Gideon the Ninth
September 11, 2019 11:14 AM - by Tamsyn Muir - Subscribe

The Emperor needs necromancers. The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman. Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Tamsyn Muir's Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as necromantic skeletons. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.

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.
posted by WidgetAlley (19 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This is delightful and I'm very glad you made me aware of it.
posted by selfnoise at 3:18 PM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I just finished about half an hour ago and I have a lot of feelings. I expected snarkiness, and gothic grandeur, and lots of political intrigue, and I definitely got all of that. Plus fucking awesome skeletons. What I did not expect was to have my heart stomped on in this very particular way. Wowzers.

Gideon is a character that particularly appeals to me and one we almost never see a female version of -- Big Dumb Deathwish Sword Jock. Never in the universe has a book made me want to do pushups so badly.
posted by WidgetAlley at 4:29 PM on September 11, 2019 [8 favorites]

Finished it last night. Loved loved loved it. Please give me more books that are basically Patricia Lockwood forcing Warhammer 40k miniatures to re enact an Agatha Christie novel in a haunted Mansion.
posted by selfnoise at 7:21 AM on September 13, 2019 [9 favorites]

Just finished this one and am very pleased to see this post here waiting for me.

I came across it due to, of all things, a banner ad on the side of Lightspeed and the eight sample chapters hooked me. (There is no better way to sell a book than a nice, long sample). If you're reading this post and you haven't tried the sample, what are you waiting for? Go! Do it! Or the skeletons will come for you.

It's a fantastic novel, I'll be very surprised if it's not on a bunch of best-of-year shortlists. It's even more impressive that it's Muir's debut novel. Here's wishing her a long and prolific career....
posted by GSV The Structure of Our Preferred Counterfactuals at 11:09 PM on September 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

This Tweet looks very promising re: the sequel. Hopefully the fact the publishers already have a manuscript in hand means we won't get Rothfussed with this one!

(I wasn't expecting to adore Harrow as much as I did by the end, and I can't wait to see what she does with her newfound power.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 5:26 PM on September 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Finished listening to the audiobook this morning (the narration is very solid), and I liked it a lot. It has some serious first novel problems, but is good fun throughout.

Stuff I liked:
1. Gideon’s voice — she’s obviously a brash smartass, but Muir does a great job layering hurt, hope, terror, and even fondness under the crusty exterior. Gideon sounds like someone who’s has nice things snatched away so often she’s built an invulnerable persona, and it seems natural.
2. Warhammer 40K with the nasty teen boy stuff scraped away. It let me wallow in space necrononsense without fear of fetish Fascism and gross objectification.
3. The magic felt real and textured; I liked how each House did necromancy a bit differently, but it never felt like it was based on an RPG system.
4. I liked the rather oblique treatment of attraction; obviously, sex exists in Gideon’s world, but it’s very reserved. I’m glad there were no sex scenes (you might make an argument about this); sex with a necromancer would be like a sexy phone call between Monique Wittig and J.G. Ballard — best experienced from a safe distance, if at all.
5. The plot, although familiar, moves along briskly and (mostly) smoothly.

Stuff I disliked:
1. There’s too much story for the size of the novel; as a result, it lurches quite a bit, with revelations feeling oddly places and forced.
2. Similarly, there are too many characters — the teams from the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Houses are pretty flat and unexplored, generally appearing only for exposition and plot purposes. Teacher could have used more screen time so the revelations would have more impact. The flashes of motivation and character show that Miur could give us more fully fleshed out characters if she took the time and space.
3. I don’t have a good sense of the wider world — individual scenes are well-set, the the Universe is very lightly sketched, and this confused me. In a lot of cases this doesn’t really matter — the main action of the story is constrained — but it rubs the story of texture.
4. There are story elements that fit poorly in the narrative. The whole “bomb in the shuttle” plot, for example, doesn’t need to be there, adding complexity to a story drowning under it.
5. The resolution of the plot was fairly predictable — while I could imagine another, nastier resolution, I was pretty sure things would end as they did.

Despite my criticisms, I will definitely read the sequel. I expect Muir will keep getting better and better, and this is a fine place to start.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:05 PM on September 19, 2019

Oh thank you for letting me know this is out! This is the first book I've encountered that has genuinely excited me just with its premise in... I don't know how long. I'm going to go get this tomorrow, I need English language publishing to know there's a deep, deep thirst in the market for space necromancers. And that's not even getting to the fact that Gideon herself also sounds like a sort of character we need more of. I'm excited!
posted by Caduceus at 1:50 AM on September 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

Random speculation - lots of spoilers - There are 9 houses, the First, house of the immortal God-Emperor, and the 8 Great Houses. The Emperor's house is a depopulated world with liquid water, where the Emperor has a palace called Canaan House. Gideon and Harrow, of the Ninth House, live on a planet far from the sun without a breathable atmosphere. IIRC the Sixth House has a great library in orbit, in the shadow of a tidally-locked planet very close to the sun.

My read on this is that this story takes place in our solar system. The Ninth House is on Pluto, the library of the Sixth is in geostationary orbit around Mercury, and Canaan House is on Earth. Probably each of the other great houses possesses the main planets of the system. Being Houses, and owning planets, there might be an interesting astrological or mythological reading on the personalities of the various other characters - maybe the warlike Second House, House of the Crimson Shield makes its home on Mars. Perhaps the Third House, House of the Shining Dead resides in orbit around Venus, or has terraformed that planet.

Dulcinea Septimus, who was actually a rogue Lictor, says that she "is the vengeance of the ten billion" - Harrowhark was endowed with necromantic power through the sacrifice of 200 children. My guess is that the Emperor sacrificed or consumed the lives of ten billion people living on Earth to attain his power and immortality.
posted by rustcrumb at 9:45 PM on September 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

This was great. If there's one thing I love, it's SFF novels that drop you into the middle of a fascinating world with minimal explanation or exposition. And when that fascinating world can be described as "queer space necromancers", well, I'm pretty much sold.
posted by kyrademon at 6:49 AM on October 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

The cover for HARROW THE NINTH is out! And you can read the prologue, which is fucking bonkers.

If you need me I will be over here screaming until next June.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:29 AM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

@rustcrumb I think you're dead-on correct. Several of the same thoughts occurred to me during my read.

I'm still not sure whether The Emperor is a good guy, bad guy, or antihero-type though.

@kyrademon You might enjoy Ninefox Gambit then -- I sure did. It's got that same sense of dropping right into a fully-fledged world. And the second book, Raven Stratagem, is even better. The trilogy's conclusion, Revenant Gun, is not quite as good, but that's not saying much given that Raven Strategem is either my personal Book of the Decade or damn close to it. Honestly they're a bit like the original Star Wars trilogy: the first one's new and awesome, the second one's simply great, and the third one does what it needs to do but just isn't quite as awesome as its precedessors.

@WidgetAlley: Fucking bonkers indeed. Thanks for sharing. This is going to be a wild ride!
posted by GSV The Structure of Our Preferred Counterfactuals at 12:16 AM on November 12, 2019

I liked Ninefox Gambit very much, in fact!
posted by kyrademon at 2:41 AM on November 13, 2019

Nothing about the premise of this book would have necessarily made me pick it up, but I had heard good things about it so I gave the sample a go. I too love long samples, but I didn't need more than 10 pages to be sucked in.
Muir's artistic choices reminded me of Mervyn Peake (on crack as they say) and the pacing of the first half of the book was extraordinary. I felt like it got bogged own a bit in the Nine Little Indians portion, but the denouement was a skull splitting thrill ride.
I know the 2nd book is called Harrow, but I hope that in some way Griddle's voice is a part of the continuing adventure.
This the the third consecutive SF book i've read (and the best) powered by badass women and I love the direction the genre is taking.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:24 PM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Muir's artistic choices reminded me of Mervyn Peake (on crack as they say)

Oh wow, I didn't even think about this but now I can't unsee it. Whether Muir is intentionally influenced by Peake or Peake just trickled down through the gothic horror aesthetic like a good lemon syrup on a bundt cake, either way you're spot on.
posted by WidgetAlley at 4:32 PM on November 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

rustcrumb I think you are spot on! From the latest press release: "Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor's Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?"
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:57 AM on December 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I agree that there might have been too many players (eighteen, including the Teacher): it took about half the book for me to get them all straight, and by that point, they started dropping like flies. The convoluted plot didn't bother me as much.

I loved that Gideon was a dumb jock disaster lesbian, and loved the imagery of all of the other characters being creeped out by these weirdo super serious cultists (even by normal bone mage standards) before slowly realizing the fact that these were ridiculous teenagers.

Anyway, this was a ton of fun. A+ looking forward to the sequel and finding out more about what was going on.
posted by dinty_moore at 2:21 PM on December 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

Similarly, there are too many characters — the teams from the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Houses are pretty flat and unexplored, generally appearing only for exposition and plot purposes.

The writing is also very pronoun-heavy at times, which gets confusing when combined with the above. There were more than a few paragraphs I had to re-read to figure out which "she" was doing or saying something. A few more proper names in the more confusing paragraphs would have been nice, although it would have spoiled Gideon's informal voice a bit.

Still, this was fantastic. It says a lot that even the twists I saw coming from a mile away (like Gideon's sacrifice) were still tense and affecting in the moment. Absolutely Warhammer with the teen boy bits filed off, too. Actually, I kept being reminded (positively!) of the Ciaphas Cain novels, with the juxtaposition of a snarky, impious narrator in a deadly serious high-gothic space magic setting. Doesn't hurt that Cain's aide Jurgen and Gideon are perhaps equally obsessed with pornography.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:11 PM on December 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

I enjoyed the hell out of this thing.
From the first she spoke, Harrowhark sounded in my head like Azula from AtlA.
I dug the occasional videogaminess of the structure. The whole mystery-with-keys-and-puzzles had a very LucasArts feel (in the best way).
Also, a supreme butt-kicker having impostor syndrome about being asked to be a different kind of butt-kicker is a great bit of character.
I am definitely preordering Harrow.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 10:09 PM on February 4 [3 favorites]

This book made me scream a lot. In a good way.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:13 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]

« Older Into the Dark: Pure...   |  Book: Nonviolent Communication... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments