Gideon the Ninth

Diablo IV necromancers in space.

There’s this constant cicada-esque buzz around this book. It’s weird. It’s lesbian necromancers in space. It’s if Diablo IV’s necromancers (you know, blood, bones, and gross stuff) were the ruling class of a galactic empire. I did not expect this mashup of dark fantasy and sci-fi to be goofy. I also did not expect half the book to be a murder mystery. Despite the hype and wayward marketing, I enjoyed the book.

On first opening the book you are greeted by pages of dramatis personae. Pages of inscrutable names and titles like Harrowhark Nonagesimus, heir to the House of the Ninth, Reverend Daughter of Drearburh. Thoroughly disheartened and preparing for some real serious fantasy (and even more mysterious proper nouns), I was fairly shocked to meet Gideon, the titular protagonist. Expecting self-serious high fantasy, Gideon’s goofy attitude and modern humor was not what I expected from the book. Sure we get a big fat gothic fantasy burger, but it is embedded with that contrasting, but strangely delicious peanut butter flavor that Gideon provides (yes, burgers with peanut butter are incredible). Gideon is a plucky, foul mouthed, irreverent member of a cult inhabiting a small cold planet. The first sentence of the book tells you that in her planned escape, the three things she packed were her sword, shoes, and her dirty magazines. I was initially off put by Gideon’s goofiness. It felt out of place. I didn’t find her quips funny, but they didn’t exactly bother me either. Over the course of the book I grew to appreciate her and her silly, Michael Scott quoting self.

The book starts slow, with Gideon’s attempted escape from the Ninth House (that cult I mentioned), introducing Harrow, the heir of said cult. From birth, Harrow has tormented Gideon and she does a wonderful job at helping the reader to dislike her as well. Once the book is on its way, we follow Gideon and Harrow as they hang around an ancient haunted castle with all the other necromancer twenty-somethings in the solar system.

I liked several of the characters, but boy, even by the end of the book I was confused on who was who. Yes, each character has a fantastical name like Silas Octakiseron, but they also have titles, nicknames, and and house names. When you think you have one character’s name down, they are then be referred to by any of their other names. I guess those dramatis personae pages are there for a reason, though I don’t think a book should make a reader frequently refer to them. There’s this persistent mist of confusion throughout the book. Some of that confusion is intended, as we’re reading Gideon’s perspective, who has no clue what is happening around her. Apart from Gideon’s perspective and the naming issues, more confusion came from a semi-frequent feeling that I had accidentally skipped a page. It occurred maybe three times, but those three times felt noticeable enough that I went back and re-read bits to make sure I really hadn’t skipped anything.

Despite the confusion, I enjoyed Tamsyn Muir’s world. A galactic empire run by necromancers rules. The fact that there is a necromancer upper class and one faction of that class dresses like goth skeletons is hilarious, and the book knows it. Gideon talks about how dumb it is frequently and I love it. Muir is incredibly creative. I enjoyed the evolving, volitle relationship between Gideon and Harrow. I loved following Gideon around that strange, dilapidated castle meeting the other guests. Discovering hidden rooms and strange facilities. I loved so many of the weird little lines Muir gave to Gideon:

The violet of her eyes was dried-up flowers; her mouth was the color and softness of rocks.

Things were happening too much.

She kept looking at Gideon with the screw-ed up eyes of someone who had been handed an egg for safekeeping and was surrounded by egg-hunting snakes.

He gave the impression of being the guy fun sought out for death.

The man who’d put the sword to her neck was uncomfortably buff. He had upsetting biceps. He didn’t look healthy; he looked like a collection of lemons in a sack.

Lesbian necromancers in space. That’s all technically true, but not what I took away from the book. A character or two might be lesbian, but I wouldn’t say it’s a core part of the story. It fills in the picture, rounds out Gideon. In space? I mean, they talk about other planets a bit, They do travel through space for a couple pages, but most of the book takes place in one location. That tagline is eye catching marketing, but the book is more than the tagline while also not quite having much to do with it at all.

I enjoyed my time with the Gideon and Harrow. Despite some confusion. Despite some Calvin Ball with the murder mystery. Despite the initial off-putting goofiness. Even despite parts reminding me of playing a video game (collecting the things, going to locations, hitting the three glowing weak spots). Oof, writing all that makes it seem like I didn’t like the book. If you want read about some space wizards doing some disgusting bone, blood, and flesh magic while goofing around and solving mysteries, read this book. Heck, if you just like having a good time, read this book.