Review: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

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      • File Size: 5942 KB
      • Print Length: 437 pages
      • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1250313198
      • Publisher: Tor.com (September 10, 2019)
      • Publication Date: September 10, 2019
      • Kindle: $13.99
      • Hardcover: $14.99
      • Paperback: $17.99

      Gideon the Ninth

      Born into servitude in the dreariest, most dismal of the necromantic houses; raised by a coven of wizened old nuns possessing all the warmth of a frozen grave; surrounded by decrepit, unfeeling retainers; harangued by countless skeletons (Don’t forget the skeletons!); and shunned by just about everyone she knows, Gideon Nav hates her life. But what else would you expect for someone living in a Great House that belongs to a 9000 year old empire founded, and sustained – if you could call slowly wasting away being sustained – on the power of death?

      The only thing going in Gideon’s favor is the fact that she’s supremely fit and an accomplished swordswoman. Not that anybody cares. No seriously! They really don’t. So, she risks everything by launching the latest in a string of daring escape attempts with the aim of running away and joining the military.

      Of course, things don’t go as planned. As it turns out, Gideon’s aggressive manner and penchant for swinging sharp hunks of metal has been noticed, and she is foiled at the last second by her greatest rival, Harrowhark Nonagesimus. Harrowhark is the Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House, and bone witch extraordinaire, and she demands Gideon stay and do the Ninth House one last service – a service that will guarantee Gideon the freedom to pursue her dreams.

      The catch? (Because you know, there’s just gotta be one)

      A call has been issued by none other than the Emperor – Necrolord Prime and King of the Nine Renewals – for new postulants willing to travel to the home of the First Great House – the site of a huge, labyrinthine maze of limb-rending, gut-spilling, brain-burning puzzles – and there submit themselves to a series of “tests” for the position of Lyctor, (all-powerful immortal servants of the everlasting resurrection), who will help him fight against the empire’s greatest foes.

      Okay . . . but what’s the actual catch?

      Well, no necromancer can ascend to lyctorhood without their cavalier – a sword-wielding champion – by their side. For the trials require them to act as one, brain and brawn together, to stand a chance of succeeding. (A major clue if ever there was one). And the Ninth’s cavalier is not only unwilling to accept the challenge, he’s next to useless anyway. Thus Harrowhark’s ultimatum. If Gideon is willing to serve as her sword-hand throughout the trials, she’ll be released from servitude forevermore, with full honors.

      You KNOW there’s still a catch, don’t you?
      And it’s rather delicious . . . (Don’t worry – NO SPOILERS).

      Gideon and Harrowhark end up on that decaying world, and find out its worse than anticipated. The mazelike facility’s only occupants seem to be a small team of ancient, out of touch servants, and a vast army of skeletons, programmed to fulfill your every desire . . . so long as it’s staying alive. Because, when those tests I mentioned do begin, Lyctorship takes second place to doing just that. The rooms the aspirants need to enter to complete their studies and trials are locked. And when they actually manage to fathom out how to obtain keys or gain entrance, they discover, to their cost, that they are often guarded by lethal apparitions that are only too happy to tear them limb from limb without asking questions. If that wasn’t bad enough, Gideon and Harrowhark have to fend off the murderous shenanigans of the representatives of the other houses. And just to keep things interesting, we have the ever acidic relationship between Gideon and Harrowhark themselves. Think of a hate/hate relationship based on manipulation, betrayal and pure, unadulterated loathing – one which has come to blows in the past – and you’ll begin to appreciate just how much they enjoy each other’s company in this environment.

      Oh the joy of skeletons in the closet making things more complicated.

      And they do – because those skeletons I mentioned are everywhere, and neither woman can hope to survive unless they begin to trust one another enough to cooperate fully.

      Do they?

      You’ll find out, it what I can honestly say is one of the most subtly appealing stories I’ve read in a long time. That it’s moody, macabre and gothic goes without saying. You only have to get a look at the cover to receive a hint of what’s coming. But it’s what’s inside those dark uncomfortable pages that will haunt you, for it whispers in your ear, enticing you; it spellbinds you to accept the unbalanced and the bizarre as normal; it keeps you on a knife-edge and at the same time, at a distance, so that when the hooks do eventually sink in, you’ll willingly let yourself be drawn to the other side and immersed in a miscreation of woe.

      It’s a grim, magnificent world the author, Tamsyn Muir has painted. As psychologically draining as it is harsh; as unforgiving as it is hostile. But Muir injects just the right amount of venomous, gritty humor and incisor-sharp dialogue to help the narrative along at a bone-jarring pace. And therein lies its balance and appeal. Yes, the barbs have teeth. But you’ll be glad when they snap your way.

      And the curious thing is, it’s not until the end – during the emotionally charged, action packed, blood & guts climax – that the full power of this story truly hits you. And I guarantee, it’ll knock you into the next universe.

      Wow! I loved it.

      A true space opera of a tale, and a movie in the making if ever there was one.

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