Gideon Nav is not a Necromancer. She is not even one of their bodyguards, a Cavalier. So when her oathsworn enemy since childhood, the Reverend Daughter and Necromancer Harrowhark Nonagesimus, requires a skilled Cavalier to accompany her on her ambitious educational trials, brash swordswoman Gideon volunteers partially out of self-preservation, partially because of blackmail and mostly because she needs a free ride off of the planet of the damned she was raised on.
Gideon and Harrow hail from the Ninth House, a dark realm fraught with bloodthirsty skeletons, fearsome nuns and crypts that house the living, dead and reanimated alike, where the haunted and actively haunting lay trapped, forgotten and rotting in the jet-black depths ruled by the iron fist of Harrow and her frightful ossified forces. Tamsyn Muir’s meticulous world building has created a realm where penitence and piety are prioritized above all else, traditions that acting leader Harrow has kept instituted to keep rabble-rousers like Gideon at bay. But for the fearless and free-spirited Gideon, who has yet to leave the Ninth House, remaining on the planet means the slow torture and inevitable death of her hopes and dreams, or she can risk a swift execution during her next escape attempt.
On her most recent escape effort, Gideon’s plans are foiled by Harrowhark as usual, but this time she is offered an intriguing proposition—to escort Harrow on her journey to the First House to study towards Lyctorhood, a hallowed educational position for reputed necromancers of the Nine Houses. If Gideon accepts, she can finally leave the Ninth and its grimy ghouls behind, but she will be tied at the hip to her mortal enemy, posing as a professional cavalier in front of the rest of the Houses. If she declines, she will surely rot in the prisonlike Ninth until her death and beyond.
Gideon thrives off-planet despite personal and professional challenges, practicing her swordswoman and adventuring skills and becoming accepted by the group of competitors as the solitary Harrow explores their lodgings, the mysterious and foreboding Canaan House. The girls are welcomed by Teacher, a priest of the First who is a little too lively and thrilled for the taste of the Ninth, as well as a fascinating and memorable cast of their competitors, including Dulcinea Septimus of the Seventh, whose alluring charm captivates Gideon immediately; the suspicious trio of the Third, comprised of twin sun-and-moon necromancers and a vain cavalier; and the repulsive, parasitic-like duo of the Eighth, a nephew-uncle combination who condemn followers of the Ninth as “death cult members.” So when the murders begin, it is only natural that the house most comfortable and familiar with Death itself should solve the mysteries that abound.
Gideon the Ninth is worth every second of every spine-chilling page as the book moves seamlessly from science fiction to mystery-thriller and back again. The journey to Lyctorhood is soon revealed to be more nefarious and agonizing than a simple competition between Houses. The necromancer-cavalier teams realize they are stranded on the First, and things devolve into a battle royale reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None where only the strongest, bravest and smartest will endure.
Gideon herself is a blazing beacon in this very dark world, where people are shackled their entire lives by tradition and fear—her extroverted nature and love for items like swords, girly magazines and an archaic pair of an item once called “sunglasses” reveal her passion for living in the moment and her open-mindedness to explore outside of the parameters forced upon her by society. Compelled to accompany Harrowhark on several trials and tribulations, Gideon soon realizes that they might have more in common than she assumed, and that if they want to stay alive, they will have to move forward from the past and work together, and that maybe, just maybe, she could have had a friend—or more—all along during their dark days in the Ninth.
Muir’s attention to numerology, wordplay and symbology here is beyond impressive. Each of the Nine Houses is painstakingly constructed, from their unique Necromancer personalities to the abilities of their Cavaliers and priests. The story takes place mostly in the First House, yet readers will feel familiar enough with the other realms that they can imagine the entire cosmos that Muir has created at her fingertips. Gideon is no stranger to Death, but when faced with the constructs of fear, loss and grief, she soon learns what is truly important to her in life, and that while new endeavors mean an inevitable end, endings can also mean a new beginning.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Tamsyn Muir about Gideon the Ninth.