Review: Gideon the Ninth

Posted: March 17, 2020 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Tamsyn Muir, Fantasy
Gideon the Ninth

I had to restrain myself from writing this review in all-caps. That’s how much I enjoyed Tamsyn Muir’s novel, GIDEON THE NINTH (Amazon). It was spiky and weird, with magic that kept surprising me and the kind of characters I love–a little too smart for their own good, sarcastic, and tragic.

Gideon Nav has two goals in life. The first is to escape the smothering, incessant gloom of the Ninth and become a soldier in the Emperor’s Cohort. But Gideon is indentured and without the permission of Ninth House, she’s stuck. So she spends her days planning (and failing) to escape and training with her sword.

Her only other desire is to do everything in her power to make Harrowhark Nonagesimus, the powerful necromantic heir of the Ninth, absolutely miserable. Harrow has tormented Gideon unceasingly since childhood, and Gideon hates Harrow as much Harrow hates her.

Gideon and Harrow’s feuding is interrupted by an unprecedented announcement. The Emperor needs new attendants. Lyctors. New saints for his pantheon. It’s been a Myriad (10,000 years) and even immortal beings meet untimely ends, it seems. So he’s calling on the necromantic heirs and cavaliers of each of the nine house to come and enter the trial for Lyctorhood.

Harrow offers Gideon a choice that almost isn’t one: she can pretend to be Harrow’s Cavalier, or she can stay where she is and spend her life moldering in the depths of the Ninth. It’s the kind of choice that we love to watch a character make — simultaneously everything they want and everything they hate. Gideon reluctantly takes Harrow’s offer and they arrive at the First house, where nothing about the trial is as expected.

GIDEON THE NINTH has one of the best first chapters I’ve read in a long time. I knew enough about the world within just a few pages to make me intrigued, and Muir builds tension without throwing us into a battle or a heist. I knew within a few sentences that Gideon was a character I was going to love. Gideon is irreverent, inappropriate, awkward, and very good with a sword. She’s such a sharp contrast to Harrow and the rest of the Ninth.

Muir plays with the constant comedic drop of Gideon’s voice to great effect, repeatedly setting up passages where beautiful prose or heroic moments are deflated by Gideon being Gideon. If this was the only thing we saw from Gideon it might get old, but Muir also gives Gideon a difficult character arc with plenty of growth.

At the heart of GIDEON THE NINTH lies Gideon and Harrow’s relationship, two women who’ve spent the last two decades of their lives attempting to physically and psychologically break each other down. It’s the slowest of slow burns, but as Gideon pretends, sometimes dutifully and sometimes not so dutifully, to be Harrow’s Cavalier, she reaches the point where she isn’t sure she’s pretending anymore.

Narratively, the book is structured around the trial of Lyctorhood and solving the mysteries that begin to crop up immediately upon arrival at the First. Muir commits strongly to having the reader only know what Gideon would know and both of these narrative strands rely on a pretty thorough understanding of necromancy and deductive logic, neither of which is Gideon’s strong suit. In practice, this means that when characters pop up, they tend to have been very busy off-screen doing things that Gideon had no idea they were up to. There’s a whole complex world that we only get glimpses of. Muir lays her groundwork carefully enough that readers won’t feel completely at sea, but, much like Gideon, at least a little out of your depth. If you’re willing to play along, there’s some good reveals at the end and a complicated and intriguing set up for the next book.

GIDEON THE NINTH was spiky and weird, with magic that kept surprising me, sharp characters, and an intriguing setting. Go read it, folks.

From the depths of the Ninth to the heights of the First, Muir’s writing was vivid. Every word felt like it mattered, every conversation scraping away at what was hidden underneath, to reveal the truth… until the truth changes again. GIDEON THE NINTH shares sharp characters with an intriguing setting and magic.

Go read it, folks.

  • Recommended Age: 14+
  • Language: Yes, but not particularly frequent.
  • Violence: Yes. Some pretty gruesome necromantic battles, involving the living and the dead.
  • Sex: Nope. Some innuendo.

Comments

  • Steve Boivie says:

    Totally agree. This book is awesome and weird. I think it is a great example of how modern fantasy is pushing the boundaries of what a fantasy novel looks like.

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