Overview (No Spoilers):
In the span of a week I had the same book recommended to me by three different friends, each of whom shares very similar reading tastes as myself. The best part is that I’d never even heard of Gideon the Ninth before the suggestions. These recommendations were absolutely spot on as I couldn’t stop listening to this fantastically detailed, snarky story. Seriously, when is the last time you’ve picked up a story that somehow intertwines necromancy, a scavenger hunt, and space travel?
Muir creates a brilliant literary world where necromancy comes in many different styles and flavors. Set in the fictional Star System Dominicus, the solar system is comprised of nine planets. Each planet is ruled by a different House that specializes in its own unique brand of necromancy.
In the remote Ninth House, mystery and secrets are especially rampant and Gideon has had her fill. All Gideon has ever wanted to do was escape the Ninth House, but her plots are always foiled at the last minute. Unfortunately for Gideon, Harrow, the heir of the Ninth House is always ten steps ahead. When Gideon’s most recent scheme fails in a most spectacular fashion, the story takes a drastic turn as Harrow makes Gideon a deal she can’t refuse and the two find themselves on an unexpected dangerous scavenger hunt, where old magics are rediscovered, but at what cost? Can Gideon ever escape the shadow of the Ninth House and its icy heir, especially with the secrets that she has uncovered?
Ten thousand years of precedence is shaken up when the Emperor issues an invite for each House to send representatives, both a heir and their cavalier, to embark on becoming one of the legendary and immortal Lyctors. Harrow and Gideon are picked as a technicality due to being the only two survivors from their generation. The space travel is almost an afterthought, with most of the book taking place on a single palace on the planet of the First House. I feel like necromancy is usually set in worlds where the technology is limited, as such it was fascinating to see the magical system employed where technology is so advanced. Despite being isolated to one location, Muir has ample opportunities to expand this literary world through the other Houses participating in the hunt. We are granted details and examples of their novel necromantic magics at work that range from medical, siphoning, and preservation, to immortality and reanimation of the dead. As one can imagine, the heirs and their bodyguards each have their own distinct personalities, mysteries, and quirks, though Mangus is the best.
As is indicated in the title, this story is told from the perspective of Gideon who has the talent to inject humor (often dark) in the most unexpected moments. Quite a few times the reader is led down a false trail of assumptions as Gideon would jump to wild conclusions, only to have the real answer seem obvious once revealed. Her counterpart, Harrow, is exceptionally unlikable, even though we observe evidence of her frosty exterior thawing. Eventually Harrow’s behavior can be understood, if not justified as many of the Ninth House secrets are exposed, though she too easily reverts back to her sharp, abrasive ways with every new challenge. That said, Harrow and Gideon generally seem to hate each other, but come to an understanding based on their mutual background growing up in the harsh Ninth House, contrasting significantly from the other partnering pairs.
Muir choreographs elegant battle scenes that effortlessly come to life through her eloquent writing style, though by the end these sequences drag on in long, drawn out, never ending conflicts. Initially, I was glued to each skeleton reanimation and defensive parry, however as these clashes grew in length and repeated in ever increasing quantities I found I would glaze over until the outcome was decided, ultimately kicking me out of the moment.
Overall, Gideon the Ninth contains such a unique literary world that Muir packs with details, mystery, and a magical system with fascinating variations, whose potential and applications have only been briefly explored.. The ending is equal parts perfect and heartbreaking, with the last chapters only deepening the mystery of this universe as a whole.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- Gideon’s sacrifice was so brutal to read. All she ever wanted was to get out of the Ninth House and she finally gets her chance but willingly sacrifices herself for Harrow. Who was her mother? How did her mother end up in that situation when so pregant?
- Harrow’s birth was another shocking sacrifice?
- Who is the girl in the Locked Tomb?
- What happened to Gideon’s body at the end of the book? What about the rest of the Third House?
- Who is the ghost who possessed Colum the Eighth?
- I was totally thrown when the seventh house’s cavalier’s head ended up in Harrow’s closet. I thought she was absolutely guilty and never in a million years would have guessed that the cavalier was already dead.
- Another shocking twist was Dulcinea Septimus actually being Cytherea the First.
- I wanted to shake Harrow for leaving Gideon for a long time. Shouldn’t she have kept her (reluctant) allies close and they do not work as a team at all, until Gideon has to search for her and they realize teamwork is needed to complete the tasks.
- Will the Priests of the First House be reanimated?