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Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir []



Gideon the Ninth is a dark fantasy. The world in which it is set seems to be the decaying remanent of a once prosperous interplanetary empire, but don’t let the occasional space ship fool you—this isn’t science fiction and the physics of this world are very different from our own in one notable way: some individuals are born with necromantic abilities and can learn to manipulate, blood, bone, and even the souls of the dead. This would be unbearably dark and gruesome were it not for a few things:

  • Our protagonist, Gideon, is strong, queer, contrary, and absolutely hilarious. Despite all her complexities and her own dark past it is her irreverence that keeps the book from being too dark.
  • The relationships are complex and intriguing. It quickly becomes clear that while Gideon may put on a show of hating everyone and everything, in actuality her feelings are rarely so simple. It should be noted that some of the relationships portrayed in this book seem deeply unhealthy—but they are also interesting and too believable to be simply dismissed.
  • There is a murder mystery—with a small closed circle of suspects, mostly unknown to each other, and all brought together by unsolicited invitations we are treated to a peculiarly mystery that has something of the feel of a classic country house mystery, just with more skeletons and swordfighting.
  • The book is full of details that make its world feel much larger than what is revealed. We might suppose that Gideon and her companions have some idea of the history of the once prosperous empire, but it is clear that even their understanding is incomplete and the reader is left to imagine what might have happened. And when it comes to understanding necromancy, we get a glimpse here and there of the complex rules that seem to govern it, but we soon see that even those in the book that profess to understand it best have much to learn.
  • Finally, a word must be put in about the swordfighting. Very early in the book we learn that Gideon is very proficient with a two-handed longsword, but circumstances will requirer her to play the part of a cavalier, convincing her audience that she has always trained with a rapier. Muir could easily have left it at that, but she clearly did her homework, and it shows in every mention tactics, posture, and training. These descriptions of swordwork feel real and they serve to ground the fantasy.

So, yeah. I kind of loved this book. It is crass, violent, and excessively gory, but its also good, for all the reasons I gave above and probably for many more I’m not clever enough to put my finger on. This is definitely not the right book for everyone, but if the above sounds appealing, I urge you to give it a try.

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