Reading this book was like eating an exceptionally rich slice of chocolate cake, but in the best way possible. Over-indulgent, but the chocolate was chocolate. Not the sugary, overly-sweet corn-starchy chocolate used in store-bought icing kits, but like…$100 chocolate cake from some fancy French patisserie.
You get me.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is the first in a promised trilogy that exists in a world that manages to be completely new yet subtly familiar at the exact same time.
Bone Houses? Never heard of her. Titty-mags? Tell me more.
It opens with intense desire from the titular character, which is something I’ve been working on in my own writing. The question What does the main character want? is answered swiftly and with so many big words that I had to open a thesaurus (I dig that).
What Gideon wants is simple: autonomy. Her need for this fuels the story and creates conflict so satisfying it’s almost painful.
We don’t want Gideon to fulfill her desire, because then the story would end, and where would be the fun in that? And there’s just something so alluring about Gideon’s nemesis, the stately raven that is Harrowhark Nonagesimus. (What a name. I spelled it right on my first try.) She keeps Gideon tethered to her like tendon to bone, and it’s good. You can eat Gideon’s disgruntlement with a spoon.
The book does drag in certain places; descriptive paragraphs that go on too long, entire chapters in which Gideon does nothing but eat pale meat and wander through empty corridors. But even these duller moments hold the shine of the unexpected. Nothing happens in this book that isn’t new and bold and fresh, except for maybe all the bones and the death.
In the end, it’s the strength of the characters that makes this read exceptional. We never lose sight of Gideon’s desire, even as it begins to transform into something that mirrors the initial autonomous wish but doesn’t quite reflect it.
Don’t get me wrong. The heavily detailed fight scenes, the screaming monsters of flesh and bone and spirit, the wide variety of magic, the broad and entertaining cast of characters, the mystery and the horror and the aesthetics dripping with sarcasm all coalesce to make this sumptuous slice of carb-laden decadence.
But it’s the character beats that make it impossible to quit reading. The action-behind-the-action. The emotional arcs so deftly woven you almost don’t notice them happening through all the blood and screaming.
The sequel, Harrow the Ninth, has been announced for 2020, and I’m definitely ready for seconds.