of potential romance we did see were incredibly ship-worthy, and I’m particularly looking forward to book 2 to see how that relationship develops.
Before I close out what has become an essay on why Gideon the Ninth is awesome, I would be remiss not to talk about the world-building. Necromancy in and of itself isn’t inherently a unique type of ability, it’s been featured in literature for so long it was in The Odyssey, but the way Muir used it was absolutely unparalleled. The different houses having different uses and types of necromancy was so interesting, and I’d love to know more about the different cultures.
All in all, if you like science fiction and sword-wielding lesbians you should absolutely read this book. It’s a captivating story that left me hungry for more, and I am going to absolutely devour the second book.
Chat With Me
Have you read Gideon the Ninth? What books do you think have done a great job of taking standard wold-building and made it exciting? What is your favorite book featuring necromancy?