Review: Gideon the Ninth

A photo of a hardback copy of Gideon the Ninth along with a dagger and some candles.

Tamsin Muir’s Gideon the Ninth is a wonderful and ridiculous gothic science fantasy exploration of the haunted castle. We follow Gideon, the maligned wretch of the Ninth House, as she is forced into collaboration with the esteemed, mean, and incredibly repressed necromancer darling of her House, Harrowhark.

The start is slow. It is intent on sitting you in this world and rolling you around in the dirt, until you feel so covered in bone dust that you should and will simply accept that this is how mucky things are going to be. As they enter the main set-piece, a Hunger Games style pitting of Districts Houses against each other, the narrative really gets into its groove. Happily, we don’t get the YA tropes this implies, as the large cast is made up of a bunch of twenty- to fifty-somethings, with a pair of teens thrown in for good measure.

Always maintaining a sliver of self-awareness, much thanks to Gideon’s sharp wit and slightly duller speech, Gideon is unafraid to ham it up in the name of goth life. There’s so much bone that you will feel it coating the inside of your mouth, and there’s a general feeling that anyone, at any moment, is on the brink of saying ‘fuck it’. Mainly Gideon on that last one. Gideon’s irreverent internal commentary undercuts the tension while maintaining the knowledge that Gideon herself, sweeping through the castle bearing a skull motif, long black robes and a rapier, presents a terrifying and foreboding figure to the other Houses. The contrast is delightful.

It was the Harrowhark of old who responded, the one who walked down dusty Ninth House halls as though crushing purple silk beneath her feet. ‘Sextus,’ she said blandly, ‘I am embarrassed for you that you can’t.’

The front cover has the fabulous descriptor ‘lesbian necromancers in space’, but it’s the kind where most of the characters can be assumed to be queer, most of them are women, and there’s a bloody lot of necromancers, which means we end up with the default character being a lesbian necromancer. I, for one, am all in favour of this, especially as the other default character, and our beloved Gideon, would be the classic sword lesbian. One could argue about the morals of this advertising, but they really shouldn’t.

A person wearing a black hood and a skull mask.

The chunky femur in this castle of bones is the dynamic between Gideon and Harrowhark; their scathing conversations contain such delightful hatred that you will wish you, too, had had an enemy since you were old enough to walk. As they are forced to work together, the layers of their relationship are revealed slowly, as if peeling back all the skin, flesh and sinew one layer at a time to expose the bone underneath. Their relationship is the heart and soul of the novel, with all the delightful pain anyone could ask for.

I haven’t read much about necromancy before (something I’m sure would shock many of my friends) so I can’t really say how unique the magic system is, but it has the kind of rules where there’s room to play, which is always fun. It’s theoretically a hard magic system with all the explanation of soft magic, and that works for me. The plot isn’t necessarily standout, and you can tell where some of the characters are headed long before they have even the foggiest. But why bog yourself down with these details, when you can sit down and thoroughly enjoy a queer, bone-ridden romp through a gothic space castle?

She had left Harrowhark a note on her vastly underused pillow— WHATS WITH THE SKULLS? and received only a terse— Ambiance.

Bone phantasmagoria with a light-hearted commentary. I’ll definitely be buying the sequel.

But is it gay?
Although the main character and others are undeniably queer, it’s the ‘queer is the default’ rather than any deeper exploration of these character’s feelings. Both are very much needed, of course, but I was hoping for at least some snogging.

One thought on “Review: Gideon the Ninth

  1. Pingback: Review: Harrow the Ninth | The Velvet Bookmark

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