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.
If you're looking for sci-fi, this isn't it. There are literally a few sci-fi elements in the book, but they don't play an important role in the narrative. It's fantasy. There is magic, necromancy and swords. If you are looking for a lesbian romance, this isn't it either. The protagonist is gay (or bi with a preference for women), but again, it's not the focus of the story and doesn't play an important role.
I finished reading Gideon The Ninth a while ago, and it took me quite a long time to gather my wits and write this review. It's hard to put my thoughts into the structure I normally use, so I'll ditch it and just go with the flow.
My feelings about the book are complicated. I think it's the kind of book that most people are either going to love or hate to the core. I... sort of liked it, but it's definitely not for me.
It is, without a doubt, a very original book. I haven't read anything like it before. The combination of a grim setting with cruel, unsympathetic characters in the beginning, weird necromantic magic, lots of bones and the irreverent, sarcastic tone was an intriguing mix. Almost nothing about the world made sense to me in the beginning. I didn't understand the jargon, the events or the characters. I was only mildly interested in what would happen next, so initially, it was mostly the originality that kept me reading.
I was gaining a bit more interest as I was reading further, but it took me half the book to really get invested. The events were progressing rather slowly or so it seemed to me. Some of them sparked my interest and got me excited, while at other times, the story felt like it was dragging.
It is a long book, but I'm still a bit confused as to what it's really filled with. The events that happen in the book just don't seem to account for its length? It could have been the world-building. The premise is intriguing, it really is a complex and mysterious world. But when I think of it, the world-building is pretty thin. There is not much substance to it, not much actual complexity behind the concepts. We know nothing at the beginning, and only a fraction more at the end. I would love to go deeper into the mysteries of the imaginative world created by Tamsyn Muir, but in this novel, only the bare minimum is provided to understand what's going on. That said, I think the author did a great job setting and describing the scenes.
It could also have been a multiple POV book because it's full of exciting and quirky characters and I think it would be interesting to explore the same situations from different perspectives. That could explain the length as well, but there is only one POV character in the story, our protagonist Gideon—the sarcastic teenager who always has a facetious remark. I kind of liked her (I can see some readers in love with her), but I didn't feel like I really knew her. She's brave and reckless, flippant and feisty, she's good with the sword and enjoys fighting, there is some kindness and softness to her when she's with someone who's weaker, who needs help. She wants to protect. But she's been through so much abuse and trauma in her life, and those aspects remained completely unaddressed, as if they had no impact on her personality. I'd love more depth here, but that's (like other things I mention) just a personal preference.
The other characters are all unique, with their own motivations and strange dynamics. I could feel that there was a lot beneath the surface about each of them, and I would love to get to know at least some of them better. That said, there were so many characters that I kept losing track. I confused them all the time and struggled to remember who was who until the very end. Their names were long and weird, some of them containing too many of the same letters, which didn't help in distinguishing between them.
The story itself was interesting enough, but I couldn't understand where it was going. It was about an enslaved and abused child, then there was a magical contest with escape room vibe, then it turned into a murder mystery, then it was horror with people getting killed and lots of blood and then, a mix of most of the above. Not necessarily a bad thing, just confusing.
It all came together in the ending, and I loved the ending. Suddenly, there was everything I was missing all along: human connection and vulnerability, characters showing who they really are and what they care about, acting unselfishly and bravely, plot twists, intrigues unraveled, excitement, raw emotion that broke through the sarcasm. I think I'd like the book much more if those things were distributed more evenly throughout the story.
The tone of the book is one more notable thing that seems to be an essential part of the author's style and the story itself. I chuckled and laughed out loud many times while reading. It was fun and entertaining, and I enjoyed it. At the same time, I personally prefer when humor is sprinkled like a spice throughout the novel instead of being the backbone of it. When a book is sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek all along, it's definitely entertaining, but it prevents me from really immersing in the world, connecting with the characters and caring about them. Even when the stakes are high, it doesn't feel like it (that's why I liked the ending so much—I could finally feel and be in the moment with the characters). I'm not a big fan of this style, whether it's Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy or Terry Pratchett's books, I just always find it a bit exhausting when nothing is serious. There is nothing bad or wrong with it, it's just not for me.
So, as you see, the review turned into a stream of consciousness rant, and it somehow feels right for the book. I enjoyed it, it made me laugh, I appreciated its originality, loved the plot twists and tension in the end, but overall, it just wasn't for me and I won't read the other books in the series.
You might enjoy Gideon The Ninth if you like gothic fantasy, don't mind horror and blood, enjoy sarcastic narratives and are looking for something original and fresh.
Tamsyn Muir is the bestselling author of the Locked Tomb Trilogy, which begins with Gideon the Ninth, continues with Harrow the Ninth, and concludes with Alecto the Ninth. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Nebula Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, the World Fantasy Award and the Eugie Foster Memorial Award. A Kiwi, she has spent most of her life in Howick, New Zealand, with time living in Waiuku and central Wellington. She currently lives and works in Oxford, in the United Kingdom.