Honestly, the cover blurb from Charles Stross is a perfect distillation of Gideon the Ninth: “Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space! Decadent nobles vie to serve the deathless Emperor! Skeletons!” There’s more of course, so much more, but one of the many pleasures of reading this gonzo masterpiece is discovering for yourself what happens, so I’m going to leave it at that, except to reiterate—skeletons! So many skeletons, so many bones, so much bone and blood magic. Yes, I said magic, but this is most definitely a science fiction novel, with rigorous scientific world building.
Since I’m leaving the delights of the story for you to discover, what I want to talk about here is voice, that mysterious thing that makes a writer sound like no other. Holy shitballs, Tamsyn Muir has a voice unlike any author I have ever read. Reading this novel is like riding a roller coaster without being strapped in, part terrifying funhouse, part fever dream, all startlingly original. Muir writes sword fights (Did I mention there are sword fights? There are sword fights!) with thrilling precision. Her action scenes are heart-stopping.
There are something like twenty characters roaming the crumbling halls of Canaan House, the novel’s setting, and not a stock cliche in the bunch. Each of them are fully realized people, with unique personalities, styles, talents, and many, many secrets. Another thing—our two main characters, Gideon and Harrow, are still teenagers, and despite having formidable powers and skills, they are still recognizably teenagers. They are snarky. They develop crushes, even under the most dangerous circumstances.
I have to mention the dialogue. It is sharp-tongued and profane, and often feels utterly modern. Muir is walking a tightrope without a net, and it shouldn’t work at all, it really shouldn’t, but damn, it works beautifully. I found myself reading the dialogue out loud, a big smile on my face.
This is Muir’s first novel, and the first fiction I’ve read by her. I can’t wait to read more. Happily, Gideon the Ninth is the first novel in a trilogy, and book two, Harrow the Ninth, is coming out this year.
One final note. The ending of this book broke me in ways I haven’t completely processed yet.