Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
The slug printed on the cover of this book is “Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space!” I have to point out that, as far as I can tell, there are zero lesbians. There isn’t a palace, and a vast majority of the book does not take place in space.
It’s spot on about the necromancers though.
Gideon the Ninth is probably one of the most innovative books I’ve read in the last couple years. I’m not going to tell you what it’s about, because to do that I’d have to talk about the setting, and I’d like to let you discover that on your own. It’s the most bizarre and interesting world I’ve ever visited. The protagonist is relatable and fun, and their unique voice adds a lot to Gideon The Ninth’s charm.
There are some downsides. For one, the writing tends to be a little dense and over-descriptive for my tastes, and I found myself skipping paragraphs and sometimes pages to get to the good stuff. I am notoriously bored by descriptions though, so your mileage may vary. The cast is enormous, so much so that, for the first time in my life I was grateful for the little character summary provided on the first page. I could not for the life of me keep track of who was who among the twenty plus named, active characters. I wish I had taken notes.
Then there is the fact that very little of the book makes any f***ing sense. I don’t mean “there are a lot of plot holes.” I would be surprised if one single detail was out of place. It’s more like you’re reading a book about scientists trying to solve a quantum physics mystery from the point of view of the security guard who spends most of the book wandering around. At the end, I’m pretty sure I only understood about 75% of what happened. I enjoy that level of confusion; it’s probably not for everyone.
Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Holy crap forget understanding 75% of a book. I’ll be lucky if I break 50.
Harrow the Ninth was, hands down, the most confusing book I have ever read. Which is not a bad thing.
I loved this book. I really loved it. Some aspects of the previous book that I really liked were stripped away (I can’t say exactly which or why for fear of spoilers), but Harrow the Ninth delves deep into the mythology of this world, which is fantastic. There are some genuinely likable characters. There are a lot fewer characters, which I count as an act of mercy on the part of the author. The writing has improved too, or at least gotten a little less verbose.
Some fantasy novels have a sort of twist in them. There’s something strange going on, and every so often you’ll get little hints. Something out of place in the story, inexplicable magic. Maybe some seer mutters a cryptic prophecy. You collect these little bits of non-sense, waiting breathlessly for the moment when it finally comes together. Then you hit the big reveal. You gasp and go back. You realize this is what the prophecy meant, this is why one character killed the other. You close the book, satisfied.
If you try and keep track of all the weird shit that happens in Harrow, you will run out of paper. Seriously. At one point in the book three independent inexplicable things happen _in the same chapter_. I have a very, very high tolerance for complexity, and it was close to the limits of what I could keep track of. That being said I still tore through the book looking for the answers.
Most of those answers came six hours after I finished the book, as I slowly puzzled things over. I reread sections. I went back to that freaking chapter with the three bits of weirdness and they all finally clicked for me. For me, the payout was worth it. But it’s probably not the easy-reading fantasy novel you want to bring with you to the beach.