I think I can safely say that I’ve never read another book like Gideon the Ninth. Which is hardly surprising, given that the majority of the story involves queer necromancers and rapier-wielding warriors competing against each other in a haunted palace while slowly being killed off by eldritch horrors…in space.
Sounds like just another Tolkien clone hero’s journey that’s been done to death, right?
Muir wastes no time in establishing that Gideon is not your ordinary SFF hero. Sure, she may be an orphan with mysterious parentage who longs to escape her miserable life as a servant of the Emperor’s Ninth House at the edge of the universe. But she wouldn’t dream of doing that without her dirty magazines, vulgar jokes, and almost-but-not-quite occasional breaking of the fourth wall.
Gideon’s chance at escape comes when the immortal Emperor summons the necromantic heirs of each of the nine houses to a deadly trial of skill and wit. Harrowhark Nonagesimus—bone necromancer extraordinaire, heir to the Ninth House, and Gideon’s lifelong nemesis—forcibly recruits Gideon to be her cavalier. As cavalier, Gideon will have to use her considerable skill with the sword to protect Harrow throughout the competition…if she can avoid killing her first.
Harrow and Gideon are brilliant characters in their own right, and the murderous semi-sexual tension between them never grew old. Harrow’s unbending need for total control and Gideon’s irreverent inability to take anything completely seriously made them wonderful foils for each other as well. There are plenty of interesting side characters, some more memorable than others, but the core cast were some of the most interesting characters I’ve read in years.
For a book that so strongly centers around the characters, I was floored by the carefully structured plot and intricate worldbuilding. Muir unapologetically borrows elements of murder mysteries, gothic horror, and sword-swinging dungeon crawls, stitching them together into a beautiful abomination of necromantic awesomeness. If you like detailed, visceral magic systems that make you want to pump your fist in excitement and simultaneously take a long, hot shower…this is for you. Muir’s necromancy doesn’t come cheap, and sweating copious amounts of blood is nowhere near the worst cost the characters have to pay.
For much of the story, we’re as clueless about what’s going on as the characters. But once the pieces start to fall in place… Let’s just say I’ll be preordering the sequel as soon as I possibly can.
This was the perfect book to pull me out of a months-long reading slump. Muir’s debut novel is bone-rattling great and will undoubtedly make waves when it releases in September 2019.
I received an ARC of this book from Tor.com Publishing in exchange for a fair and honest review.