Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: September 10th, 2019
Page Count: 448
Series: THE NINTH HOUSE, Book 1
Rating: 3/5 Stars – Liked It
Note: I was provided a free review copy by the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.
Gideon Nav is an indentured servant of the Ninth House, one of nine factions in a coalition of necromancers scattered about the galaxy. She wants nothing more than to escape the planet and join the military, but head of house Harrowhark will have none of it. When the Emperor summons the heir and their cavalier (bodyguard) from each House to be his new group of Lyctors (immortal advisers and servants), Harrow offers Gideon a deal. If Gideon will travel with Harrow as her cavalier to this gathering of Lyctor hopefuls, Gideon will be granted her freedom once Harrow ascends. But when everyone arrives at Canaan House, the necromancers and their cavaliers discover that the path to Lyctorhood is secretive and potentially deadly – and the greatest threat could be the other Lyctors.
GIDEON THE NINTH is a book that got off to a rocky start that, despite improvements in the second half, it never quite recovered from. It opens on Gideon’s planet and spends a good deal of time there, making sure you know how much Harrow and she hate each other, and just how weird the Ninth House is. And also that Gideon has a mysterious past and likes to use obscene metaphors. The trouble is, there was little of this that felt necessary to the bulk of the book, which swerves the plot in a different (and better) direction 1/3 of the way through. Where the book became more engaging for me was when it became a locked-house gothic mystery. To become a Lyctor is to unravel the mysteries of Canaan House, a mess of secret rooms and lethal tests. Watching Harrow and Gideon race to solve puzzles against a backdrop of shifting alliances and conflicting agendas was what kept me reading. There was a sense of purpose missing in the beginning of the book, and as soon as the book gained focus, it took off.
Where the book continued to fall flat was in the world building. The book avoids info-dumping, preferring you pick up things by inference and interaction. Normally this is a kind of storytelling I can hang with, but with 8 active houses (the first house is the Emperor’s) in the competition, and at least 16 characters, I found myself overwhelmed by people I had only a vague connection to. It doesn’t help that there are at least four ways to refer to any one person (ranging from last name to house to some particular title), leaving me struggling a bit to remember who everyone was. It does help that a few front runners eventually establish dominance in the plot, and once again, when the story and characters became more concrete, I found myself much more invested. But when certain reveals happen in the third act, I was flummoxed by answers I didn’t know I should have questions about. Many questions I did have go unanswered, presumably to be followed up on in the sequel. In short, overarching plot threads are picked up and dropped so sporadically I wasn’t sure what to do with them.
GIDEON THE NINTH is a book that, when it works, is captivating in its ambiance and tensions. There’s an almost Agatha Christie-quality to the story, of being trapped in a house full of strangers, some of whom might be conspiring to kill you. I only wish that it had been more successful in the beginning in making me invested in the characters, and making me understand the world I was entering. The author does an excellent job of letting you know right off the bat how weird the setting is, but not in establishing just what it is that Harrow and Gideon do, especially in relation to the other houses or the Emperor. (Gideon wants to join the army, but who exactly is that army fighting?) All that being said, if you’re the kind who falls hard for a book dripping in gothic imagery, who likes a narrator full of coarse and irreverent mannerisms, you may find a book for you inside the pages of GIDEON THE NINTH.