Gideon the Ninth
You’re off the edge of the map, mate. Here there be spoilers. Other reviews in this series can be found here.
When was the last time I loved a book so much that the critical portion of my brain completely shut down? I could be wrong, but I think it might have been in eleventh grade (an undisclosed number of years ago), when I first read Cat’s Eye. That may literally be the last time I read a book without wanting to criticize something about it. I read so many incredible books last year, but, while Gideon the Ninth was the hundredth book I read in 2020, it marks the first time I was 10000000%, ride-or-die, you-will-get-this-book-from-me-when-you-pry-it-from-my-cold-fucking-hands invested in absolutely everything the story had to offer. It was that good. (As to why Eleanor Oliphant did not inspire the same level of loyalty despite my having raved about her last March: I’m sorry, Eleanor, but you don’t have necromancers.) Of course, every book has its problems and I’m sure Gideon has its fair share, but I sure didn’t notice them. If you did find problems with it, don’t bother pointing them out to me, because I fully intend to clamp my hands over my ears and screech like an owl until you go away. This is literally a book I wish I had written myself, because the humor is perfect. On the other hand, the detailed necromantic jargon is beyond my current abilities, so perhaps it’s just as well I didn’t write it.
Gideon the Ninth is the first book in the tremendously promising Locked Tomb trilogy. It’s a sci-fi murder mystery run by lesbian space necromancers, and it is epic. It is largely narrated by Gideon Nav, an eighteen-year-old orphan and eighty-six-times-unlucky-escapee indentured to the House of the Ninth, an order of super religious necromancers inhabiting the coldest, dreariest planet in their solar system. The good people of the Ninth are kept in order by Reverend Daughter Harrowhark “Harrow” Nonagesimus, who is an extraordinarily talented necromancer in addition to being a seventeen-year-old skull-painted snot. Technically her parents (the Reverend Mother and Reverend Father) are in charge, but they are also technically dead, with the result that Harrow has been running the planet since the age of ten. Gideon and Harrow are the only teenagers on the planet because Reasons, which seems like it might set them up to be BFFs, but it was in fact hate at first sight. Harrow calls Gideon “Griddle” and Gideon calls Harrow “a desiccated mummy of hate,” and they are literally the last two people you would want representing your planet at an interplanetary competition. However, God has a sense of humor, and Gideon finds herself packed off to an interplanetary competition, naturally with Harrow in tow, shortly after her eighty-seventh escape attempt. They somehow survive the beginning stages of the competition, squabbling all the way, and are well on their way to alienating all the other planets when of course somebody dies. This opens up the floodgates of death, and people start dying like it’s going out of style. As is usually the case in this type of story, and in mysteries in general, no one is quite what they seem – not even our two unlikely sleuths.
The best part of this book is indisputably Gideon herself. I have read books where the main character was actually the worst part of the story. That is not the case here. I’ve seen Gideon described as a himbo, and, well, that is extremely accurate. She is hilarious, impertinent, not particularly bright. She collects titty magazines and is easily led astray by beautiful women. Her greatest joy in life comes from annoying Harrow in every possible way.
As they pulled themselves into the shuttle, the door mechanism sliding down with a pleasing final whunk, she leaned into Harrow: Harrow, who was dabbing her eyes with enormous gravity. The necromancer flinched outright.
“Do you want,” Gideon whispered huskily, “my hanky.”
“I want to watch you die.”
The feeling is more than mutual.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus swung open the door, haloed faintly in the electric lights from the tier, her acerbic little face as welcome as a knee to the groin.
“If you want to do something interesting, come with me,” she commanded. “If you want to wallow in your shockingly vast reserves of self-pity, cut your throat and save me the food bill.”
“Oh damn! Then can I join your old man and lady in the puppet show?”
“How the world would suffer without your wit,” said Harrowhark blandly.
And yet, even after all that hate and all their mutual attempts to kill each other, they still manage to come to an understanding (naturally while Gideon is convulsing on the floor over a beautiful woman).
Gideon, facedown on the dusty ground, moaned: “I want to die.”
She was nudged with a foot, not unkindly. “Get up, Griddle.”
“Why was I born so attractive?”
“Because everyone would have throttled you within the first five minutes otherwise,” said her necromancer.
As much as I say I don’t like romance, I actually loved Gideon’s relationship with Harrow because they seemed more like siblings than potential lovers. They spend much of the book wishing to kill each other, but they also maintain a strange sort of loyalty that keeps them together against staggering odds. That’s not to say that they couldn’t possibly have hooked up if things had gone just a little bit differently, but the romance was very, very faint (if it was there at all – possibly I’m reading too much into this), which made the tension between Gideon and Harrow much more enjoyable, at least as far as I was concerned. I normally don’t love drama, but I will always be here for a good sibling squabble. I could complain that Harrow is abusive, which she is, but I wouldn’t say her behavior falls outside the bounds of normal sibling warfare, so I’m inclined to give her a pass on this one.
My one complaint about the entire book is that I wish the ending were different, but I know why it had to happen the way it did and quite possibly there would’ve been no book two if things had gone any differently because the entire cast might’ve died, so I guess I’ll just have to sit tight and see what happens next. Even if the ending made me want to scream and throw things, Gideon the Ninth was a phenomenal introduction to the world of the Locked Tomb, and I’m interested to see where we go from here. The cast has been drastically reduced, so Harrow the Ninth is going to be quite different.
P.S. If you find yourself suffering from a Gideon hangover, there is also a Locked Tomb prequel, which is available here.