Review: “Gideon the Ninth,” Tamsyn Muir

Pros: Absolutely stunning!
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb Trilogy Book 1) is a stunning blend of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. I first became interested in it when I heard it described as “lesbian necromancers in space,” and that isn’t a bad description. Gideon Nav is an indentured servant to the Ninth House, the Keepers of the Locked Tomb, and she is determined to escape. But it’s the 10,000th year of the reign of the King Undying, and he wants the heads of the eight houses, with their cavaliers, to come to him and undergo trials to become the next group of Lyctors (insanely powerful, nearly-immortal necromancers). Thus eight pairs of necromancer and cavalier must make the journey to the crumbling planet of the First House. Gideon is forced into pretending to be the cavalier of Harrowhawk, the heir to the Ninth House, when her current cavalier flees from the task. Gideon is quite a soldier, but she’s never trained with a rapier and isn’t exactly up on all the little politenesses–Harrow ends up ordering her not to speak to anyone in an effort to maintain the fiction. When they arrive, they find the place being run by three odd priests and a bunch of walking skeletons. They’re told that the only guideline of the process to become a Lyctor–the only clue at all–is that they must not open locked doors without permission. But despite the seeming ease of that simple guideline, it doesn’t take long before people start dying.

Gideon is one of my most favorite main characters. She spends most of the story stalking around in a deep black robe with her face done up in skeleton makeup and her not speaking to anyone. The reason this is so wonderful is that Gideon is an absolutely irrepressible redhead who loves puns and crude humor. So when she finally busts loose it’s just a blast to behold. Harrow is really interesting as well; she seems at first to hate Gideon (Gideon is 18; Harrow is 17), but the relationship proves to be more complex than that.

The “lesbian” part of “lesbian necromancers in space” is comparatively subtle in this book in the series, although it’s also very straightforward. Mostly it shows up in Gideon’s tendency to notice other women’s hotness and get distracted by long legs. I expect it’ll become a bit more central in the next novel. I like the way it’s presented as absolutely normal and not anything worth explaining, excusing, or hiding.

The genre is really interesting. This is a space-faring society, so it’s science fiction. There’s necromancy, which reads like magic but clearly has some technological underpinnings, giving the story a distinct vein of fantasy running through it, especially because the aesthetics of the space-faring people are not heavy on technological doodads. Wood and marble, for instance, are much more common in the buildings of the First House planet than metal is. I’d also call this partially horror. There are certainly a lot of corpses, a variety of nasty monsters, and plenty of bloody death.

One trick I really like is the way in which Gideon talks. She uses very modern vernacular (e.g., “hug it out”). It works perfectly to show how she’s different from the important people around her, those who’ve been raised as royalty, and it gives her a very distinctive feel.

There are obviously some interesting things about Gideon. She’s an orphan and no one knows where she’s from. There’s one exceedingly unusual event from her past, and another event that proves she isn’t entirely normal happens in the present. Then something happens toward the end that kind of seems to contradict where those other details were going. The book is carefully-enough written, however, that for the moment I’m trusting the author to get back to that mystery in the next book.

My only problem with this book is that the next one can’t come soon enough. I stayed up until midnight reading, and that’s highly unusual for me!

In any case, both she and Harrowhawk turned up, gorgeously gowned in their Locked Tomb vestments, painted like living skulls, looking like douchebags.

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