The reading hype surrounding this book was real. I felt it shaking booktwt and writertwt to the very cores of their communities. I remembered seeing it announced on Publisher’s Weekly and heard the name thrown around all manner of reading circles and book clubs alike.
Gideon the Ninth — ★★★☆☆
The gist of my exposure to Gideon came from being on art twitter. The Gideon craze had hit readers and artists alike and I saw tons of fan art being posted and shared all over. It looked incredibly cool. What little I could glean from glowing praise and adoring reviews was to the tune of ‘necromancing space lesbians’ which, like, c’mon. I’m not a fool. That sounds awesome.
But from the reviews and the art and the fervent recommendations to read it, I honestly don’t know what I was expecting from a story perspective. Whatever it was that I had imagined in my mind, it certainly didn’t line up with what I ended up reading.
For starters, I had definitely envisioned Gideon the Ninth as far more fantasy than sci-fi. The drawings of Harrowhark raising armies of skeletons—or in some instances, raising them to do funny tasks like punt Gideon off a cliff—and the fanart of Gideon valiantly wielding a massive two-handed sword led me down a very particular dark-fantasy path.
Really, it was the ‘space’ in ‘necromancing space lesbians’ that should have given away just how important a role sci-fi as a genre played in the narrative. From space shuttles to planets to far-fetched galaxies, Gideon is not strictly a fantasy story. It sits so well at that intersection of sci-fi and fantasy that you realise that’s why the sections are always together in a bookstore. (That, and, of course, they both fall under what is generally referred to as speculative fiction.)
All of my mental formulation had been jumbled and pieced together from fanart and little snippets and comics done by loving fans, which do largely seem to shuck the sci-fi part of the story. There aren’t many pieces of art (that I’ve seen) that depict the planetary houses, the shuttles, or the strange, steampunk-esque construction of the Canaan House. So please accept my confusion when it turned out there was more than a little emphasis on the necromantic galaxy at large.
As much as I was confused and befuddled, there’s no way that Gideon the Ninth, with all of its twists and challenges and betrayals, could exist without it’s sci-fi backing. There would be ways to mend this, but the story is so wholly reliant on the galaxy and the planets and the—wait for it—Necrolord Prime, that if it was purely fantasy, it wouldn’t be Gideon.
Wow does this book have a lot of description. Like a lot. Like, Donna Tartt-level a lot of description. To the point of just please can we move on from how old and decrepit the floors are, please, I’m begging.
The first hundred pages genuinely had me at, “Uhhh haha what’s going on??”
It’s a lot of…something. I was very confused throughout all of it. It wasn’t background, but it wasn’t really lore either, it was just…detail.
And detail is good! But this was…confusing detail. As much as I love getting thrown into the fray, turning up in the middle of a story and getting pulled in at the height of the action, there was so much to take in at the beginning that I felt my head spinning a bit.
Escape! Subterfuge. Fighting! Delay. Backstory. Skeletons. (Lots of skeletons.) Praise to the Necrolord Prime! Ascending to Lyctorhood? Lies. Deceit! Bonds forged through the assurance of mutual destruction! (This is all, for the record, within the first hundred pages. Like I said: it’s a lot to take in.)
Frankly, I wasn’t interested until Act Two, which is still just shy of a hundred page. For me, it seemed like a lot to get through before reaching the meat…er, bones? Of the story. From there, it somehow gets more convoluted. Not necessarily in a bad way! Just in a, it-gets-hard-to-keep-track-of-things-way. And that could just be me! I have a small, squishy brain and sometimes I get confused when there’s a lot of characters at play.
That Being Said…
It was interesting! It was very interesting.
There are lots of incredibly cool concepts and made-up necromantic magic things that made my fantasy brain go, “Ooooohhh—that’s cool!” Bone words and body language abound in this book. Osseous. Thanergy. Phalange. Femur. Mmmm. Delicious.
The contrast of the fantasy elements—necromancy, magic—with the sci-fi elements—space shuttles, ‘plex’ glass, machine guns—works really well. They’re knitted together yet almost distinctly separate.
Muir herself has a delightfully distinct tone of voice for Gideon. A bit over-used on epithets—’the necromancer’, ‘the cavalier’, ‘the twin’—and a handful of giveaway repeated words—’coruscating’ being the most noticeable—but otherwise wonderfully dark and magical, yet forward and futuristic.
The removed narrative perspective of Gideon herself is truly remarkable and honestly, hilarious. The snide comments made in the confines of her own mind, the ‘that’s what she said’ jibes, and the unabashed staring at the attractive Tridentarius twin hearken to the woman-loving butch cavalier fanartists love to depict so much.
There are, it should be noted, far more men in the cast of Gideon the Ninth than the fanartists might have you believe. I, for one, did not think there would be a single one therein, so imagine my surprise when nearly half the case of rotating characters are men. Who’d’ve thought! I, for one, could have done with an entire cast of skeleton-fighting, necromancing space women, but that’s just me.
And speaking of characters, I wish you best of luck to keep clear a fairly regular cast of nineteen characters*. (Spoiler: their numbers do winnow, eventually.) It was certainly hard for me, and I had to shake my head and re-read a passage more than once to make sure I knew who was present.
Fortunately, the characters are all crisp and individual. Though some may share traits—the teens of the Fourth house lamenting over Magnus’s embarrassing tales of their youth—they are not all carbon-copy background characters for Gideon and Harrow to hack and slash their way through. (There is, actually, very little slashing and hacking of anything that is not a skeleton. Pity.)
All in All…
As be-titles this post, I’m still not sure what happened. I can definitely tell you, with a lot of hand gestures and eager facial expressions, a rough approximation of all of the events therein, but I’m still not really sure what…happened.
It can tell you it was very cool! It was very necromantic and very kick-ass. I definitely enjoyed reading the last third of the book.
Rest assured, too, that this is an incredibly well-thought-out story. I was thinking very much of George R.R. Martin’s massive cast of characters and layers upon layers of plot and sub-plot and alliances and subterfuge. The challenges, the mechanics, the magic—! It’s really, horrifically elegant and well-written.
Way, way up at the start of this post, I gave Gideon the Ninth three out of five stars. More accurately, I’d give 3.5. I think the depth of the world building and the presentation of the characters alone is deserving of four stars. But there was just so much in every sense that at times it all got a bit dizzying. So many characters, so much detail, so much world building that it all just seemed to pile and stack on top of itself.
Don’t mistake this for thinking I don’t like it! I’m so curious to read the second book—aptly named Harrow the Ninth—and fans have absolutely lost it over the announcement of the third instalment, Nona the Ninth, slated for release 13 September 2022. I eagerly hope that the next books lean further and further into the sci-fi side of the story and hope that we’re able to peer into the locked tomb—and to see what stares back.