So many things drew me to Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth: the outstanding the cover, the glowing recommendation from Liberty Hardy, and, above all, the premise of necromancers in space! This addictive read delivers on all that promise. I was hooked from page one, absorbing details about an entire galaxy that blends science with magic to keep itself going, and inhaled this book in two evenings. The ending of Gideon the Ninth, though is the best part of this already fantastic trilogy opener.
But, let me take a step back, and explain why I’m gushing about this book.
Gideon Nav, unwilling inhabitant of Ninth, has spent most of her life training with a longsword and preparing to join the Cohort that fights the emperor’s wars. She’s stuck on Ninth because she knows too much about the ruling family’s secrets. And she resents the hell out of being stuck. That resentment has given her a hilariously salty tongue and a tactical mind that’s always plotting her escape. Unfortunately, for Gideon, Harrowhawk Nonagesimus (the names in this book are wonderful) is always several steps ahead of her. Watching Gideon and Harrow mentally spar and snipe at each other is part of what makes this book so much fun to read.
The novel opens with a house muster. The emperor has need of the best and brightest from all nine colonies. Gideon is offered her freedom from Ninth in exchange for answering this summons. For all that Gideon is desperate to escape Harrow and Ninth, it seems that her duty to the emperor is stronger. (To be honest, this devotion to the emperor—seen in several other characters—isn’t entirely explained. I think we’ll learn more about this in the next novel in the series, Harrow the Ninth.) Their task is to untangle a series of puzzles so that these best and brightest necromancers, and their cavaliers, can become even more powerful weapons for the emperor. On top of that, Gideon and Harrow also have to avoid getting killed by the other best and brightest who have gathered to also solve the riddles.
I was not prepared for the emotional wallop of Gideon the Ninth‘s ending. Although Harrow and Gideon make great strides in their tortured relationship as they battle their way through the emperor’s challenges, they face an impossible choice in the book’s climax. The overall tone of this book is gritty, violent, and contentious. The tone of the ending shifts to one of sacrifice and duty—and it completely took my breath away as I read those last chapters. Gideon the Ninth is one of the best works of science fiction/fantasy I’ve read in a long time.