Do you ever seriously wonder if somehow you’ve read a completely different book to everybody else? The concept of Gideon the Ninth hooked me immediately – necromancy just doesn’t get enough ‘screen time,’ in my opinion. It just sounded absolutely wonderful. Unfortunately I found that, whilst the concept of Gideon the Ninth was interesting and unique, the execution was severely flawed.
Plot summary for Gideon the Ninth:
The Emperor needs necromancers. The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman. Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.
Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as necromantic skeletons. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.
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.
Star rating for Gideon the Ninth: * * (two stars)
World building… or lack thereof.
So. Gideon is forced by her childhood nemesis to follow her to a different planet and act as her sort-of bodyguard, in exchange for her eventual freedom. Each of the ‘Houses’ has a different sort of necromancy… ish. And the Emperor has ordered them to compete in this sort of competition to become a Lyctor.
That’s it. That is literally the sole extent of the information given about this world and the over-arching story. What’s a Lyctor? What do they do? Why would you want to be one? What happens if you lose? What do all the House’s separate powers do? Are these the only planets in this world – is everybody a Necromancer, or are there other planets with ‘normal people’ on? Why are they on planets in the first place!? I NEED SOME CONTEXT.
There’s just no world-building at all, which means that there’s no way to understand what the stakes of this competition are. It’s hard to root for Gideon and Harrow when you don’t know what happens when they win or if they lose.
Necromancy and what we’re all doing here in the first place.
That’s sort of the over-arching problem with Gideon the Ninth really. Nothing is explained, ever. Each of the Houses (Gideon and Harrow are from Ninth House) have their own form of necromancy – the Ninth can raise skeletons, the Fifth can sort of transfer their consciousness, I think? I’d have loved to have more detail and information about what they can all do but, of course, there isn’t much.
The over-arching plot is the competition which, as I’ve said, is hard to care about. Within that, however, there’s a murdery mystery thing going on, and that is interesting. You don’t need a frame of reference for murder, right!? It’s done well and cleverly and I really like it. Honestly I’d have been happy if that were the whole story of Gideon the Ninth.
Gideon, Harrow… and some other people.
I like Gideon herself. She reminds me a bit of Mia Corvere from Nevernight. Gideon the Ninth is a unique story, so there’s no resemblance between the stories, but the two characters have the same snarky, irreverent demeanour. She’s actually pretty amusing, but strikes the right balance so it never becomes slapstick or silly.
And then there’s Gideon and Harrow. There’s a revelation about the basis of their hatred for each other and we’re told that they’ve been feeling all this guilt and shame and whatnot for each other… which is very much not evident. They just hated each other, and then they didn’t. It’s cringey and weird and… slightly problematic, if I’m honest. Harrow has abused, belittled and demeaned Gideon since they were children. No relationship should be based on such an abuse of power of that and I hate it.
The other, secondary characters are actually quite interesting and varied. I’d have liked further information about them all (there’s a theme here), which would also have assisted in keeping them all straight. There are eight Houses present, each with two representatives (although one has three) and distinct necromantic powers. I could not keep them straight for the life of me, especially when they’re interchangeably referred to by first name, surname or House.
‘Lesbian necromancers in space.’
So, to recap. Whilst there is badly-explained necromancy, it’s not actually in space and the lesbian relationship is problematic.
Gideon the Ninth is a really unique concept that gets all the points for originality. Unfortunately it’s so badly flawed that I just couldn’t get past all its faults. There’s no world-building and therefore no reason to care about anything that’s happening, the relationship is cringey and I honestly didn’t have a clue who all the characters were.
It could have been so much more but unfortunately it just didn’t pull it off.