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 (37 comments total) 14 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 [16 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 [17 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 [2 favorites]


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 [13 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 [5 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 [5 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 [1 favorite]


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 [3 favorites]


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 [2 favorites]


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 [2 favorites]


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 [5 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, 2020 [4 favorites]


This book made me scream a lot. In a good way.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:13 PM on February 26, 2020 [1 favorite]


This has been hanging out in my Kindle for a while, since there was so much good buzz on it, but I only got to it yesterday. I enjoyed it a ton, and tore through it, but I definitely got all the characters and their affiliations mixed up. There were some pacing problems - a little bit of too much plot stuffed into one book. And I could have used some clarity about Teacher and the larger universe. Still, I was able to keep going on the book's sheer verve, and I'm interested in more.
posted by PussKillian at 1:20 PM on March 12, 2020 [3 favorites]


Since this is still being updated, Tor has decided to release the first act of Harrow the Ninth for free. Preorder from the links at their website.
posted by sukeban at 3:37 PM on March 12, 2020 [3 favorites]


Chapters 1-6 should have been consolidated into 2 chapters. In a book that, from chapter 7 onwards, struggles with lack of space to do what it needs to, those 6 chapters do very, very little, and provide a barrier to people wanting to get engaged in the book. I mean, I persevered because I enjoyed the tone and the world building details, but both got way better from chapter 7 onwards anyway.

What I'd have edited if I'd been editing-

Cut down chapter 1-3 into chapter 1 (the whole thing can be summed up as "Harrow foils another Gideon escape attempt, receives summon from emperor"). Have it still end on harrow's hatred line, stick a Gideon internal pov mention of killing harrow's parents right there in the next chapter. The book dragged it out as a mystery, but it wasn't actually an important mystery, having it be a mystery actually detracted from the tension it could have provided, and revealing it up front allows more sense for some of Gideon's conflicted feelings towards Harrow (clearly partly very deep guilt) and gives a lot more punch to the scene where Sextimus tells her "don't be absurd you didn't kill them". In the novel this came immediately on the heels of the reveal and therefore had much less power.


Chapter two would be chapters 4-6, getting talked into joining the mission, trip prep, trip. Intersperse the training and trip prep with some memories of harrow's past abuse, of which details were actually quite short in the book which made the hatred between the two girls feel flat. End on that fabulous bit of Gideon and her sunglasses, excellent.

Then use the space cleared up from cutting 4 empty chapters to flesh out the following:

1. Teacher, who is a pivotal character who gets much too little air time and whose big twist this felt kind of flat
2. Sextimus, the fourth most important character in the entire book.
3. The world. There was tons of ambience atmospheric world building, great. Finding out in the epilogue that the emperor is off fighting nightmares? Less great. Similarly, I understand that the lyctors are meant to be super mysterious, and even so the antagonist's grief and anger felt too out of nowhere, too little foreshadowed.

Also, I'd have wanted to flesh out way more about the world, specifically- the facility and the planet- but I'm for now assuming that those were left shrouded in deep mystery very deliberately. I mean, the emperor's inability to set foot in the planet is a massive chekhov's gun, which I want to see fired by the end of the trilogy in some way...

In a minor personal taste note! There's a tiny scene where the teens are like "you don't sound like what we expected" and it's hilarious, but I would have enjoyed like ten times as much "people's expectations of Gideon meet the real Gideon and just... Double take".
---

Anyway, that's the criticism. The praise:

1. Super unique feeling. Yeah mashup warhammer 40k + Agatha Christie, but that mashup is weird and unique. The narrative voice is unique. It feels very different and therefore quite fresh
2. From chapter 7 onwards I found the plot nicely fast moving, engrossing, good mix of mystery and action.
3. Fun fun fun worldbuilding ambience
4. Several satisfyingly badass characters
posted by Cozybee at 1:58 AM on April 24, 2020 [3 favorites]


Cozybee, that's solid editing advice, I think.

I just finished this a couple of days ago, after having heard about it from encountering randoms raving about 'murder mystery with lesbian necromancers in spaaaaaaaace', and, yeah, I'll take that as a new genre.

I had a bit of difficulty keeping track of who was who among the less prominent houses. And I thought a few of the twists fell flat - particularly the pivot from "you have made my entire life miserable" to "one flesh, one end" which seemed a bit sudden. Loved Gideon, and Harrow's evolution as we learn more about her was pretty solid. Loved Sextimus and definitely wanted more of him and his cavalier.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:59 AM on June 4, 2020 [4 favorites]


Harrow the Ninth is now available.
posted by thedward at 9:46 AM on August 4, 2020 [2 favorites]


I just finished a re-read as prelude to getting Harrow the Ninth. It definitely held up better on the second time through. There are still soggy spots in the pacing and I still get people confused but the whole thing worked a lot better for me this time around.
posted by PussKillian at 7:19 PM on August 8, 2020 [2 favorites]


Let me say I'm about halfway through Harrow and HOLY FUCKING SHIT THIS BOOK and that's all I can say.
posted by uberchet at 11:36 AM on August 10, 2020 [1 favorite]


I read the first N chapters that Tor released for free and I am looking forward to the rest of it! (alas, my local indie bookstores are all out of stock in a fit of bad timing since I'm going to socially distance out of town this weekend)
posted by rmd1023 at 6:43 AM on August 11, 2020


Just reread Gideon after finishing Harrow, and I have to say that it is much smoother on a second read. The plot is still a little wayward, and accelerates too fast towards the end, but somethings I thought of as dropped stitches turned out to be foreshadowing, and I am very curious if we will see some conveniently "unfound" bodies in a future book...
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:42 PM on August 12, 2020 [1 favorite]


Just finished reading Gideon for the first time, and it's a fun ride, especially for a first novel. Yes, there were a lor of characters. But the front matter and back matter gave you everything you needed to know about them. My only gripe might be that there should be a note at the front that the notes in the back exist, because it would suck to read the whole book and only find them after the end. I found myself constantly flipping back and forth. (This would also suck for an e-book and REALLY suck for an audiobook.)

The extended stay on the Ninth planet didn't bother me. I found it interesting and then MORE interesting when it became clear that the rest of the book was going somewhere else entirely. And then more interesting still when we learned more about the Locked Tomb. This is well structured as the first book in a trilogy.

The thing I liked least was the conglomeration of action sequences at the end. I mean, I knew in a book about a swordswoman it would come down to fighting, but it seemed to draw too hard on the interminable superhero set-pieces that fill the movies these days. Kind of like how the end of the first Harry Potter book was a bloodlessly perfect cinematic puzzle, or the end of Motherless Brooklyn (the book). Here's hoping the rest of the books will mature into not needing an over-the-top blob of action piled on for the climax.

I'm guessing Alecto is the girl in the Locked Tomb? Also, did anyone else find it weird that only 4 out of the 19 adept/cavalier sets were over the age of 27?
posted by rikschell at 1:39 PM on August 25, 2020


The end notes appear only in the paperback edition. I had bought the ebook before and bought the paperback again when it came out only for the end notes.
posted by sukeban at 1:47 PM on August 26, 2020 [1 favorite]


Ah! I have the hardcover and was wondering what all this 'endnote' discussion was about. What's in the endnotes? Any chance Tor has released it for those of us who bought an endnoteless edition?
posted by rmd1023 at 4:33 PM on August 26, 2020


It's got a very short glossary, an in-world essay about the relationship between necros and cavs, intelligence dossiers on the book characters as if written by the Cohort with some author notes commenting on the characters or their naming; and, lastly, an explanation of the naming system and pronunciation notes, which change rather erratically from Latin to English pronunciations, btw: "Nonagesimus" ending in -oos sound while "Ortus" "rhymes with tortoise".
posted by sukeban at 3:14 AM on August 27, 2020 [1 favorite]


Ooof. Is there any online source for the end notes? I'd sure love to have them. If they're in a hardback I'll buy that -- I bought the Harrow hardback even though I read it on Kindle, largely because it's beautiful -- but I don't think I want a paperback.
posted by uberchet at 7:03 AM on August 27, 2020


They're not in the hardback edition I have.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:47 AM on August 27, 2020


I am... not as enthusiastic as most of the respondents here. Reasons:

1) Gideon speaks in contemporary idiom. She sounds exactly like John MacClain in DIE HARD. I understand that this was the author's choice and is interesting, but, let's face it, Gideon is a bone-headed (heh!) spouter of sarcasm and quips.

2) I assume that Gideon's origins (her "discovery in the rushes, like Moses") will be revealed in time, as well as her amazing survival despite the "plague" that killed her contemporaries. I'm assuming that she has some kind of "mutant healing factor" that makes her "scary" to the Ninth authorities who could have just carried her up the drillshaft and shoved Gideon out the airlock ("try regenerating from THAT!")

3) The battle scenes appear drawn from MCU movies: a lot of CGI action that has little or no connection to the characters. Honestly, I don't think Muir is really a writer, but just someone who just imagines a "mind movie" and describes it. That's as far from actual writing as I can imagine.

I'm currently reading "The Three-Body Problem" by Liu Cixin and it has more real characters, more real heart, in the first 30 pages than this novel. I don't know, maybe expectations have fallen. But Gideon the Ninth seems like a Michael Bay movie: dumb, loud characters, explosions chasing down a hall, an excess of special effects and little heart.
posted by SPrintF at 11:50 AM on January 23


Joined the Bad Decisions Book Club for Gideon twice last week. The content was good (great, even), but what really brought me to this thread was the context. Because I think (hope!) Tamsyn Muir is one of this first authors to be published mainstream who read Homestuck. I know that's kind an of an opaque comment to your average MeFi reader - start here and here -- but HS is one of those truly epic literary and cultural phenomenons that actively defines the world in terms of Before, After, and, uniquely, During. It's really hard for me to describe this, and I was there for all of it at the peak of its popularity on tumblr (and I didn't even read it).

All this to say that Muir is (hopefully) kicking off a crazy fun era in genre storytelling and I am so, so excited to be here for it.

I'd also agree with the other users in this thread about the pacing/storytelling, especially at the end, and its resemblance to blockbuster movies. I found the structure of this book to be very reminiscent of video RPGs, specifically something from the Final Fantasy family.*** And I can see why somebody unfamiliar with that structure would be alienated and find it shallow, but I believe Muir was specifically writing for people who are interested in implications of the storytelling of video games ("implications of the storytelling of video games" is, uh, I don't want to say the point of Homestuck, but certainly a significant part of it).*

For me, this book was a spiritual successor to Final Fantasy X in the ways that I really wanted (and specifically did not get from FFX2): an exploration of the guardian-summoner (cav-necro in this series) relationship, the in-universe systems that engender and require it, and the emotional dynamics surrounding personal (as in, relating to personhood) and bodily sacrifice.** Video games are great at introducing compelling, thought-provoking questions about ideas like this, and as a genre are bad at exploring them in an emotionally fulfilling way. (hence, fanfiction). And we're starting see authors talk back to those big stories in a completely different genre (as Homestuck did), and filling in those gaps. Which is so, so, so cool.

I read an interesting comment somewhere recently, which speculated that GRRMartin would not finish another ASOIAF book, because he started writing them in response to a certain moment + series of tropes in fantasy fiction, which have long since passed. I wonder what Gideon will look like after this particular cultural moment has passed. This whole thing (and the book itself) leave me breathless, truly.

*and lesbians, this book is definitely for lesbians and queer people.

** The Kingdom Hearts franchise is a convoluted mess that investigates personhood over and over in a way that specifically vibes with preteens and teenagers, and people who were preteens and teenagers when they first encountered it.

*** slowish, lowkey start... worldbuilding... exploring a landscape, obtaining keys... mounting stakes, seeing other characters prove themselves by casually displaying cool as fuck powers... bigger stakes... oh shit! it's final boss time! time for twelve boss battles in a row!! final cutscene. fin.
posted by snerson at 10:00 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


All of this and I didn't even include the link on kismessitude. Tl;dr: it's the relationship between Harrow and Gideon that makes them so compelling (and that Homestuck coined).
posted by snerson at 10:02 AM on February 16


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