Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Gideon the Ninth hides a sweet romance in a Grimdark world

 Charles Stross has famously described Gideon the Ninth as lesbian necromancers in space. Which is pretty meme-worthy and not an unfair description, even if it sets up an expectation of explicit sex scenes when there aren’t even implicit ones. Me, I’d rather describe it as War Hammer 40K reimagined as a young adult romance.

While I want to minimize spoilers, the basic plot of Gideon the Ninth is that the undying emperor of humanity needs super necromancers and requests that the nine great houses each send a trainee. And because there wouldn’t be a plot otherwise, horrible things happen.

The hero of our story is Gideon who is from the ninth house and sent to be the swords woman for her house’s necromancer. Who she grew up with in the death cult that is the ninth house and the two have a tumultuous relationship to put it mildly.

There’s a lot of good stuff to unpack with Gideon the Ninth, even trying to not spoil the plot.

The world building is tasty. Set more than a millennia in the future, humanity has a galactic empire that is ruled by an undying emperor who once resurrected the entire solar system. (I’m hoping later books give us a little nore insight into that, including the possibility that it’s all a lie) And the empire literally run on death magic with necromancers being a key part of how they do business.

The book takes place in this solar system (which, according to the index, is the only place where necromancers can be born) I know that the empire is fighting wars but we don’t know if it’s with aliens or other humans or chaos marines. While the setting has plenty of differences from WH40K, there is still a similar grim dark, gothic horror vibe.

Which is contrasted but not undercut by a lot of snark. Gideon is an incredibly snarky. Which is also obviously a coping mechanism but her childhood makes Harry Potter’s seem like Christopher Robinson’s so any kind of coping is impressive. It also grounds the story, making it clear a galactic empire run by necromancy is her regular old world.

And while the book is all grim dark and full of more undead than the Tomb of Horrors, the heart of the book is Gideon’s relationships, including her realizing that she can have relationships. The book isn’t marketed as a Young Adult book as far I know but it uses the tools of one very well. (This is not a knock)

I went into Gideon the Ninth expecting cheesy gothic horror. Instead, I found sweet and snarky.

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