To be clear: I did not give Gideon the Ninth two stars because I thought it was awful from beginning to end. I actually thought it had a lot of potential, and my rating reflects my disappointment in how that potential was handled. This is a judgement of Tamsyn Muir’s style, not of her worth as a writer.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way (and hopefully prevented reactionary comments), let’s proceed to the book: lots of skeletons, some interplanetary travel, several sarcastic necromancers, and a bit of martial arts. The first book in the Locked Tomb Trilogy, Gideon the Ninth mixes genres with glee. Its title character, a teenage girl trapped in indentured servitude on a dreary planet called the Ninth, is desperate to join the army (here called the “Cohort”). Harrow, her employer and the de facto ruler of the Ninth, is desperate to keep Gideon at her side, apparently out of sheer vindictiveness. Their early confrontations display Harrow’s skill as a necromancer (specialising in magical bone constructs – creepy but cool) and Gideon’s endless sarcasm.
Note: major spoilers below.
The sarcasm was the first tripping point for me, cluttering Gideon’s dialogue and the narration and distracting from details of world and character that become important later on. Luckily Gideon proves to be more than a self-centred snark machine, defending and caring for a variety of other characters more deserving than Harrow, but that poses a second problem: how does Gideon, neglected and abused since infancy, have such a pure heart? While reading the book I shrugged and continued to suspend my disbelief. Now that I’m finished, I see that Gideon’s character arc is one of the pieces that didn’t quite fit. Harrow, whose childhood was also traumatic, is more believable, styling herself as the villain to deal with her anger and guilt.
But the story progresses swiftly, bringing Gideon and Harrow to planet First along with the heirs of other planets’ governments (all necromancers) and their cavaliers (essentially bodyguards). Gideon has been promised freedom if she acts as Harrow’s cavalier while Harrow and the other necromancers chip away at a riddle which holds the clue to becoming a Lyctor (a powerful, immortal servant to the God-King).
Though Muir describes and paces it well, the set-up reminded me a bit too much of The Hunger Games, especially as the bodies pile up and everyone starts picking allies. The secondary characters in Gideon the Ninth are better drawn, however, and its magic/science blend of necromancy kept me interested until the end. I thought the middle section of the book was the most enjoyable.
Alas, I did not enjoy the end. As mentioned earlier, Gideon’s character arc doesn’t feel plausible to me. Her budding friendship/romance with Harrow around three quarters into the story is believable, but her proclamation of loyalty as she jumps to her death is not. Yes, she saves everyone by her sacrifice and yes, she may just be saying that devotion to Harrow and the Ninth is better than submitting to their enemy. Or maybe her last living words are as sarcastic as her first. Either way, the classism of the servant’s sacrifice for her Lady irritated me.
End of spoilers.
Gideon the Ninth ends with many subplots unsolved, leaving some intrigue for the sequel, Harrow the Ninth, but I’m not sure I’ll read it. If you’ve read any of the Locked Tomb Trilogy, let me know what you thought of it in the comments.