Georgiana Derwent's Reviews > Gideon the Ninth

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
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it was amazing
bookshelves: adult, sci-fi

This book was described to me as “lesbian necromancers in space.” I knew very little else about it, but that description intrigued me enough to make me pick it up. I was expecting a fun read and ended up with it being one of my favourite books of the year to date.

As far as I can tell (some of the world-building is deliberately opaque), it’s set in our solar system thousands of years into the future, where each planet is ruled by different groups of necromancers, ably supported by swordspeople known as Cavaliers. The story focusses on Gideon Nav, who arrived on the Ninth House (the term “house” seems to be used to refer to both planets and their ruling families) in mysterious circumstances as a baby and has grown up as an indentured servant, with constantly thwarted dreams of escaping and joining the intergalactic military. She despises the Ninth House, which is basically a gloomy death cult, and in particular, its heir, the immensely powerful necromancer, Harrow.

The Emperor, head of the First House and most powerful necromancer of all, who’s been half absolute ruler, half god for thousands of years, summons together the heirs of all eight other houses, along with their head cavaliers. For all those thousands of years, the emperor had eight supremely powerful necromantic lyctors (one from each house) fighting on his behalf. Now he wants to give the current heirs the opportunity to ascend to Lyctor-hood, but they need to prove their worth. When the hereditary Ninth House Cavalier Primary refuses to attend the gathering and flees, Harrow forces Gideon to serve as her new Cavalier, despite their hatred of each other.

All of this set-up and plot takes place over the first few hundred pages of an extremely long and complex narrative. I won’t go into detail about what happens next but it’s a busy mix of quests and challenges, a murder mystery, a horror-style plot, and lots of rivalry, friendship, plotting, and romance between the various lyctors and cavaliers. There are all sorts of twists, revelations and mysteries. The combination of these various elements and the way that aspects of several other genres are mixed in with the basic sci-fi setting made it a really interesting and refreshingly different read. It also does a good job of interweaving some very dark elements with some very funny ones and lots of action with some more cerebral scenes.

It’s worth mentioning that it’s quite a complex read, for three reasons. Firstly, beyond Gideon and Harrow, there are about 15 people who could be seen as main characters, or at least very important secondary characters, and they can be tricky to keep track of. Secondly, there are lots of necromantic terms and concepts to get your head around. And thirdly, as touched on above, there’s a lot of world-building, but very little info-dumping. You’re basically expected to work out what Houses and Cavaliers and the Locked Tomb and everything else means. Most of this becomes clear as you read, but the first few hundred pages require a lot of guess work and reading between the lines, and even by the end, there were some concepts I wasn’t clear on (like, what’s “the river” that the emperor is over?). I much prefer this end of the confusion spectrum to having everything spelt out and working it all out was half the fun. That said, just a little bit more explanation of concepts and reminders of characters might have been helpful at times.

As the “lesbian necromancers in space” line might suggest, the main character is into girls and there are some nice romantic elements. But it was quite refreshing how this wasn’t a big deal. No element of the plot is about her coming out, struggling with or hiding her sexuality, or facing homophobia. Neither is the fact she’s female any impediment either to her joining the army or serving as a Cavalier, or even worth commenting on in that context by any of the other characters. She’s a talented swordsperson on a mysterious mission who just happens to be female and a lesbian. Indeed, in an otherwise grim universe, there seemed to be little issue with people’s sexuality or gender roles across the board.

This is such an unusual and weird book that it’s hard to pin down exactly what made it so interesting and enjoyable, but I’d thoroughly recommend it and can’t wait for the sequel — particularly after a really quite shocking ending.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
November 8, 2019 – Finished Reading
November 16, 2019 – Shelved
November 16, 2019 – Shelved as: adult
November 16, 2019 – Shelved as: sci-fi

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