Gideon the Ninth
|Cover artist||Tommy Arnold|
|10 September 2019|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
Audiobook (read by Moira Quirk)
|Followed by||Harrow the Ninth|
Gideon the Ninth is a 2019 science fantasy novel by the New Zealand writer Tamsyn Muir. It is Muir's debut novel and the first in her Locked Tomb trilogy, followed by Harrow the Ninth (2020) and Alecto the Ninth (2022).
Gideon the Ninth is set in a galactic empire of nine planets, each ruled by a noble house that practices its own unique type of necromancy. Although advanced technology exists, the Nine Houses primarily rely on necromancy and combat is fought with close combat weapons which complement the necromancers' abilities. The Emperor is immortal and is worshiped as a god. He leads powerful immortal necromancers (known as "Lyctors") and his army (known as the "Cohort") in wars against his enemies. The Emperor invites the heirs of the Nine Houses and their bodyguards (called cavaliers) to undergo a trial to become new Lyctors.
The narrative begins on the planet of the Ninth House. The Ninth House is a death cult tasked by the Emperor with guarding the Locked Tomb, which is said to be the grave of the Emperor's greatest enemy. The protagonist, Gideon Nav, is an orphan who was adopted by the Ninth House. Gideon is raised in indentured servitude and resents the Ninth House; she trains as a warrior and dreams of joining the Cohort. Her latest escape attempt is foiled by her lifelong antagonist and the heiress of the Ninth House, Harrowhark "Harrow" Nonagesimus. Despite their clashing personalities, Gideon is Harrow's only real choice of cavalier due to an atmospheric contamination incident around the time of their births that killed most of the Ninth House's children. Harrow offers Gideon a commission into the Cohort if she serves as cavalier during the Emperor's trial.
Harrow and Gideon travel to Canaan House, a decaying mansion on the planet of the First House, where they meet the heirs and cavaliers of the other Houses. The Houses are tasked with exploring the mansion to discover secrets and necromancy knowledge which will reveal how to become a Lyctor. Harrow initially treats Gideon as a liability and works alone while Gideon wanders Canaan House and interacts with the other Houses. When Harrow disappears, Gideon works with the Sixth House to find and rescue her from a hidden and trapped basement. It becomes apparent that each House's necromancer and cavalier must work together to complete the trial, and Harrow and Gideon begrudgingly ally. They make quick progress in the trial due to Harrow's exceptional skill in necromancy and Gideon's perceptiveness and combat skills.
It becomes clear that Canaan House is designed to prevent any one of the Nine Houses from succeeding without collaborating with or combating each other. Following a series of suspicious deaths, the Houses assume that one or more of them are hunting the others. The surviving Houses turn to bribery, blackmail, and unsteady alliances. Gideon and Harrow's own relationship reaches a low point over Gideon's infatuation with the terminally ill heiress of the Seventh House. Gideon publicly accuses Harrow of the murders after discovering the severed head of the Seventh House cavalier in her possession, but the Seventh House's heiress offers a necromatic explanation for her cavalier's death.
Harrow decides to reconcile with Gideon through honesty. She reveals that the atmospheric contamination incident was an intentional human sacrifice by her family to empower Harrow in order to create a necromancer powerful enough to save the Ninth House from economic and political failure. The infant Gideon somehow survived the sacrifice, resulting in the Ninth House's cold-hearted treatment of Gideon out of fear. Harrow is haunted by the hundreds of innocent deaths involved in her creation. Her guilt led her to breach the Locked Tomb as a young girl, where she fell in love with the immaculate corpse of the beautiful girl entombed within. Harrow's family dies by suicide upon discovering her heretical trespass; Harrow has been burdened with secretly leading the Ninth House for years. Gideon and Harrow apologize for their treatment of each other. Harrow acknowledges Gideon as her friend, and they pledge a new alliance- "One flesh, one end."
The Third House's heiress, Ianthe Tridentarius, deduces how Lyctors are created: a necromancer must extract and devour their cavalier's soul, allowing them to use the soul as a virtually infinite power source and gaining the cavalier's combat skills. While Harrow and Gideon find the ritual horrific, Ianthe kills her cavalier without hesitation and becomes a Lyctor.
The Seventh House candidate reveals herself as an impostor. The seventh Lyctor, Cytherea the First, killed the actual Seventh House heiress and cavalier, assumed the heiress' identity and has been murdering the others. She has been suffering from blood cancer for millennia, and now wants to kill the Emperor in revenge. Cytherea hopes the murders will lure the Emperor away from his Lyctors and the Cohort, leaving him vulnerable. The survivors battle throughout the House, but Cytherea is apparently invincible. Just as Harrow is about to be killed, Gideon dies by suicide to force Harrow to become a Lyctor. Harrow kills Cytherea before falling unconscious.
Harrow wakes up on the Emperor's flagship; she and a wounded Ianthe are the only confirmed survivors of Canaan House. She begs the Emperor to resurrect Gideon, only to learn that Gideon's soul is irreversibly merged with hers. The Emperor reveals that the Empire is in decline and most of the Lyctors have fallen in battle or gone insane. He promises to restore the Ninth House to glory, and in exchange Harrow agrees to serve the Emperor as Harrowhark the First.
Gideon the Ninth is notable for its writing, which mixes gothic horror with contemporary humor. Muir acknowledges that her writing "includes useless memes and jokes for the reader that nobody in my universe would get." In her review for Vox, Constance Grady commended Muir's ability to slide her "voice seamlessly from Lovecraftian gothic mode into a slangy contemporary mode without ever undercutting one or the other for cheap comedy." Adam Rowe in Forbes also commented on Muir's incorporation of "2019 language tics." In Rowe's interview with Muir, Muir said that the "irreverent tone" was intended "to balance out the horror aspect and some of the heavier, more Gormenghastian stylings." Jason Sheehan's NPR review said of the novel's genre: "Gideon the Ninth is too funny to be horror, too gooey to be science fiction, has too many spaceships and autodoors to be fantasy, and has far more bloody dismemberings than your average parlor romance."
Muir consulted with writer, HEMA martial artist and fencer Lissa Harris on realistic depictions of swordfighting and combat. The collaboration is reflected in Gideon's journey retraining from a soldier's longsword to a duelist's rapier; Harris herself transitioned from fencing to the longsword. Harris said that Gideon is a "fiendishly talented fighter who is forced to use new and unfamiliar tools, and has to sacrifice some measure of subtlety in favor of crude effectiveness."
Gideon the Ninth was named one of the best books of 2019 by several publications and organizations, including NPR, Vox, the New York Public Library, Wired, Polygon, Bustle, Paste, Shelf Awareness, Book Riot, and Gizmodo Australia, and was selected by Amazon's editors as the best science fiction and fantasy book of 2019. It has received endorsements from authors V. E. Schwab, Charles Stross, Robin Sloan, Warren Ellis, Martha Wells, Amal El-Mohtar, Kiersten White, Annalee Newitz, Genevieve Cogman, Kameron Hurley, Django Wexler, Yoon Ha Lee, Rebecca Roanhorse, Richard Kadrey, Rin Chupeco, Max Gladstone, and Brooke Bolander.
Writing in The New York Times, El-Mohtar called Gideon the Ninth a "devastating debut that deserves every ounce of hype it’s received" and praised it as "deft, tense and atmospheric, compellingly immersive and wildly original."
Liz Bourke and Carolyn Cushman gave a more critical review in Locus, saying that the novel failed "in its interrogation of the central hate-co-dependence-need relationship between Gideon and Harrow." Despite this, Gideon the Ninth won the 2020 Locus Award for Best First Novel.
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