Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Read January 2020
Recommended for genre mash-up
 ★     ★     ★    1/2

A difficult book to rate.  A difficult book to rate.  Following a young person desperate to get off her residential planet, it has the distinctive voice of a new adult/young adult book, full of snark and fire. In the right mood, it’s amusing. In the wrong mood, it will likely become tiresome. Gideon the Ninth most reminds me of a high-stakes island mystery as written by Suzanne Collins, set in the world of Chronicles of Riddick.

“Gideon woke to an unfamiliar ceiling, a fuzzy taste on her tongue, and the exciting smell of mould. The light blazed in red slashes even through her eyelids, and it made her come to all at once. For long moments she just lay back in her nest of old bedding and looked around.”

There is seriously interesting stuff going on with the world-building. The star system is populated by a necromatic society, which each of the worlds specializes in a different type of necromancy. That’s about all we get for the depth, though. Apparently, the society been has been under the Undying King for ten thousand years. Gideon is part of the Ninth world, a foundling on an isolated rock of a planet, populated by a rigid sect of necromancers whose specialty seems to be control over bones. After eighty-seven attempts at escaping the Ninth, she’s forced to become the right-hand swordsman cavalier to the necromancer Reverend Daughter Harrowhawk, her arch-enemy since childhood. The Undying King is seeking eight people to ascend to his court and become Lyctors, and Harrowhawk fully intends to be one of them.

The problems is that despite interesting ideas about what different necromancer cultures might look like, some aspects aren’t integrated at all. Dialogue frequently includes phrases like ‘Oh whoops, my bad,’ said Gideon. ‘For a moment I thought you weren’t a huge bitch.” 

or like this:

“‘Slow down, numbnuts,’ she hissed, when she thought they were out of earshot of anyone. ‘Where’s the fire?’
‘Nowhere–yet.’ Harrow sounded breathless.
‘I’ve eaten my own body weight. Don’t make me hurl.’
‘As mentioned before, you’re a hog. Hurry up. We don’t have much time.’

Parse that out a minute, why don’t you? Really, stop and think. You could have overheard that in the back seat of your car, if you’re a mom of pre-teens, or in my swim lane if I’m being particularly rude to one of my guy friends (yes, I don’t talk like that to the female ones). There’s many little anachronisms like that that perhaps would be explained by being the remnants of another culture (there are intriguing hints of such), but I don’t buy it in lexicon. This is Hollywood version, so if you are the sort of fantasy or sci-fi reader that prefers a less contemporary feel to your culture, proceed thoughtfully. 

I love the idea of specializing in different aspects of death and soul, and there’s a lot to be explored here. I’m not sure that the death culture we saw gelled well with the idea of the Undying King living ten thousand years, however. I have questions.  

The story is divided in to five acts. The first act is on the Ninth, the remainder on the First World. The pacing was curious. I thought from the first act that it was a new adult style story about Gideon finding her independence/destiny, but when we reach the second act, the feel of the story changes significantly, and it is more of a ‘look how fun this is’ exercising in setting and character. Third Act raises the stakes, and the Fifth Act is bonkers. So while I’d agree with other reviewers who found the final part of the story inconsistent or off with pacing, I’d have to say the book as a whole has some challenges along those lines. It almost seems like it’s because Muir can’t quite handle all the stories she wants to tell. 

There is a fair amount of humor, some situational, some descriptive, and some from the snark. There’s a couple of shy younger people that talk in lowercase voices, and who are generally mortified whenever the adult they are with approaches Gideon.

Characterization is decent, especially considering that there are at least two representatives from each of the worlds. Muir does help the reader along with code words like “oh, the Fourth and their ghosts…” or some such, but again, it’s a large cast.

Oh, and about the lesbian relationship? Uh, very complicated, and very young adult. I’m not sure what other readers were reading, but I’d never call this a ‘romance,’ as much as a complicated, fucked-up relationship with an unsatisfying conclusion. And perhaps un-pc one.

It mostly worked for me, but I timed myself so that I was open to sarcasm and snark, and tried to let go of any expectations of storytelling. Eventually, however, it felt a little long. There is some emotional growth at the end, although while it felt somewhat rewarding, it also felt a bit of a cheat, because I’m not sure I believed it, mostly because the more Muir through out in world-building, the less I felt the underpinnings of the story held together. Still, interesting, which is somewhat hard to find; good, if young, characters. Recommended with all the above warnings. Taking my own advice, I’m not entirely sure I’ll go on to the next. 

 

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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