It feels like hype for Tamsyn Muir’s debut novel about necromantic lesbians, bone citadels, rockin’ adventures, tantalizing mysteries, wicked sword fights, and many, many reanimated corpses has been building for YEARS. It was earlier this year, however, when it really started to catch my attention. Isabel Yap, who’s been championing the book since its earliest days, popped onto Twitter and blew my socks off by calling Gideon the Ninth “the closest thing to a JRPG in novel form.”
I was so enamoured by this description that I went out of my way to write an in-depth examination of how Golden Age of JRPGs (from Final Fantasy to Suikoden) influenced many of today’s best and brightest SF writers. And then I got my hands on Gideon the Ninth, and, despite mile high expectations, walked away knowing I’d read something special. Muir’s novel isn’t just the best debut of the year, it might be the year’s best novel. Period.
At its core, Gideon the Ninth is a closed-box mystery that feels like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None if it was raised from the dead into a dystopic space opera, and propped up Weekend at Bernie’s-style by classic sword and sorcery dungeon crawling, horror, and straight up fantasy shenanigans. It’s all told with this impeccable voice that somehow comes across like a group of young millennials who grew up on internet message boards roleplaying a dark, baroque, magic-filled adventure. More succinctly, and with equal style to Muir’s book, Brooke Bolander described the voice to me as “a rap battle in an opera house,” which is just… *chef’s kiss*.
Above and beyond that, it works so well for a variety of other reasons. The worldbuilding itself is exquisite, super weird, and yet remains logically sound. No matter how batshit unique things get, it always makes sense within the world Muir’s created. The characters—from Gideon the (fake) Cavalier, to her necromancer Harrowhark, to the myriad supporting cast—are all vivid and realized. They’re flawed, interesting, have goals, ambitions, failures, and successes. It’s a dark book in many ways, and the characters all fall into one box or another on the “evil” or chaotic axis of the D&D character alignment chart, but they’re so likeable, and the interactions between them are so believable that you can’t help falling in love. The central mystery unfolds nicely, and the payoff blows open the scope and potential for the rest of the trilogy.
Above all, Gideon the Ninth is fun.
It’s rare for a debut novel to garner so much hype as Gideon the Ninth. It’s even more rare for a debut novel to live up to that hype. Gideon the Ninth not only manages that, but exceeds everything I’d been hearing about it for months. It’s a rip-roaring, hilarious, dark, heartful, and utterly crazy novel that is going to capture the hearts (and souls) of many, many readers. Recommended most highly.