Title: Gideon the Ninth
Series: The Locked Tomb, #1
Author: Tamsyn Muir
Publication date: September 10, 2019
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Science fiction
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.
I’ve been hearing about Gideon the Ninth since its release three years ago, and I’ve owned a copy for over two years now… and I can finally say that I’ve read it!.
I have to admit that I’d been feeling rather intimidated about starting Gideon. It’s a big chunky book, and the first few pages are devoted to a guide to characters, their houses, and roles. And when books start that way, I’m immediately wary. Why do I need all this information up front? Just how complicated is this book going to be anyway?
In the case of Gideon the Ninth, the answer is — very complicated. In fact, the word that kept coming to my mind while reading was “inpenetrable” (and that’s not a word I use often in my daily life). Gideon is dense, complicated, and somewhat opaque. I’ll explain, as best I can.
The world of Gideon the Ninth appears to be a dead world, resurrected by the Emperor (also referred to as a god) some ten thousand years ago, powered by necromancy and seemingly built upon the ashes and discards of an earlier civilization that had technology and scientific exploration — perhaps a world like our own? Gideon herself is a resident of the Ninth House (the Houses are all different planets with different powers, from what I understand), and the Ninth House is grim, dark and gloomy and peopled by ancient nuns and servants made of animated bones. The Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House is Harrowhark, a powerful necromancer who can perform amazing and dangerous feats with bones, and who seems to live to torment and dominate Gideon.
When a communication is received summoning the necromancer and cavalier of each house to the First House for a chance to become immortal, Harrow forces Gideon into the role of her cavalier, even though Gideon had been plotting to escape the Ninth House for good to become a soldier. But Gideon has no choice, and soon finds herself on another world, where they and other necromancer/cavalier combos must solve unspecified riddles in order to unlock the mystery of even greater powers.
Look, this book is a lot. I have to admire the author’s creativity and skill at inventing such a complicated, strange world — but at the same time, this book was difficult to get through, and I’m not convinced it was worth the effort. Keeping the many, many necromancers, cavaliers, their powers, and their houses straight was a huge chore, and at some point I just shrugged and stopped trying. The challenges and tests didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, and I had (and have) so many questions about this world.
That said, I liked many of the characters (or at least found them interesting), and Gideon herself is profane and disrespectful enough to make her someone to root for, even when I had no clue what was actually going on.
I’m glad I finally read Gideon the Ninth, but at some point along the way I lacked the energy and commitment to really try to make sense of it all, so I’m sure there’s a bunch that just went right over my head. Some big, complicated books are worth the painstaking attention it takes to get through them. I’m not sure I’d put Gideon in that category.
Still, there are some great sequences mixed in amongst all the more puzzling scenarios, and the ending seems to set up a fascinating next step for the series. If I didn’t already own the next two books, I’m not sure that I’d rush to seek them out — but since I do, I expect that I will continue the series… eventually. I think I need a break at this point, but before too long, I’ll likely dive back in with Harrow the Ninth.