Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
This is another one I experienced as an audiobook, and it's so good, it's one of the first ones I want to listen to a second time. Thanks to Moira Quirk's fantastic narration job, this may be one of the best audiobooks you're going to listen to any time soon. The personality just oozes with every word, and what a personality!
Gideon Nav, raised as a slave for the gothic Ninth House, hates her life. She's done. She wants out. The book opens on her escape attempt, which seems like it's going to work out until it doesn't. When her plans are foiled, Harrowhawk Nonagesimus, scion to that same house, offers her a deal; come work for her and walk away with a title and freedom. Begrudgingly, Gideon takes up her offer, not knowing what this job will entail.
Not long after, they find themselves on an imperial shuttle and on the way to the mysterious Canaan House, seat of the prodigal Emperor and the legendary First House. What they will find there, neither really knows, though Harrow expects it's the key to saving her own dwindling house.
Set in a Unique World
The universe of Gideon the Ninth is an interesting mix of science-fiction and fantasy, in which there are spaceships and an interstellar empire, but also a pretty fun magical system. Necromancy isn't just raising and controlling the dead. In Gideon the Ninth, there are at least eight sub-types of necromancy, each with a long and storied history back to the roots of the eight houses of the Empire.
The Empire itself has a long and complicated history spanning thousands of years, and most backstory and culture is woven seamlessly into the narrative, so despite the rich world building, the story is never bogged down by exposition.
Oh my God, the fighting
One of the main things that drew me in had to be the almost constant action. From the first chapter, the reader is treated to a smorgasbord of delightful fights and surprises. Gideon has been training her entire life with a giant two-handed sword. She literally chalks her survival up to the fact that she is most promising swordsman of the Ninth House, though her teacher will never admit it. Harrow knows this as well, but is loath to acknowledge it. The book begins with Harrow foiling Gideon’s plot to escape her servitude by attacking with the crap-ton of skeletons that burst out of the ground and mob the hell out of her, establishing that while Gideon is strong, Harrow is much stronger and that throughout their childhood the two have often bumped heads. It only escalates from there.
Once Gideon and Harrow reach the mysterious palace where the rest of the story will take place the other likely candidates for godhood begin dueling, and on top of that, the shadowy forces hiding there begin to come out in force, and boy, are they dangerous. Between the swordplay and brutal murder, even the most bloodthirsty reader will not be left wanting.
Gideon's G*ddamn Mouth
If you like your heroes a little rough around the edges, Gideon is the gal for you. She likes dirty magazines, she swears like a sailor, and really can't be bothered with almost anything other than fighting, swearing and getting one up on Harrow. And dessert. She's really into dessert when she can get it. I found her hilarious, and probably one of the most endearing characters I've ever encountered. She talks a big game, but she also fights one, and despite all this, there's still a soft, socially insecure underbelly there that just makes you want to hug her sometimes. I laughed, I cried, I "awwwed."
Mysteries within mysteries
Along with the humor and the action, it was the questions that kept me reading. On the one hand, there’s the general mysterious air of Canaan House, the ruin in which our heroes find themselves solving another mystery; the keys to immortality. On on the other hand, there’s also the questions of Harrow’s past.
Though Gideon grew up with Harrow, being two of very few children in their generation, there are many things about her mistress that remain cloudy and shrouded secrets. As Gideon is forced to get to know, and suspect Harrow of murder, she begins to unravel both an incident that occurred in their infancy, and what she’s been hiding her entire life. At many points, answers to questions only give birth to more questions. Everyone is hiding something and everyone is at risk. It’s fantastic.
Holy crap, what are you waiting for, read the heck out of this book. I actually bought a copy after I finished the audiobook, I loved it so much. The only thing that bums me out is that the sequel, Harrow the Ninth is being pushed back until possibly as far as August, 2020. Well, I guess that gives me plenty of time for another read-through.
What is it Like?
If you took an Agatha Christie mystery and mixed it with the insanely big sword energy and over the top boss battles of a Final Fantasy game, you'd be close to something like Gideon the Ninth.
Bechdel Test: Pass