**** Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

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The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

So I’ve been on a bit of a sci-fi kick lately, and what better sci-fi to read than a book that has been recommended to me countless times? Gideon the Ninth is indeed all that they say – but I should have paid more attention to the genre before going in. If you like all your characters alive… well I guess don’t read books about necromancers in the first place.

Someone on Goodreads commented « I truly believe that knowing the right things to expect out of this book ahead of reading it will improve the reader’s enjoyment so much more. », and they couldn’t be more right. The characters are in a deadly trial of wits and skill. People will die. Yes, even the characters you really, really like. I feel like a fool for not expecting it I guess, but I did just come out of binging the Murderbot series, in which surprisingly few main characters get murdered.

I also didn’t really click with any of the main characters at first, but don’t worry, the book gets so much better. I went in the book absolutely loathing Harrowhawk, which was a dissapointment considering that the book had been touted to me as a lesbian story, so I was wondering when any type of romance would factor in, and whether the author would have made me actually like both leads by then. Actually, she did! Once you learn Harrow’s backstory, she becomes a lot more likeable, and by then as a reader you are probably thoroughly invested in the stakes and the storyline anyway.

The worldbuilding in this book is excellent, but I don’t really enjoy Grimdark for the sake of Grimdark, which I was afraid was going to be a problem in a universe so heavily populated by necromancers. Fortunately, that was only the case on the starting location of The Ninth House, which is so horribly moribund that, like Gideon, you cannot wait to leave it behind. Once you get to the location of the trial, suddenly the setting is that of an ancient, mysterious castle with exciting secrets, and the series become part Video Game-esque trial / part murder mystery, which was very exciting and incredibly fun to read.

It’s a book whose first half is not really bingable, but the second half absolutely is, which works against it I think. At some point too many characters get introduced at once, and by the time I could distinguish between them all, at least half were gone, which is also pretty jarring. But all in all I think the second half of the book definitely redeems itself, and in fact is so strong that I already pre-ordered the second tome in the serie.

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