So as you start reading Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth, you’ll come on this big list of all the imperial necromantic houses and their members, and then you’ll start off in this bleak and hopeless setting, where a miserable prisoner is desperately trying to escape from a grim hellscape of hatred and indifference. If you share my allergy to grimdark, you might close the book there; in fact, I did, the first time I tried reading this.
But you shouldn’t! Because the book rapidly evolves into an engaging quest/mystery fantasy, it gets likeable characters who don’t all hate each other, and—most importantly—it gets fun.
Most of the credit for that last goes to the titular narrator, who writes like the snarkiest teenager you’ve ever met, if that teenager were actually witty and clever in the way that virtually none are. It’s a hyper-modern writing style that at first seems a bit weird set against this epic dark fantasy/dying-world SF backdrop, like a mashup of a Twitter feed with Jack Vance or Gene Wolfe. But dang if it doesn’t work. This is the best snarky narration this side of Steven Brust, and it might actually be better.
But there’s more than just the narration that works here. The setting is an interesting one—as I said, it’s kind of one of those dying-earth science fantasy settings, but it’s full of necromancy here, with skeleton servitors and bone constructs and the like. And revealing what’s going on with that setting is part of what this book’s mystery plot does. (And also part of what it wisely doesn’t do. You know how I was complaining about Foundryside, that all of its ancient mysteries were popped open in the course of a single novel? Here that’s not the case; there are some revelations, but plenty of mysteries still remain inexplicable and mysterious.)
Most of all, though, this is a character-driven story, and learning about who all the characters are—not just the central characters, but some of the more peripheral ones as well—and seeing them grow and change, is where the story really shines.
This was a big hyped book on its release, and it turns out that wasn’t just manufactured hype. This is really good, and I’ll be all over the sequel immediately when it’s released later this year. Highly recommended.