A review by danibeliveau
Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir

5.0

"One flesh, one end, bitch."

The irreverence of Muir's writing struck a chord with me from the start. There are jokes when you expect seriousness and cutting insights when you expect deflecting humor. She really does an incredible job of keeping the reader surprised, and her writing is so sure that eventually you just let her take the wheel and steer you on a wild adventure. But Muir's prose resonated with me in a different way: her voice is so distinct, so singular, that it felt familiar. I flipped to the acknowledgments and my jaw dropped. It turns out I've been reading her writing for a very long time. I couldn't believe I had been reunited with someone whose work brought me a lot of joy more than a decade ago. It felt like fate.

Naturally, then, I am a huge fan of this story.

Muir's world is immersive for two reasons: Gideon's narration is so authentic that we are truly constrained to her perspective (happily, though, since Gideon's thoughts make you want her to be your best friend/girlfriend) and all the good and bad that entails, and Muir only reveals key details about backstory and setting as they become pertinent. If you feel confused or uncertain about what is happening or why, just take everything for granted: enjoy seeing the world through Gideon's eyes and trust that Muir will catch you up to speed when you need it.

The collision of traumas, from Gideon's abandonment issues and Harrowhark's hatred for herself and anything (or anyone) she's forced to rely on, makes for some hilarious, cruel, and touching exchanges between the two. Their gradual interdependence, like two stubborn, hard-headed, unwilling celestial bodies on an inevitable gravitational collision course, unfurls very slowly across the whole of the book; I'd argue, in fact, that this story is less about the goth Hunger Games/murder mystery plot than it is about two deeply flawed people learning to trust one another. The struggle is absolutely worth it.

I do wish the blurb didn't scream "LESBIANS!" though. I can see how some folks felt a little cheated. If you're looking for a big romantic payoff, you're probably going to come away disappointed. The relationship between these women - Gideon and Harrow, but also between the other necromancers and cavaliers, too - is much more subtle and intense, like a slow smoldering rather than an explosion. The protagonist is definitely, absolutely queer, but this isn't a love story. Well, it is - just not in the way that it was advertised.

Muir also shines in her action sequences, from sword fights to dark magic, bones and blood. Each house has a particular necromantic proficiency, which means that all the key players have unique strengths and weaknesses and approach the trials from different perspectives. The final fight sprawls out for pages and pages, gorgeously choreographed. If you've been paying attention, the ending won't come as a surprise, but it will make an emotional impact all the same.

There is one aspect to the story that was left frustratingly unresolved, something I want to know more about but I imagine will be addressed in future books: there is a sci-fi undercurrent throughout, with spaceships and interplanetary travel being the most obvious but also suggestions of a high-technology existence that had been long, long abandoned, like the typical sci-fi stuff happened thousands of years ago and these worlds have since circled back to swords and magic. When characters stumble across ancient history, we expect fossils and primitive relics; here, it's advanced scientific experimentation and modern military weaponry. So far, though, Muir only points these things out; she doesn't yet explain why they're there. And I want to know!

This is my favorite story of 2019. It's funny and earnest and intense and thought-provoking all in the right places. Gideon and Harrow seem like predictable archetypes at first but both learn and grow throughout the story in a way that is truly touching. I award this book 10 out of 10 bones.