Book Review: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Ninth House

Publisher: Tor.com (September 10, 2019)

Length: 448 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

This one’s going to be tough to review, and I thought a week of mulling it over would have helped me figure out my feelings, but nope! If anything, I’m even more torn. For me, the problem stems from the uneven nature of the book, specifically the difference in pacing, interest, and entertainment value between the first and second half of the story.

To begin, Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir starts with a introduction to our eponymous protagonist, an orphan who has grown up living in servitude to the Ninth House. For as long as she can remember, death and necromancy has been a part of Gideon Nav’s life, as well as being tormented by the young scion of the house, Harrowhark Nonagesimus, a powerful bone witch in her own right. Eventually though, Gideon becomes tired of always having to play the servant to the princess and devises a plan to get off planet in an escape shuttle. However, before she can make her move, a major shakeup at the Ninth House suddenly causes all of Gideon’s plans to fall apart.

Now Harrow has been summoned to a competition held by the Emperor of the Houses, and as the necromancer representing her house, she will need a cavalier. Promising freedom as a reward, Harrow manages to convince Gideon, who is a skilled swordswoman, to fill the role. But as the two of them arrive at the First House where the competition will be held, it becomes clear things will be much more complicated than they thought. For one thing, the instructions they are given make no sense. Harrow and the other representatives of each house are only given the vaguest details of what will happen, and no rules—only that the necromancer who wins will be given immortality, and that they will need to ascend with a cavalier by their side.

Desperate to save her house, Harrow needs to win. Which means she also needs Gideon. But the two of them have never gotten along, and Gideon immediately becomes frustrated by her necromancer’s secretive ways and lack of communication. Curious to find out more about the First House and the contest, she takes it upon herself to do some exploring, making the acquaintance of the other contestants as well as their cavaliers. Not counting the First or the Ninth, seven other Houses are vying for the prize of Lyctor-hood, and all their representatives possess their own individual talents and quirks.

And so, that that brings me to the one of the major obstacles I encountered with Gideon the Ninth. Now would be a good time to mention that I highly recommended studying the list of characters at the beginning of the book before you start reading, simply because of the sheer number of people involved in this clunky saga. It also doesn’t help that every character seems to have at least two names. Needless to say, it’s hard to get into a story when so much of your attention in the first half is tied up in trying to figure out who is who.

Second of all—and this is a biggie—the writing style is real tough on the eyes and until you get used to it (if you ever do), it can present a fair bit of struggle. Not to mention Gideon’s snark and anachronistic slang against this strangely formal style of writing makes it feels about as incongruous as her aviator glasses on the cover. Unfortunately, this also had a way of making the character come across as extra obnoxious and trying too hard to be the ultimate edgelord. To be honest, Gideon’s insufferably snide personality and her sometimes juvenile remarks often made me want to throw in the towel, but it was Harrow’s awesomeness that kept me reading.

But before I get too negative, recall how I did say the book picks up in the second half—and boy, does it ever! I can’t recall the last time a book made me do such a complete one-eighty. No surprise, this also coincided with the point where the story transformed itself into a gothic-style murder mystery. From that moment onwards, I was hopelessly and irrevocably hooked, and that’s no exaggeration—whereas it took me about a week to read the first two hundred pages, I devoured the rest of the novel in about two days. That Gideon the Ninth can be considered a slow-burner goes without saying, but I promise that the latter part of the novel makes up for it in spades.

As such, I was left with a conundrum. If it were possible to rate the two halves of this book separately, the first half would probably earn a 2.5 to 3 stars while the second half would be awarded a full-hearted 5. While it is not ideal, I’ve decided to settle for a 3.5 rating overall—with the caveat that the story takes a long time to build, and readers might not see the payoff until much later. It’s hard for me to go into the details of the plot, the intricacies of the world-building, or the relationships of the characters without giving too much away, which makes it difficult for me to discuss the positives, but suffice to say this is a book where I am glad I persevered.

And here’s the thing—on principle, I don’t DNF, even though they say life is too short for bad books. But then once in a while, a book like Gideon the Ninth will come along and make me glad I hold to that rule. I’m just so glad I kept reading until the end, because against all odds, I actually enjoyed myself quite a bit. So, if you’re thinking about picking this novel up, I say give it a chance. It has all the hallmarks of a “either love it or hate it” book, and the fact that its elements are so different and eclectic means that it’s best experienced personally. I didn’t think it would be for me, but obviously the end of the book changed my mind, and after this wild ride, I find myself looking forward to checking out the next volume in the series.

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38 Comments on “Book Review: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

  1. Huh, that’s a tough one for sure! I used to have a ‘no DNF’ rule for a good few years but I let go of it this year – too many books, not enough time 😉 I’m glad you persevered though, and that the end was so rewarding!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So I just read Tammy’s review and now directly afterwards, yours. Seems like you guys have really similar opinions. I hope I can find as much to like in the book as you guys did – I broke down and preordered it. I do think Gideon’s snarky attitude will work for me but it sounds like I need to take notes about all the people so I can keep them straight.

    And you nailed it regarding why I find it so hard to DNF too (although I am getting better). There have been times I considered it and trudged on to find out I really like it. If I quite a book, I may miss something like that. Glad you stuck this one out!

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  3. I’m glad I kept going too. It was certainly an oddball story at times, and yeah, all the different character names and titles wore me out. It’s weird how the second half was completely different!

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  4. Great review! We had a lot of similar feelings. The last half of the book was much better. I did struggle a lot to remember who everyone was and got people confused more than once. But I did end up liking the book a lot.

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  5. Since I’m aware I’m a reader with little to no patience (and even more limited time…) it’s good to know that this book, though slow to take flight, offers a good payoff in the end, because I find the story intriguing and without your review I might have abandoned the book much earlier than those first 200 pages you mentioned if I choose to pick it up.
    So… Thank you very much for your review! 🙂

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  6. Aah sad to see that the beginning want so good! I’ve seen that in more reviews! Still excited to read it though
    Great review!

    (www.evelynreads.com)

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  7. Thanks for this review! I don’t mind slow builds and complex characters lists, but it does super help to be ready for it going into a book! I appreciate the thoroughness of this review!

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  8. Fantastic review Mogsy! And the first one that I read about the book that is not gushing all along. And you know what? i think rating two halves or a book would really come handy in some situations!

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    • Yeah, it seems like it’s one of those love it or hate it books. I notice a lot of reviewers who gave it low ratings dnf’ed though, so maybe they didn’t get to experience the second half, which was much better 😀

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  9. I’m very curious about this one. I have serious doubts about whether I’ll be in the love it or hate it category, and I’m not sure if I’ll get around to giving it a try, but the more I read about it the more curious I become. I can see this as a book I won’t go out of my way to purchase, but if I happen upon it one day in a bookstore I just might pick it up. Thanks for the great review.

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    • Yeah, if you’re not sure, this might be a good candidate for a library loan. It won’t be for everyone, and the reviews on Goodreads are all over the place with most people landing on either extremes. If you’re prepared for a slower, more confusing beginning though, I think it might be easier to get into 🙂

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  10. I almost never DNF (though occasionally I in hindsight wish I had). As you well know, this book is SO HARD to get into and uneven. Tammy noted that the sci-fi elements to her felt incredibly jarring and I have to agree, given how much the rest of the book was steeped in that gothic fantasy ambiance. Also wish there had been more information about the houses dolled out overall. You get some of their “flavor” from inference, but since they all practice a different kind of necromancy, I wish that had been explored more. BUT, I did love the murder mystery part, it’s amazing how much that last half made up for things.

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    • Yeah, I wish I had mentioned something about the world building, but I figured I’d already rambled on for so long in my review, lol! The sci-fi elements did seem a little out of place and tacked on, didn’t it? They could have been completely scrubbed out and it wouldn’t have made a difference at all.

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  11. Pingback: Review: Gideon the Ninth (The Ninth House #1) by Tamsyn Muir |

  12. I’ve seen similar reviews about the start and the end pacing and such and now I’m even more curious! It seems like a case of too many genres mashed maybe? Although I might like that! I’m intrigued either way, lol. Good to know about the start though, now I have my expectations set. 🙂

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  13. I am still more intrigued than put off despite all the problems both you and Tammy have mentioned. And I could do with reading a book that’s less than awesome … I’ve read so many good things recently I’m nearly all out of squeee! 😀

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  14. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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