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We Do Bones, Mother******

A very belated Gideon the Ninth review.

PagesDate StartedDate Finished
448January 1st, 2023January 9th, 2023
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This review contains spoilers.

“We do bones, motherfucker.” So sayeth Gideon Nav, cavalier of the Ninth House, and no other quote encapsulates her better. Well, maybe one, but the joke is too good in context, and you deserve to discover it yourself.

In all fairness, most of the houses in Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth “do bones” or, at least, are bone-adjacent. The first in The Locked Tomb series, Gideon the Ninth immediately plops its readers into a morbidly funny and veritably anachronistic universe of necromancy and spaceships, of ancient rituals and genetic modifications, of old magic and new science. Admittedly a bit jarring at the start, the culture and slang of Gideon nest firmly in the back of your mind somewhere around the second act, and by the end of the book, it’s like you’ve known a necromancer all your life.

Muir’s title character and protagonist bursts onto the scene with violence and obscenities, her rough-and-tumble personality evident from the very first paragraph. We learn quickly that she is departing the place she’s been held captive in her entire life. That is to say, she’s attempting to depart. Being that this is her 86th effort, we can assume recapture is old hat for her wardens at this point.

It’s hard not to hate the people around Gideon – her surroundings have clearly demanded a thick skin and a brash attitude. Cold, dreary (literally – the place is called Drearburh), and solemn, most of the members of the Ninth House have no interest in Gideon, save for striking out at her whenever they have the opportunity. Harrowhark Nonagesimus, in particular, only seems to express a semblance of emotion when she is kicking Gideon’s ass.

Gideon’s opposite in every way, Harrowhark “Harrow” Nonagesimus is almost terrifyingly rigid, decked out in somber robes and bones galore. She and Gideon have a deeply antagonistic relationship – as Reverend Daughter and leader of the Ninth House, Harrow has had a large hand in keeping Gideon imprisoned the last decade or so. Harrow, unlike Gideon, is a necromancer and can inflict untold skeletal horror with only a small effort, efforts she clearly enjoys practicing on Gideon.

It is evident, from their very first interaction, that, hateful as they may seem, Gideon and Harrow know each other better perhaps than anyone else in their lives. It follows, then, that when the mysterious Emperor informs Harrow she is in need of a cavalier (a knight, essentially), Harrow turns to Gideon.

“I’ve lived my whole wretched life at your mercy, yours alone, and God knows I deserve to die at your hand. You are my only friend. I am undone without you.”

The characters are what make this particular story. Conceptually, the idea of an empire made of necromancers and their loyal guards is one that would strike anyone as interesting, but Muir’s carefully crafted players give the book weight. Gideon’s and Harrow’s relationship, ever-tense and always intriguing, is the central focus of Gideon the Ninth, but we are introduced to the other house necromancers and their cavaliers, who are equally as interesting. From the gloriously full-of-themselves Second House, to the deeply logical Sixth House, each has its secrets, and each has a story to tell. Indeed, had Muir written a book about any one of the other cavaliers, I am sure I would have gobbled it up just as greedily.

Make no mistake; as enjoyable as the characters of Gideon are, the plot succeeds wonderfully at keeping the reader engaged. There are twists you can see from a mile away, twists that require a bit more investigation, and some twists that only become clear in hindsight. Muir makes no attempt to put on pretentious airs; the characters are haughty and noble when they need to be, and unabashedly enjoy the view of an attractive woman in a bikini when they don’t. You’ll laugh, and you’ll cry, and you’ll probably get squeamish more than once, and when Gideon the Ninth ends, you’ll be desperate to read its sequel. I know I am.

Unapologetically queer in a simple, easy kind of way that feels as natural as queerness should feel in literature, Gideon the Ninth is a book incomparable.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Featured Photo by Chelms Varthoumlien on Unsplash.


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