I don’t think I’ve ever been on such a rollercoaster ride with a book as with New Zealand author Tamsyn Muir’s debut novel, Gideon the Ninth.
I’m not going to lie. The moment I saw the cover plastered all over Bookstagram last year, I wanted to read this book.
And, given my profession (archaeologist) and what I specialise in (bones), Gideon the Ninth was love at first sight. I was sucked in hook, spine and phalange by this book.
Skeletons in SPACE. YES!
Lesbian necromancers. YES YES YES!
I mean, take a look at that jawdroppingly awesome cover. How could anyone resist?
I even put aside my loathing of awkward, ugly-stick, chunkster hardcovers and bought a copy.
I also got the ebook, because I do not read clunky hardcovers.
Over my Head
The first three or four chapters are fun.
Long suffering Gideon Nav, indentured to the tomblike Ninth House, is trying to leave the planet.
She’s forged a signature, ordered the shuttle, and is about to serve everyone a resounding middle finger, when necro-meanie and Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House, Harrowhark Nonagesimus tricks her into a duel which she loses…and she’s forced to become Harrow’s Cavalier.
This fabulous drawing of Harrow is by Dawn Carlos.
Unfortunately for Gideon this not only means three months of training with a piddly little rapier that she hates, it also means she’s to accompany Harrow to the House of the First. Here, Harrow will study to become a Lyctor, a powerful necromancer who serves the Emperor.
So far, so good?
Harrow and Gideon head off to the House of the First (that’s a planet, ok?).
And that’s where the book went sideways for me.
Quite honestly the next 80 pages or so sucked.
The writing was clunky. Paragraphs of ungainly prose. Anorexic worldbuilding – I was dumped into a highly original gothic world, no maps, no street signs, not even a neon light to explain how this universe of necromancers and animated skeletons worked.
And there are So. Many. Characters.
There’s a Dramatis Personae at the beginning of the book and you damnwell need it.
And the plot? It read like a lumbering, arthritic elephant.
The only spark of joy were Gideon’s interactions with Harrowhark which are hilarious and well-written.
I was disappointed.
Not just disappointed. I felt lied to.
As if I’d woken up in a fable, watching the Emperor with no clothes parade past.
So I put Gideon down for 8 weeks.
I was seriously going to DNF it.
Putting on My Big Girl’s Blouse
I’m not sure what made me pick Gideon the Ninth up again.
A conversation on Reddit? A review on GR that said: keep going.
I started reading it again (*the ebook, of course). I started to enjoy it. Maybe I got used to dwelling in this strange world of bones and broken bodies.
But I think it was Gideon.
Gideon is infectiously likeable. She’s irreverent, swears like me, is fierce but not afraid to be caring and loyal.
Harrow becomes almost…likeable. And if not likeable, then at least interesting.
You’ve probably heard about the plot, characters mysteriously murdered one by one, whilst trying to train as Lyctors for the Emperor in a decaying, gothic palace.
The book is incredibly atmospheric and even if the world is never quite fully revealed.
And that end.
Oh. My. God. That. End.
It’s a very rare thing for me to re-read a book, but I’ve now listened to the book on audio.
I can honestly say I feel like I got so much more out of this second reading, and that Moira Quirk is an amazing narrator.
In short, Gideon went from being a two star read to a five star read. I’m a superfan of the series now (I’ve even made a Pinterest board for fanart).
Bring on Harrow the Ninth.
Well played, Ms Muir, well played.