Book Review: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Genre : Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Gothic
Date Published : September 10, 2019

Publisher : Tor.com Publishing

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will be become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

Tor.com Publishing

Gideon the Ninth was pitched to me as LESBIAN NECROMANCERS IN OUTER SPACE and I am confident in my assertion that this book not only lived up to this pitch but far exceeded it in literally every way possible.

Let’s start with the LESBIANS! For all the SFF books I’ve read this year, I’ve been overall disappointed in the lack of queerness (a lot of the more popular SFF titles that I’ve been trying to ‘catch up on’ all seem to exclusively feature side character m/m relationships, which honestly got pretty bland after awhile). But Gideon the Ninth?! I literally cannot get over the queerness of this book. It was just so unflappably gay. Gideon is the snarky, butch, sword-fighting heroine I always knew I needed. Harrowhawk Nonagesimus (say that ten times fast) is the goth gay girl I never knew I wanted. And Dulcinea…oh Dulcinea…is the tragic lipstick lesbian of my (and Gideon’s) dreams. So, Lesbians? Check.

Now…the NECROMANCERS! Muir does a fabulous job of building her magic system throughout the story. Early on, we see the many ways in which Harrow is a talented bone necromancer – she raises the dead to do her bidding (which usually involved kicking Gideon’s ass) and can create entire skeletons out of a teeny tiny metacarpal. But even Harrow has her necromantic limits, literally sweating blood when she overexerts her abilities – a small but badass detail that I loved reading. If that isn’t cool enough, we soon learn that each of the nine Houses have their own necromantic specialty, ranging from soul-siphoning to psychometry. (I found this really neat article from Tor that breaks down each House’s necromantic specialities, which I highly recommend checking out). Necromancers? Check.

And, of course, the OUTER SPACE! If Muir had simply written a story of lesbian necromancers, I would have been satisfied. But she goes above and beyond and sets this story in an entirely different galaxy. There are a few ways to interpret the setting, but I read it as: eons ago, humanity fled the Milky Way and ended up in a new galaxy, where the primary energy source has become thanergy/thalergy (basically life energy/death energy). Each House literally has its own planet on which it resides, which opens up so many possibilities going forward in the next two books (Gideon the Ninth gives us glimpses of the Ninth House and First House planets, but the rest remain a mystery!). Without giving too much away, the book ends on a space ship headed to God knows where (hehe), which makes me even more excited for the possibility of deep space necromancy and all that could entail! Outer Space? Check.

So, yeah. Gideon the Ninth blew me away. I can very confidently say that is my favorite book of 2019. Gideon is the most snarky, loyal, lovable, and badass character I’ve read in awhile, and my heart broke into tiny little pieces when I realized the story was over. I don’t want to spoil much (the ending is WILD and UNEXPECTED and left me with SO MANY QUESTIONS!) but I am very excited to see what comes next in this trilogy – I am just very sad that I can’t read it right now. But, for the time being, I will have to satiate my need for more lesbian necromancers in space by plotting my Halloween costume, which will definitely involve aviators and skeleton paint.

My rating:

10 queer skeletons kisses out of 10

-Emory

Book Review | Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen

Genre : Science Fiction
Date Published : January 29, 2019
Publisher : MIRA Books

I first heard about this book in one of my grad school classes, my professor pulling up the Amazon page for it to show us the “front matter” – the copyright info, the publisher, the ISBN, date of publication, etc. We didn’t even talk about the plot of the book – but the cover caught my eye and I immediately googled the book for more information. When I found out it was a book about time travel and secret agents, I knew that it wouldn’t be long until I went out to buy it. And while Mike Chen’s debut novel is indeed about time travel and secret agents, it also deals heavily with themes of family and sacrifice – and all of these elements come together in an exciting and emotional story.

The book kicks off with a prologue, quickly catching you up to how the protagonist, Kin Stewart, a secret agent for the Temporal Corruption Bureau (TCB) from the year 2142 ended up in San Francisco in 1996. He got injured on the mission, but that’s not the bad part – the really bad part is that his retrieval beacon was broken, meaning his ticket back home has been destroyed. What I really appreciated about this section was how smoothly Chen teaches the reader the rules about this universe. There’s explanation about the time travel and who Kin really is, but it isn’t overdone or overly wordy – he gives you enough information to situate yourself in the story, and then pushes the plot forward.

Chapter One begins eighteen years later, and while I don’t usually like big time jumps, for this story it makes sense. Kin, with no way back home to his own time, has made a life for himself. He’s married to a woman named Heather, and they have a fourteen-year-old daughter together – Miranda, whose relationship with Kin is at the crux of the whole story. Chen does a great job of sprinkling in details about this new life, telling readers that Kin dreams of being on the TV show Home Chef Challenge, and that his family has a tradition of first-Monday-of-the-month TV nights where they all gather together to watch various sci-fi movies or shows. It’s details like this that I loved – and I wished we’d gotten more of these lived-in moments before the next act of the story began. On the same day that the first chapter starts out on, another time traveling agent finally shows up to rescue Kin and take him back to the year 2142, where a whole other life that he can no longer remember is waiting for him.

“Pressure returned to Kin’s temples, a grip that took hold across space and time. This one was different; he knew it from the very feel. It had nothing to do with time-jump damage to the frontal cortex or memory triggers that pushed his brain too hard. No, this was the silent grind of his jaw, the increase in blood pressure, the panic-turned-anger in his heart. ‘What have you done to Miranda?’”

Chapter 30, page 179

While I wanted more time to be spent building up Kin and Miranda’s relationship, the brief glimpse we get of them at the beginning of the book is enough to cement the idea that Kin loves his daughter, and would do anything to protect her. This makes his being forced back to his own timeline all the more heartbreaking, especially since he doesn’t even get a chance to say goodbye. And when he learns that Miranda’s very existence is a timeline corruption, and that her life is in danger because of that, it comes as no surprise that Kin decides to break even more time travel rules in order to save her.

Here and Now and Then is heartfelt, fun, and suspenseful, and Chen does a masterful job at playing out the reality of the situations each character is in, making the reader feel sympathetic towards just about everyone in the story. And while the pacing did feel a little off, with some things happening too quickly, this could be connected to the main obstacle that Kin faces throughout the book whenever he attempts fix everything before anyone gets hurt – the fact that he needs more time.

I think that Mike Chen is an author we can definitely be excited about! He describes his books as “tales of family and friendship and humor that just happen to have some time travel or an apocalypse.” His next book, A Beginning At The End, is set to come out in January 2020 and tells the story of a group of four people who come together six years after a global pandemic hits the world. I can’t wait to get my hands on it, and I’m so happy to have a new author to keep up with!

My rating:

7.5 Broken Retrieval Beacons out of 10.

-Sara