Gideon the Ninth is Tamsyn Muir’s debut novel. It is a beautiful mix of fantasy, horror and science fiction, with sword lesbains, gothic castles and just… so many memes.
There are currently two published books in the Locked Tomb series, Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth, with the last two books Nona the Ninth and Alecto the Ninth forthcoming in 2022 and 2023.
The book follows Gideon Nav, an indentured servant and swordswoman from the Ninth House (planet) of the Dominicus system. There are eight Houses in this system, (Second to Ninth), with the First House being that of the Emperor, and his immortal servants, Lyctors. The Emperor was the first ever necromancer, who resurrected the entire human race after they were wiped out ten thousand years before the events of Gideon the Ninth.
Gideon is desperate to escape her home planet, as she is doomed to a life in servitude that will extend beyond her death, as she will be brought back as a skeleton to do menial tasks for the House. She has tried to escape eighty-six times so far, and the book opens with her eighty-seventh escape attempt, which was quickly foiled by Gideon’s arch nemesis, Harrowhark Nonagesimus. Harrow is the Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and her parents are taking a suspiciously long “vow of silence'', so she’s pretty much in charge of everything.
Harrow wants Gideon to stay, as she has just received a message from the Emperor that he is looking for new Lyctors (as most of them have died… for some reason). In order to achieve this status, Harrow must travel to the First House and complete some kind of trial, but she can’t do it alone. Harrow needs the help of a cavalier, a trained swordsperson who will stick by their necromancer and protect them to the death. Harrow’s old cavalier, Ortus, ended up being a massive coward who fled the planet at the first chance he got, so now Harrow needs Gideon’s help.
The Ninth House is dying, as there aren’t any children and Gideon and Harrow are the youngest ones there, at eighteen and seventeen respectively. The rest of the Ninth House is practically geriatric. In order to save her House, Harrow must become a Lyctor and Gideon must come with her. The Ninth House is a strange place. They worship something they call the Locked Tomb, something that the Emperor buried after the Great Resurrection, and something that has been promised to be the downfall of the Empire as whole. Even for a necromancer colony, the Ninth House is obsessed with death. All the penitents of the Ninth House are required to wear black robes and sacramental skull makeup, and they pray using bone rosaries.
Gideon is finally able to leave the Ninth House, and she and Harrow travel to a place called Canaan House, where they are joined by two representatives from each of the other Houses. This is where the real bulk of the story kicks off. The rest of the book ends up playing out like a classic murder mystery, with amazing amounts of wordbuilding, character work, and an aboslutely amazing twist that BLEW. MY. MIND.
Spoilers beyond this point !
Gideon and Harrow are some of the most interesting and alluring protagonists I’ve read in a while. They are wound up in so many layers of complexity, emotion and trauma, that they’re like really sad onions (and they’ll make you cry!). Gideon is amazingly funny and despite the “stupid” facade she puts up, she is truly very intelligent. Her childhood and backstory is incredibly mysterious, even to her. Gideon’s wit and caring makes her very easy to get attached to, which makes her sort of death (?) at the end of the book even more heart wrenching.
Both of the Ninth House girls are very tragic characters. I guess this makes sense, for a House that is essentially a death cult. Harrow is what I would call several pounds of depression stuffed into one very small goth girl. Her birth was essentially a war crime, having been the product of the murder of 200 children from her House. Her parents died tragically when she was very young, and she seems to show no desire to live. She isn’t incredibly present in this book, but the snapshots we get from her are devastating. Harrow the Ninth focuses more on Harrow and her tormented psyche and was one of the most fascinatingly complex character studies I’ve ever read --but more on that next week!
The characters from the other Houses are all so distinct and contrast so well. The characters of this story come together like pieces of a puzzle. They are all so distinct and easy to get attached to, but they don’t clash with each other or overpower one another.
Judith Deuteros and Marta Dyas of the Second House are probably the weakest characters in this book, only because they don’t talk very much and are classic portraits of military stoicism. Despite this, they still have their own places in the larger narrative, so their existence in this story is well justified. Coronabeth and Ianthe Tridentarius of the Third House (and their cavalier… I guess), were very fun secondary characters. Coronabeth was vibrant and fun, while Ianthe was fun to hate. The twist that Ianthe was the more powerful twin, despite having been sidelined for the whole book, was a really intelligent plot twist, as instead of fully blindsiding you, it was just something that most of the audience had been overlooking. This also set up Ianthe’s character arc in the second book really well, as we can see that her double-crossing diva personality most likely stems from years of being ignored.
Jeannemary and Isaac from the Fourth House still make me cry if I think about them too hard. They were very sweet and did not deserve to die. Same goes for Magnus and Abigail from the Fifth. I got too attached far too quickly and my heart is still playing the price.
Palamedes Sextus and Camilla Hect from the Sixth House were probably my favourite secondary characters of this book. Their dynamic was really sweet and the existence of Palamedes Sextus facilitated the existence of my favourite line in the book. I didn’t particularly care for the characters from the Eighth House (I don’t remember their names and I honestly don’t even care to look them up), but again, I do understand why they’re in the book.
The Seventh House characters were SO WELL DONE. Dulcinea (technically Cytherea, on account of the whole identity stealing thing) did such a good job of making you underestimate her. Like Ianthe, she is viewed by everyone as one of the weakest of the group, only there for show. The twist of her actually being a centuries old Lyctor is made even more effective because of how Gideon saw her. While Gideon underestimated Dulcinea as much as the other people did, she still saw Dulcinea as a confidante and even had some feelings for her, which made the twist even more powerful and shocking. The revelation of Palamedes’ feelings for Dulcinea made things more complicated, even before the whole identity-swapping thing.
Tamsyn Muir’s dedication to her worldbuilding is obvious and you can clearly see the amount of care that she put into her book. She put glossaries and pronunciation guides (which I was very grateful for in a book filled with eight syllable names). Many of the characters were based on Biblical, Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman names. Each reference was thought out, just as all the names were -- down to the surnames of each house.
Quick sidebar on this because it’s super cool :
2. Deuteros, as in duo and Dyas, as in dyad
3. Tridenatarius - as in the Latin trius or triad
4. Chatur - as in quattor, Latin for four
5. Quinn and Pent - derived from Latin and Greek, respectively
(the rest of the prefixes of names are also mostly Latin or Greek numbers. Hect for the Sixth Sept- for the Seventh, Octa- for the Eighth and Nona- for the Ninth. Pretty cool, right?).
The world building is a little dense and confusing at the start, but it’s still readable and easy enough to get through. Muir does an amazing job of balancing high fantasy and sci-fi elements with effective story-telling and great plot.
While the book is set up as a classic trope-y murder mystery set in space, it ends up going so much deeper and being really messed up (in the best way possible). The characters are amazingly vivid and still are living rent-free in my mind. I don’t think they’re leaving anytime soon.
is a young writer from Ottawa, Canada. When he isn’t in school, he enjoys reading, writing, crochet, and playing with his two cats. Their favourite genres are horror and fantasy, and they enjoy all things strange. You can find him on Instagram at @nate_fahmi.