Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
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.
Holy cow, what a ride! I’ve heard people go on and on about this book, so I expected it to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be so fun. It’s got character, its got originality, its got surprises, its got a can’t-stop pace, and it’s got GIDEON.
Gideon is everything. Her narration is hilarious and personal. You really get a sense for who she is as a person, and who she is is AWESOME. She definitely takes some getting used to, for while she is witty with comebacks, she either is a bit unintelligent or just doesn’t care, so she doesn’t understand a lot of what is going on around her. This means that the reader often catches on faster than Gideon does. It’s odd and a little uncomfortable at first, but once you adjust it is part of what makes this book so unique.
Muir’s writing has a lot of modern speculative elements that I enjoy, but that some readers may not care for. For example, she just jumps you right into the world as if you live there and don’t need anything explained to you, leaving you to figure things out what is going on over the course of the first 150 pages or so. I love this because you feel so immersed, but you have to be okay with being confused for a while. Actually, I think the book’s biggest weakness was that in a few cases I never figured things out, primarily the motives for all of the fighting at the end of the book. Like, it’s a fantasy book, a great battle sequence is practically a requirement, but I need to understand why everyone is enemies with everyone else, and I don’t know that I did.
The other speculative characteristic that I love, but that others may not (especially those who read primarily YA) is that the pace starts slow and slowly, slowly picks up steam. The build-up really pays off in the last 100 pages in a BIG way, but the beginning is definitely slow. Add to that that the reader probably doesn’t fully understand what’s going on, the beginning is definitely a work-out for your brain. I loved it.
What I really want in a fantasy novel is always something to make it different from everything else. That’s what keeps fantasy interesting. Gideon the Ninth is like nothing you’ve ever read. Lesbian necromancers in space wearing aviators. Do I need to say anything else?
The magic-style of the necromancers was completely unique. It’s got kind of a Hunger Games thing going on where each of the nine houses is known for their own special brand of necromancy, and the Ninth house is known for bone magic. Harrow, the necromancer, can turn a finger bone into a full-fledged skeleton and control it. They can fight, till the fields, make your lunch, anything you can imagine. Each house specializes in a certain element of death.
The other totally unique element is Gideon and her style of narration. She takes nothing seriously, but at the same time she takes everything seriously. She feels deeply, but she also makes a lot of jokes about boobs. She’s completely immature, but she makes it her responsibility to take care of everyone she sees. And she’s amazing with a sword, obviously.
I also loved the ambiguity in Gideon and Harrow’s relationship. Muir set them up with a kind of Frodo and Sam relationship, where Gideon (the cavalier) is sword to protect Harrow (the necromancer) to the end. They’ve spent their whole lives together, they are the closet person the other has in the universe. Their relationship is super intense. But they’re also both lesbians, and its not always clear whether their feelings are completely platonic. Especially Harrow’s. I think that was really interesting, especially combined with Gideon’s attraction to pretty much every chick that moves.
I’ve talked about how well written this book was, but I don’t know that I did justice to how much stinkin’ fun it was. I don’t know that I can quite articulate why. The plot sets you up for a wild ride, and Gideon is always in the thick of whatever is going down with her witty banter and bad-ass swordsmanship. There are so many twists and turns, and they always took me by surprise. Which, let me tell you, is not easy to do.
The only thing I didn’t like, the only reason this was four stars instead of five, is the ending. Lots of people loved it, I didn’t.
Definitely not too bloody-gory, but there are some gruesome deaths. They’re not described in detail, but they’re not pretty. Also, all the magic is happening with dead bodies. Since it’s mostly skeletons it’s easy to forget and get lost in it, but occasionally a detail crops up to remind you that these are dead folks. Ick. But I have an incredibly low tolerance for gore, and it did not bother me. It was sometimes uncomfortable, but I think necromancy should be.
Can’t recommend highly enough to fantasy lovers. If you haven’t gotten on this train, what on earth are you waiting for?