November 15, 2019

'Gideon the Ninth' offers up romance and a dose of scary

This week’s book review for the Observer is written by David Halliwell, a teen librarian and reference services associate at the Oxford Lane Library. 

Halliwell reviews “Gideon the Ninth, written by Tamsyn Muir. With a rating of 4.6 out of 5 on Amazon, and 4.3 out of 5 on Goodreads, this book will appeal to science fiction and horror lovers.

Tailored towards an older audience, the novel is the first part of the Locked Tomb series, with its second in succession, “Harrow the Ninth,” available for pre-order for its June 2020 release.

The novel has been reviewed in the New York Times, and is also a USA Today best-selling novel. Lovers of the fantasy, science fiction, and LGBTQ fiction genres will find that this novel is a great addition to their book collection.

Funny, witty, and filled with action, “Gideon the Ninth” will be the read that fantasy lovers love this winter, as you will see from Halliwell’s review. The book is available for purchase online and in bookstores and, like all the books reviewed here, is available at the Lane Library.

Reviewer David Halliwell holds a copy of “Gideon the Ninth,” available at the Oxford’s Lane Library. Photo provided by Lane Library.

Review by David Halliwell

In the same way misty fall mornings and Halloween thrills are all about rich sensory experiences, “Gideon the Ninth,” by Tamsyn Muir is a grim and delicious dessert that isn’t content with being any single genre. Instead, it is a dark and thrilling ride through sword-fighting, space-faring necromancers and their sagas of survival, hate, and love.

The main character, Gideon, is an irreverent outcast trapped on a planet of broken zealots -- desperately trying to win her freedom. But to do it, she may have to dig even deeper with her most dangerous tormentor, Harrowhark, a skilled necromancer driven to preserve the archaic and poisonous house Gideon longs to escape.

Their ever deepening and complicated relationship was the highlight of the book for me. Gideon is a smart-mouthed warrior with a keen sword arm, but it’s her heart you will fall in love with by the end. And it is the relationships she explores with the fascinating cast of characters that makes this world of stellar travel and bone magic knit together.

Each of the other Houses making up the necromantic civilization are represented by memorable and realistic characters. Their well-rounded qualities give a grounded realism to the plot, just as the varying approaches of the different houses to the necromancy -- science or magic, skeleton constructs or genetic alteration -- make the world’s unique system feel lived in and dynamic.

Pulling it all together is Muir’s excellent prose that, like Gideon’s own combat flexibility -- dances across the page to show faded tapestries of the past, and then punches you in the nose when you least expect it.

The writing can be creative, opulent, and sometimes delightfully crass -- but it always knows exactly what it needs to be in any given moment to emulate and amplify the feeling of both the world and its main character. There can be no higher praise.I found a lot to like in this book. The rich descriptions perfectly conjure a setting where life is fleeting, death lingers, and the weight of time is felt on everything and everyone. It is a creature-feature horror and a really good locked-room murder mystery, that instills its pages with mounting paranoia.

I hyperventilated my way through the last two chapters, and I am hungrily hoping for more. If you are looking for a book rich as grime-coated gold, with romance, thrilling fights, and loads of spooky, scary, skeletons to send shivers down your spine -- look no further than “Gideon the Ninth.”

David Halliwell is teen/reference services associate at the Oxford Lane Library. This is one of a series of book reviews done by library staffers for the Oxford Observer.