Sometimes, you stumble across a book that has such an intriguing, batsh*t concept, you can’t help but want to delve immediately into the book. That is what Tasmyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth is – her debut novel and the first one as part of the Locked Tomb trilogy.
With a tagline that really speaks for itself – “lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space!” – this book tries to pack a lot in. And when I say a lot I mean that I had to make quite a few notes along the way, especially over the more technical terms re: necromancy and how it works. But it is also immersive and rich in its worldbuilding, with witty character dialogue, and heartbreaking narrative that made me cry a few times and laugh raucously at others. It also, much to my delight, subtly (and at times, not so subtly) makes references to memes and fanfic (if you too, like me, have spent way too much time on the internet and know your fanfiction tropes, you’ll spot them).
In a world where there exist eight other Houses, each bound to serve the omnipotent Emperor Undying, the Necrolord Prime of the First House, we are introduced to our protagonist and POV character Gideon Nav. Gideon is an indentured servant of the Ninth House, likewise bound to serve her childhood nemesis Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Princess-Necromancer of the Ninth House – a goth house where skull face paint is applied liberally, and they summon skeletons as a primary source of their power. You’ve got to love a House that goes all out for the aesthetic.
The plot unfolds as the long-suffering duo embark to the planet of the First House along with the representatives of seven other Houses – the heirs and their cavaliers – with the goal to become a Lyctor (immortal servants who serve the Necrolord Prime). But as is quickly made apparent, all is not as it seems in this First House, and the goal of becoming a Lyctor far more muddied and complex than initially thought. The dynamic and banter between Gideon and Harrowhark which sits at the front of this novel, is particularly enjoyable to read: the former a foul-mouthed, brash jock, the latter a long-suffering, cerebral, sharp-tongued necromancer.
“But Gideon was experiencing one powerful emotion: being sick of everyone’s shit”
It’s sci-fi, with a smattering of gothic suspense, action, and murder mystery all wrapped into one intriguing, exciting, and heady cocktail. You follow Gideon as each of the characters in this crumbling, old palace try to figure out the long-lost secrets of Lyctorhood, whilst trying not to fall foul of any…further, darker secrets hidden away in this place. They are each pitted against each other whilst working together, and as the tension and suspicion grows, Muir drips feeds information about what-the-hell-is-going-on to you at the right points, in a way that kept me continually guessing (and yes, make notes as you read. It’s worth it, I promise).
The array of supporting characters with their different types of cultures and death magics are brilliant too (I would die for the Sixth House, not to be too dramatic about it), and soon you find yourself trying to navigate this haunted house trying to root for as many of them as possible (whilst outright despising others).
“One flesh, one end. Bitch.”
This is a book which doesn’t pull its punches, whether that’s in the intricately detailed lore it drops, in the vicious, downright scary fight scenes that are nail-bitingly tense, or in the emotional dialogue it clocks you around the face with.
One thing I particularly loved about this novel is its depictions of relationships; specifically the connection between the Necromancers and Cavaliers. If there’s a trope I love seeing it’s the “ride or die” connection that Muir explores so wonderfully, and with such nuance, between each House. One cannot exist without the other – a heartbreaking point that sits at the centre of the entire book and ends on a traumatic cliffhanger.
Final verdict :
Gideon the Ninth takes an extremely intriguing premise and delivers up a wonderful, heart wrenching, and rich story. There is so much here, it deserves to be read and then re-read, with new points picked up upon each time. This is a must read for sci-fi fans at the very least.