Well, I think we could all agree that I knew I’d be reading this one. Tagged as lesbian necromancers in space, there was really no more I needed to know. And all the awards it’s been nominated for since then really only reinforced what I already knew. In fact, this was in the stack of books I bought for myself with Holiday gift money back in January. I had hoped to get to it sooner, but I’m horrific at getting through TBR piles (not the mention the fact that I bought myself quite a few books at that time)…I blame it less on myself and more on how many amazing books are being published faster than I can keep up with them. Anyways, I’d also like to point out that this is the book I chose to use for The Reading Women Challenge 2020 prompt #22, “by a favorite or new-to-you publisher.” I freaking love Tor Books, so much, so this falls under the “favorite” option.
“‘A head start,’ said her necromancer, ‘is the only advantage one can claim by choice.’”
Raised by the Ninth House after being “mysteriously” orphaned, Gideon is done with the reanimated corpses and old, unfriendly nuns. She is fully trained with her sword, has a stash of dirty magazines for the road, and is on her way to (finally) carrying out an escape plan. But her nemesis, Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House, has other plans. The Emperor needs new necromancers and Harrow is convinced that her talent is enough to win her the role that will bring new “life” and recognition to the failing Ninth House. But she has one need that only Gideon can help with – she needs a swordswoman. And though Gideon can’t think of anything she wants less that to serve Harrow any longer, the deal for freedom she strikes in exchange is impossible to pass up. And so Harrow and Gideon set off together to compete against the heirs of each of the other seven Houses to win the right to become one of the Emperor’s immortal, all-powerful servants.
Whoa. Just whoa. First, I am on a role with fantastically entertaining (and fun) adult fantasy this year. First, Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo and now this one. Randomly, they both have ninth in the title – weird trend. But yea, I loved this one. Almost from start to finish I read it was a smile on my face (minus some gory parts in the middle where things got a little grimace-y and one spot at the end where I surprised myself by how emotionally invested I got in some of the characters and their relationships to each other). Gideon’s snark was hilarious to read – it’s not often a character can come across so sarcastic in a way that doesn’t get old or feel forced – and it’s a style of humor that I gravitate towards in real life, with real people/friends, so I was into it here. I also got into Harrow’s particular brand of sour insult-y-ness. It fit her role and the story really well and played nicely with Gideon’s personal brand. All in all, both with Gideon and Harrow, but also with the rest of the characters, I thought the dialogue was great – smart and quick. Dialogue is always a major make or break for me with a novel and it was a big “make” here. And in line with that, the general writing and pacing was spot on. This was a fast-moving and diverting novel that really kept me wanting to turn pages. The generic parts of the plot (the competition against other “players” to win a coveted position) are really nothing ground-breaking, but the more individual aspects added in, like necromancy (not a magic I have read much about before, so the originality in that magic-system was super interesting for me) and the scientific/experimental characteristics of the challenges were unique. Although there were maybe a few times where the more technical parts of the necromancy and/or the trials themselves lost me, the main ideas were clear enough to allow me to take the basic understanding I needed from them and rush headlong into the next plot point (which was really all I wanted to do).
Moving more into the developmental pieces of the story, I really appreciated the two-person team set-up, with the relationships of the necromancers and their swords-people being integral to the success or failure of their “mission.” It allowed for some great character-building over the course of the story (I for sure got invested in some of the pairs from the other Houses), especially for our focal pair, Gideon and Harrow. Knowing that they entered this competition as mortal enemies (this is a pretty obvious development so I don’t think it’s a spoiler to touch on it), their enemies-to-friends (and maybe more?) development was stellar. It was never smooth, which is expected and realistic, and in fact it was often ugly and unhealthy and kind of awful(?) for them both. Yet, it came across as genuine under the circumstances, taking their pasts into account, and built to an ending that definitely felt right. That ending, which, btw, I LOVED, was quite intensely emotional, on a number of levels, in a way that I wasn’t necessarily expecting from the rest of the story. But like I said, it felt right. (Side note – there are some reviews that said there wasn’t enough lesbian in this “lesbian necromancers in space” novel – and while I do think the marketing team played that up a bit more than we actually get, in comparison with the space and necromancy aspects, I definitely felt a number of legitimate f/f connections throughout and I would argue that this novel was, on the whole, not meant to ever be a romance, in the traditional sense, within the setting and circumstances the author created. So, for my part, I wouldn’t have been against something more explicit showing up, but I also don’t feel let down by what I got, within the context we were given.)
At this time, I’d like to take a moment to say that I deeply appreciate Muir’s willingness to go full in on character deaths (to a wonderfully violent/gory extreme) from beginning to end. Again, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything to say that there were a number of deaths (many, many deaths), and that not a single one was easy or clean. But it was also the perfect sci-fi necromantic type of violence and grittiness, so get ready for that and enjoy it!
A darkly hilarious, phenomenally gruesome, creative and wonderfully ghastly necromantic sci-fi adventure. I loved it from start to finish and am so excited to pick this story back up with Harrow the Ninth.