Gideon the Ninth (Book Review)
by Tamsyn Muir (2019)
Science Fiction Fantasy
5 /5 Stars
How do I even start reviewing this tremendously fun book? As you can tell, I absolutely adored it. Gideon the Ninth is a unique, engrossing, at-times hilarious, at-times heart-breaking, and entirely fun adventure.
The front cover has a quote from Charles Stross: “Lesbian Necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space!” That sums it up. Seriously, I’m not even going to tell you anything else about it, but it has mysteries, fights, hints of romantic intrigue, and one-liners galore.
Honestly, tackling this review is daunting, because I want to gush but I also want to be objective and clear. I recognize the novel has flaws. The first half takes a bit to get started and the characters, going by multiple names, were confusing.
This novel is very atmospheric, but what I loved best was how we aren’t given any explanation. We have to figure out as we go what the world(s) are composed of regarding magic, science, and social hierarchies, and how they function. But that’s part of the fun. I like being confused a bit. I hate being spoon-fed exposition. I’m a bit of a martyr.
I enjoyed very much the mysterious temple that is both ancient and scientifically-advanced.
Gideon, of course, makes the story. She’s a badass, miscreant orphan who only wants to leave her home behind, but you can also tell she’s grasping to be included by the same people she professes to hate. Granted, she was ready to leave at the start of the story, but how much of that was her waiting for someone to tell her to stay? This dynamic repeats itself with her relationship with Harrow, which was one of the most shippable romances I’ve ever read. The sexual tension and underlying need for one another carries the whole story, even when they aren’t even in the same room for a lot of it. Their youth contributes to their weltschmerz and as someone who was trapped in her own pit of angst well into her 20s, Gideon’s snark was near nostalgic. Hell, this description of how Harrow: “... pretty much cornered the market on wearing black and sneering. It comprised 100 percent of her personality” was me at 17 or so.
Gideon, for the most part, is consistent and extremely likable (at least to me). The humour is exactly my type - acerbic, obscure, and absurd. I love insult-based dialogue.
The other characters are, once I could tell some of them apart, interesting. There was a bit too much focus on Coronabeth’s attractiveness at times (it was almost male gazey, despite being from a woman’s perspective), but I loved the teenagers, I loved Palamedes and Camilla, and I loved Harrow, of course.
I found the writing style paired well with the setting. Muir managed to create an entertaining collision of styles that I found quite fun. She’s sometimes formal and sometimes flowery, but this is contrasted with Gideon’s slang-based vernacular. Had Gideon’s commentary, as well as certain metaphors (“Her pupils were so dilated you could have flown a shuttle through them”) not been present, it would have been easy to forget the story was not just a fantasy, but a sci-fi as well. Also, I adored Gideon’s comments. I laughed so much. “Double bones with Doctor Skelebones” killed me.
In terms of the story, the mystery was intriguing and the climax was fantastic. The novel struck the right balance for me regarding suspicion of the end result but not being too obvious. I loved the final battle and the denouement made me so glad there is another book. Two more, in fact.
Is it perfect? No. A couple of times I had to re-read a paragraph to understand what was happening, the phrase “Sotto voce”, as well as some others, were repeated a noticeable amount, and I’m very glad for that Dramatis Personae at the start because it took almost the whole book for me to tell certain people apart.
But do I care about these things? No. I loved this book. I want to read it again.
But now, the hardest part. Do I go ahead and just order Harrow the Ninth? Or wait for Christmas? I have so many books to read …