Similar to the clear-cut trail of a rocketship hurtling through space, Tamsyn Muir’s book, “Gideon the Ninth,” cleaves a shadow stretching across several planets. This eye-catching world of dystopian nightmare and fantasy is monstrous for its harsh injustice, yet beautiful for its intricacy and genuine exploration of struggle.
Tamsyn Muir is a writer with a rich history of fandom and popular culture. This familiarity with modern trends is utilized to the fullest extent as she injects her stories with a sarcastic, biting edge, “Gideon the Ninth” included.
The story centers on the struggles of Gideon Nav, a skilled swordswoman and certified teenage disaster, and Harrowhark Nonagesimus, a religious zealot necromancer and walking bag of knives, as they try to achieve salvation. Under the Ninth House of necromancy, they are strung into working together to meet a challenge issued by the Emperor, all the while at each other’s throats.
From the blend of genres such as humor, horror, science fiction, fantasy and romance, to the striking subversions of the accompanying tropes and cliches, the book seeks to defy expectations. In “Gideon the Ninth,” Muir’s style is synonymous with dark humor and startlingly creative description, which elevates the story by creating a unique window into the events taking place.
As the protagonist, Gideon Nav, also serves as the narrator, her abundance of personality is a comfortable fit for this style. Her perspective is refreshing for her inelegant sauciness, which provides an enjoyable flow of humor and sarcastic commentary. Because the humor and horror of the story are woven together like a quilt of dichotomy, her shifts in attitude serve as a measure of how horrific her circumstances are.
The extents of monstrosity is a common theme throughout the book as the story delves into how people born into a harsh, cruel and unjust world strive, and what they strive for. It unflinchingly answers the question of what pushes someone to do evil, and what pushes someone to do good.
The relationships explored in the novel are also conflictingly ambiguous, as they are diverse in structure and level of hostility to attachment. The connections between characters provides an interesting examination of the various types of love and their positive or negative influence. Since the story revolves around a world that is confusing and inflammatory, it makes sense that the relationships would follow suit.
The story “Gideon the Ninth” is the introduction to a sprawling world full of complexity, which is why quickly grasping the information is vital to understanding the story progression. For some, this can be difficult to accomplish, which makes immersion and investment in the story more challenging.
To mitigate this issue, the glossary of key terms found at the end of the book and the reference to the characters of each House found in the beginning of the book are both helpful to understanding the identities of the characters, the setting and the systems in place.
Tamsyn Muir’s book “Gideon the Ninth” may not be fit for everyone, but for those who are interested in a modernist take on a winding, suspenseful and fantastical story about people living in an ancient system, it is a worthwhile read. The conclusion, the magic and the trails left open to investigate leave the reader intrigued about how far the depths of this world go.