Gideon the Ninth


Tamsyn Muir


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

November 23, 2020

hat a wildly imaginative fantasy novel Gideon the Ninth is. (This is definitely a fantasy novel - the characters are necromancers casting spells, animating the undead, and engaging in magical battles. Despite some SF tropes such as spaceship shuttles and radio communications, this a fantasy novel. And yet - it was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards, all of which are given to the year's best science fiction story. Gideon the Ninth was also nominated for the 2020 World Fantasy Award; apparently it is unclassifiable. Perhaps it will suffice to say that it is an entertaining read.)

All of the action takes place on a decrepit station. The Emperor has called for each of the nine Houses to send their best necromancer to this station, where a test will be administered - those passing the test will become Lyctors personally serving the Emperor (A Lyctor has a great power and prestige, plus immortality). It was never clear to me if only one necromancer would be elevated to Lyctor, or if all of them could be promoted - should they work together to solve the problem? Naturally, they do not - there is intrigue and conspiracy and foul murder. It is a grim and desperate situation.

Gideon is the cavalier of the Ninth House. Her duty is to protect her necromancer, Harrow. The only problem is that Gideon is not truly the cavalier of the Ninth House, the actual cavalier is too ineffective to be of much use. Gideon has hastily been trained in use of the rapier so that she can fake-fulfill her responsibilities. Another problem is that Gideon loathes Harrow, the necromancer she is sworn to protect, and the feeling is mutual, because Harrow hates Gideon. The two constantly torment each other, and have for their entire lives. Years ago, Gideon and Harrow were the only two surviving children of a sweeping death that killed all the other children of the Ninth House. Yet rather than the two growing up as friends, they fight constantly. The reader eventually learns their grim history (the author certainly has a dark imagination!)

At the station, along with the necromancers and cavalier from the other houses, Gideon and Harrow search for clues to passing the Lyctor's test, and they try to survive in an ever-increasingly-dangerous situation. I confess I couldn't always keep track of the all of the different necromancers and cavaliers (thank goodness that the front of the book included a dramatis personae, because I referred to it constantly, trying to remember all the characters.) The other necromancers prove to be capable magic users, and their cavaliers are equally adept at weapons and fighting - Gideon and Harrow must work as a team simply to survive a situation that rapidly descends into murder and magic.

The author clearly has a great imagination, able to conjure monsters and traps, while painting an atmosphere of dread and unease. I was especially impressed by some descriptions of magical battles between necromancers. I liked the story, even I wasn't one hundred percent sure of what was happening (was the station originally haunted by monsters, or did these nightmares arrive with the necromancers?). I hope to read the next book, Harrow the Ninth. Gideon the Ninth is supposed to be the first book in the Locked Tomb trilogy; I hope the author can maintain the surprises and delightfully-dark world building.