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Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir #BookReview

Bill Mangione-Smith is back again! This time he is covering a book that I’ve picked up several times and put right back down because I wasn’t sure it would work for me. This is one of the best parts of having a large team. Not much doesn’t get covered!

Gideon the Ninth is the most fun you’ll ever have with a skeleton.

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. 

Title: Gideon the Ninth | Series: The Locked Tomb #1 | Author: Tamsyn Muir | Pub. Date: 10-9-2020 | Pages: 448 | Genre: Fantasy | ISBN13: 9781250313195 | Language: English | Source: Owned | Unstarred Review

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Gideon the Ninth Review

Gideon the Ninth has a good start.  “In the myriadic year of our Lord – the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death! – Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes, her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.”  It’s easy, and slow, and well worn, then the hook of dirty magazines grabs you.  It is also a lie since Gideon never escapes from the Ninth House at all.

As I write this review GTN has the following rankings on amazon:

  • #1 in LGBT Science Fiction (Kindle Store)
  • #5 in Lesbian Romance
  • #5 in LGBT Fantasy (Kindle Store)

I do not know how to measure real industry trends, simply what reaches my own attention, since I’m not a pro in the writing business.  But, from my viewpoint, GTN received a large amount of publicity and support from Tor prior to publication, received numerous blurbs from well-known authors whose work I really enjoy (V.E. Schwab, Charles Stross, Warren Ellis, Kameron Hurley, Django Wexler, and the list goes on).  Tor has purchased three books in the series with the second, Harrow the Ninth, scheduled to come out in June of 2020.

All of this and yet Gideon the Ninth is Tamsyn Muir’s debut novel.  As I said, a good start.

Lesbian necromancer swordfighters!  That apparently was the hook for late 2019 and boy did it grab.

After reading Gideon the Ninth I am ambivalent.  At the end of the day, the story is a murder mystery with lots of swashbuckling action mixed in along the way.  That is OK as far as things go and can certainly be the sound foundation for any number of engaging stories.  But the reader has to be able to guess the who in the who-done-it.  Really great mysteries fool the reader (or viewer in a movie) but have enough support that we smack our heads and say “Of Course!  How did I miss it!” when the curtain is pulled back and we review all of the evidence.  I’m thinking at the moment of Knives Out, Behind Her Eyes, and the Sixth Sense.  I’m sure Agatha Christie fans can fill in any number of other examples.

I didn’t have any such experience here.  I don’t see any way I could have guessed the who – in fact, the evidence used by a character to reach their conclusion is kept from us until immediately before the reveal occurs.  Perhaps others picked up bread crumbs that I missed.

But to me, this felt like a cheat.

Much of the story revolved around running back and forth from a small set of locations in the House the characters were stranded in.  One reader at my book club suggested that much of the middle could have been better focused and seemed a bit flabby.  After some thought, I had to agree.  But at the end the big picture story was entertaining and worth the read.

Zooming in a bit there were logical questions that nagged me.  I can accept necromancy and the rules of magic that the author defines, that’s part of the bargain any reader understands and Muir delivers a professional job there.  But these are intergalactic warriors who use swords.  Why?  Well, maybe they don’t know about guns.  Nope, halfway through we learn that’s not the case.  Honor, tradition and etiquette plays a big part in the sword fights, so maybe they are just fussy fighters.  But once the formal duels are done and real blood is shed those niceties get thrown out the window and people get medieval.

Maybe shooting guns on a spaceship is a bad idea?  Sure, but almost none of the story takes place on a space ship.  This is one example of what I think of as logical failures in editing that serves no purpose but cannot be just set aside by a suspension of disbelief.

The novel is not, as far as I can tell, marketed as YA.  Yet it is much more YA than the last YA book I read.  At one point Gideon admits to having “complicated feelings” about not being the focus of another woman’s attention, as if she was waiting to be asked to the Prom.  It is literally marketed as a lesbian story with a main character who ogles men, has no particular taste in women (lusts over the Victoria Secret model and the sickly-thin blue-skinned waif dying of TB), and never sleeps with anybody.  None of that really matters to the story, obviously, but I felt like the marketing was mendacious.

Mendacious.  That’s a word I used because it avoids saying something more approachable like dishonest.  In the end, I haven’t really changed the meaning.  Stephen King wrote, “Make yourself a solemn promise right now that you’ll never use emolument when you mean tip.”  I would say that the word myriad should be used sparingly, not twelve times.

Piebald?  Etiolated? Cavil?  Racine?  I’ll stop there.  I’m not sure any of these words should be used, though I’ll give piebald a break if it’s used once.  (It’s not)  Nothing fundamentally wrong with any of these word choices but each jarred me enough while reading that I made a note.  Then there is the odd colloquialism that are centered in (at best) today’s English speaking world: Nipple-Gripple?  Hangry?

Jack-Shit. Resting bitch face.  Douchebag.  And not one but two literal “that’s what she said jokes.”  I love good humor, particularly in horror and SFF where it can lift a scene. But each of these jarred me out of the story and would have been better if sanded off during the editing process.

In the end, I almost did not finish Gideon the Ninth but I really wanted to see the end and be able to write an honest review.  I’m glad I did but it will probably come as no surprise if you’ve read this far that I will not be reading book 2.

However, I do think this was a fine debut novel and much better than some by authors that I love.  So bravo Ms. Muir.  As I said, a good start.

You can find this book at many retailers via clicking on the appropriate link on Goodreads; however, in the spirit of supporting literacy programs, we would like to point out that you may be able to purchase this book through BetterWorldBooks.

Published inFantasy Book ReviewsUnstarred Reviews


  1. Creepy to read and it makes you thrill Highly recommended for the brave man and woman. <3.

  2. Olga Nunez Miret

    A great review. Many thanks!

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