Book Review: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (audiobook)

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy

Publishing Info: Audiobook, September 2019 by Recorded Books

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

Tamsyn Muir’s debut is an enthralling and unique science fantasy which propels the reader into an unexpectedly delightful, yet dark, tale about necromancers in space. Gideon the Ninth is complex and difficult to summarise, and in some ways difficult to define due to the way it draws together multiple genres, stitching them together into something entirely new.

Despite the significant amount of devoted fans Gideon the Ninth has garnered, it was with a little trepidation that I picked it up. It didn’t sound like my kind of book, but the glowing reviews for the narration encouraged me to give the audiobook a try.     

Rather than taking your hand and guiding you through the world, Tamsyn Muir thrusts you straight in, immediately immersing you in an unfamiliar and slightly daunting new world in which you feel like you could easily sink, rather than swim. There were times where I felt like I was floundering, struggling to keep my head above water and absorb all of the new words and concepts crashing over me in waves. There are few explanations about the world, how it came to be, how the system of nine necromantic Houses works, or what the different types of necromantic abilities are. There were many times where I was simply confused. However, the lack of pausing for explanations meant that reading Gideon the Ninth was an immersive experience, and once I had realised that the author wasn’t going to stop to explain anything, I simply allowed myself to be carried on the wave and enjoy the experience. I might not have understood every word or every aspect of the worldbuilding, but it didn’t seem to matter.

Forming a reluctant alliance, Gideon and Harrow of the Ninth House travel to the First House, where they join the necromancers and cavaliers of the other Houses for trials which they hope will see them rise to Lyctorhood. They find themselves in a once grand but now crumbling palace served by skeletons. Tamsyn Muir blends the old and the new in Canaan House, combining classical architecture with modern experimental labs, to create an eerie and sinister atmosphere which builds over the course of the novel. There is a significant mystery element to Gideon the Ninth which kept me turning the pages, and plenty of unexpected twists which kept me on my toes. The novel concludes with a thrilling climax. However, while I usually love action scenes, I found the final battle a little repetitive, and the pacing dragged in this section.   

The detailed worldbuilding and engaging plot are brilliant, but what makes Gideon the Ninth truly shine is the characters. There are eight sets of necromancer and cavalier, and it did take some time to get my head around who was who, and who was from which House. But these pieces quickly fell into place as Tamsyn Muir masterfully paints each character.

Gideon, the narrator, and Harrow are the main protagonists of the novel. Gideon’s voice is so strong, full of wit and charm which made reading Gideon the Ninth a surprisingly fun experience. The humour coming from her inner thoughts and her dialogue added something completely unexpected to what would otherwise be quite a dark book, and makes Gideon the Ninth stand out even more. The interactions between Gideon and Harrow, who have been enemies since childhood, were excellent. The author does a fantastic job of showing the complexity of their relationship not just through dialogue, but through each characters’ body language, through little movements, through the way Gideon sees and describes Harrow’s facial expressions and reactions. Seeing their characters, and their complex relationship, evolve over the course of the novel was captivating and emotional.    

I would highly recommend the audiobook as the narration was superb. The narrator, Moira Quirk, brought every character to life, making them jump out of the pages with a unique voice for each character which suited them perfectly. Listening to the audiobook truly enhanced my reading experience, and is one of the best audiobooks, if not the best, I’ve listened to.   

Gideon the Ninth is a spectacular debut and I so desperately wanted to give it 5 stars, but my confusion and the lack of clarity in the worldbuilding disrupted my reading experience at times, and the final battle was just dragged out a bit too much, so I settled for 4.5 stars. This book entirely surprised me, as I didn’t expect to fall in love with it as much as I did. It was unlike anything I’d read before, and will stick in my mind for a long time to come, possibly forever, as one of the best SFF books I’ve read.  

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