Gideon the Ninth is really good book. So good that I had to write about it with a bit more depth, while still striving to remain spoiler free. It’s the first book in The Locked Tomb Trilogy. If that name doesn’t give it away, it’s a fantasy series. Yes, even though there are more than a few sci-fi, horror, mystery, and urban fantasy elements sprinkled around the book, it is a fantasy series. Gideon the Ninth includes goodness from so many genres taking inspiration and components and mixing them together in a skilled manner to create an intriguing tale.
In some ways the universe of Gideon the Ninth reminds me of Dune’s. There are a bunch of houses, with their own roles and cultures, in control of their respective planets. An absent yet fear imbuing emperor is in charge of them all. Characters have mouthy greek inspired names like Atreides, Nonagesimus, and Tridentarius. One can’t ignore the – perhaps coincidental – similarities of the names Harkonnen and Harrowhark. There’s a mixture of space age technology and the tried and true staples like swords and daggers. Society with all it’s idiosyncrasies and traditions has existed for millennia. Though this particular society seems worse for wear and little threadbare.
Waning society fantasy setting aside, there’s a murder mystery to be had as a motley group of unruly and humorous characters that aren’t the quite the typical fantasy crowd work to become Lyctor. Which is fancy talk for bad bad necromantic side kick to the emperor. While several characters are off beat, they aren’t from completely out of left field either. Readers are only given deeper access to a few of the characters, having them become a focal point in the story. There’s a high degree of skill in writing and enough time was given to make all the necessary characters feel at least somewhat rounded. With many appearing as fully formed characters. Which is a feat given that the story is less that five hundred pages, in a fantasy setting, and has almost twenty pertinent characters.
On top of the characters there is also the world building. No, it isn’t as much as some larger fantasy novels and by the end a fair portion of the world is still enshrouded in mystery. That’s what I found so intriguing. By the time I finished, I didn’t understand how the world fully worked. I’m not even sure how far reaching the universe is. Space is the perfect setting for a tale about necromancers. The near infinite cold void is nothing if not an apt metaphor for death itself. I’m fine with having mystery as it gives me something to ponder on.
I found the writing to be strong. Like a several other readers, I found the first part was a bit of a slog. There were many words I had to look up and the reader is getting hit with some world specific lingo that can be a bit unwieldy in the way it was introduced. Though I can appreciate the effort of avoiding exposition. To be honest, I almost gave up. Having to search for a word every few pages was starting to take a toll on my self-esteem. I’m wasn’t too proud, I just thought I wasn’t smart enough.
After the first act, the writing loosens up considerably. There’s an anachronistic humor to the characters that becomes apparent. Aviators and elements of leathery gothy punkness squeak into the story. The character’s lexicon is not much different than our own current culture’s lexicon. Which in a way was refreshing. Cussing just occurs with no world specific proxy words. Hell is hell and an eff bomb is set to kill. All of this gives Gideon the Ninth an urban fantasy feel.
Lastly is the predominant horror element. It’s every where as it should be in a story about death and space. Canaan House is a destitute and derelict place staffed with skeletons that even the necromancers find off-putting. A since of greatness and extinguished life adorn the halls and rooms. Winding concourses are dimly lit and blocked by locked doors. There are things in the dark places. Also, once the spaceships are pushed over the edge of the landing strip, there is no escape.
All of the elements mix together to give Gideon the Ninth a refreshingly new take on a few played out fantasy tropes. Why it’s taken humanity so long to get to a book about necromancers in space, let alone lesbian necromancers in space, is anyone’s guess.
I almost forgot about the lesbian piece! That alone could serve as an indicator for how integral it is to the story. Do not get me wrong, it does factor into the plot. What it isn’t though is the plot. Gideon the Ninth is a amalgamation of a lot of genres, but it isn’t a “coming out” or “mostly about being a lesbian” story. What’s interesting is that the word “lesbian” doesn’t even appear in the book. Perhaps it doesn’t even exist, because what’s even more intriguing and inspiring is that it isn’t a big deal in this world. There are a couple of characters that are lesbian and it’s just accepted. No other characters mumble or glare about it. In fact, they’re beyond acceptance. It’s normal! Just the way it is, nothing to see here other than representation. What if our own world was the same way, for like, all LGBTQIA2S+? Representation. Acceptance. Empathy.
If any of this sounds intriguing in the slightest, Gideon the Ninth should probably be picked up. I found it great and it resonated with me in such a way that I know I will reread it sooner than later. I cannot wait to read the rest of the series. In fact, I’ve had to actively distract and reroute myself away from neighborhood bookstores in an effort to not purchase Harrow the Ninth. Though the only reason for doing so is out of consideration for my current TBR pile.