In her debut novel, Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir vivifies a galaxy full of characters whose lives revolve around death. The eponymous Gideon Nav slouches through a rotting castle where necromancers scheme for unlimited power, skeletons wait on her and her peers, and where automatic doors and firearms are antiquated weapons compared to her bitchin’ two-handed longsword. Gideon has been coerced into standing in as the cavalier (sacred knight) for her worst enemy, Harrowhark Nonagesimus, who will grant Gideon’s freedom so long as she helps Harrow become one of the Emperor Undying’s right-hand, immortal servants, known as Lyctors, of which there are only a handful left.
Gideon and Harrow live in the 10,000th year after the Resurrection, a mysterious event that the Emperor was responsible for and which enabled necromancy to be developed in a way that melds magic and science. The labyrinthine castle they are summoned to contains laboratories modern to us as readers and unspeakably ancient to the characters, an atmosphere that allows for rain (completely foreign to Gideon’s experience on her home planet) and tests that violate possibility and morality in a world where the sanctity of death is nonexistent.
“Nonagesimus,” [Gideon] said slowly, “the only job I’d do for you would be if you wanted someone to hold the sword as you fell on it. The only job I’d do for you would be if you wanted your ass kicked so hard, the Locked Tomb opened and a parade came out to sing, ‘Lo! A destructed ass.’ The only job I’d do would be if you wanted me to spot you while you backflipped off the top tier into Drearburh.”
“That’s three jobs,” said Harrowhark.
“Die in a fire, Nonagesimus.”Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir
The chemistry between Gideon and Harrow is acidic. Their hatred is intimate. Their mission requires each of them to trust the other with her life and her soul. And there is more danger in their castle than completing gargantuan tests; someone or something is killing the necromancer and cavalier pairs off.
At different points I laughed inappropriately loudly, my heart seized in sympathy and I recoiled from skin-crawling depictions of truly original grotesqueries. I wanted to know everything about the hinted-at wider universe. I wanted more time with every supremely engaging character. I wanted to start doing push-ups so that I could be even a fraction more like Gideon (I did not start doing push-ups). I have never enjoyed a book more and I wait in great anticipation for the final book of the trilogy to be released next year.