Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Werthead

The Locked Tomb Trilogy by Tamsyn Muir

Recommended Posts

Book 1: Gideon the Ninth

The orphaned Gideon Nav is a servant of the Ninth House, the guardians of the Locked Tomb, a position she despises. After her latest escape attempt is thwarted, she is recruited to join the House's heir, the necromancer Harrowhark, on a mission to the First House. If successful, the Ninth will gain influence and power in the eyes of the Emperor. But strange tasks await scions of all the Houses, some of which will prove fatal even to those with power over the death.

Gideon the Ninth is the debut novel by Tamsyn Muir and the first novel in the Locked Tomb trilogy. It has attracted widespread critical acclaim, including being nominated for both the 2020 Hugo and Nebula Awards and coming third in the Goodreads Choice SF Awards in 2019. The novel defies easy categorisation, incorporating as it does elements from science fiction, fantasy and horror, with a tone that could perhaps be summed up as "Mervyn Peake writes Warhammer 40,000."

The book is a technogothic thriller, where the mismatched Harrowhark and Gideon reluctantly work together with (and against) representatives of the other eight houses to investigate the mysteries of the First House to see who is worthy of becoming the new Lyctor, the right hand of the Emperor. The setting, an empire of nine planets circling a central star, is painted in vague strokes because our only POV character, Gideon, has only ever lived on the gloomy, depressing and death-obsessed Ninth and has no idea what the other worlds are like. Worldbuilding is drip-fed slowly into the narrative, painting a very intriguing picture of an empire which has endured for ten thousand years against remote, external threats thanks to the undying vigilance of the mysterious god-emperor, whose real history, motivation and even name remain a mystery.

Gideon, our main protagonist, is self-reliant, independent and resentful of authority, but is also fascinated by mysteries and yearns for freedom but isn't entirely sure what to do if she was to achieve it. She is in a dubious, co-dependent relationship with the officious Harrowhark, who strives to be an enigma and be respected (qualities that do not always combine well) but finds this difficult to achieve due to her and Gideon's mutual hatred. Their relationship is at the core of the novel and it's probably not a huge spoiler to say they eventually find an accommodation and a way of working together against mutual, greater enemies, although I must admit I found the swing from outright enemies to banterish frenemies to be a bit abrupt. Gideon is a strong (if archetypical) protagonist whose more relaxed, informal and pomposity-puncturing form of speech can be a bit of a relief when things threaten to go Turned-to-Eleven Gormenghast in terms of oppressive atmosphere and baroque chicanery.

The book incorporates a small secondary cast of characters from the other houses, such as warriors like Marta Dyas, Naberius Tern and Jeannemary Chatur, and house heirs like Dulcinea Septimus and Palamedes Sextus. Muir has a superb way with names and paints the secondary cast with skill and wit, from Chatur's youthful exuberance to Tern's lethal confidence to Septimus's wounded bird charm.

The story unfolds at a measured pace, perhaps a bit too measured: the first half of the novel is on the slow side of things and, given the rather limited number of characters and locations, it does feel like it takes a bit too long to get going. Once it does, though, it doesn't stop. The second half of the book is a near-dizzying eruption of plot revelations, deaths and unexpected twists that is quite compelling.

The other major weakness that comes to mind is the book's tonal dissonance between the ritual-obsessed, formal world and Gideon's near-non sequitur pop culture references. Gideon's informality and ability to take the mickey out of every situation is often entertaining, but on a few occasions (such as direct dialogue quotes from both the US version of The Office and The Simpsons) it lifts the reader right out of the world and story. These times are relatively rare, but feel a bit jarring.

Overall, though, Gideon the Ninth (****½) is a strong debut novel, a dark and bleakly humorous journey through a world of necromancers and grotesques. The novel is available now in the UK and USA. The sequel, Harrow the Ninth, will be published in August 2020.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I read it, thought it was quite good, but relatively expensive.  Very readable.  

That said, a big element of the premise was a bit stupid:

Spoiler

Effectively, if the Emperor had just given some clearer instructions that they work together, a good deal of the intrigue disappears.  Not altogether since there is another player, but a lot of the tension was effectively manufactured because the author decided to have a 10,000 old ruler be stupid for the sake of being stupid.  

I'll probably read the second if the price drops.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)
On 5/11/2020 at 9:45 AM, Werthead said:

I usually find Wert's recommendations excellent but I have to disagree on this one.  I read 20-30 pages and gave up after finding it confusing and weirdly imaginatively flat.  I couldn't visualize anything. 

Maybe it's because I could never really get into Gormenghast which is an obvious influence.  Or maybe it improves after a slow start. 

Edited by Gaston de Foix

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 5/15/2020 at 3:21 AM, ants said:

That said, a big element of the premise was a bit stupid:

  Hide contents

Effectively, if the Emperor had just given some clearer instructions that they work together, a good deal of the intrigue disappears.  Not altogether since there is another player, but a lot of the tension was effectively manufactured because the author decided to have a 10,000 old ruler be stupid for the sake of being stupid.  

 

Spoiler

He's giving them the chance to become incredibly powerful, effectively immortal necromancers because he needs them to be weapons against some as yet undefined enemy. I think seeing how they actually go about it was part of the test.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
21 hours ago, Gaston de Foix said:

I usually find Wert's recommendations excellent but I have to disagree on this one.  I read 20-30 pages and gave up after finding it confusing and weirdly imaginatively flat.  I couldn't visualize anything. 

Maybe it's because I could never really get into Gormenghast which is an obvious influence.  Or maybe it improves after a slow start. 

I felt it started slow too. It does improve once Harrow and Gideon get out and meet the other houses. Those interactions seemed a lot more interesting than Harrow and Gideon's weird mutual hatred.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I LOVED the first book and can't wait for the second. There are some faults but considering this is a debut it is steps above the work of many experienced writers. I had very little idea of where the book was going, even less of where the series is going and I want more!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 5/17/2020 at 8:48 PM, ljkeane said:
  Hide contents

He's giving them the chance to become incredibly powerful, effectively immortal necromancers because he needs them to be weapons against some as yet undefined enemy. I think seeing how they actually go about it was part of the test.

 

Spoiler

Except its also established he really needs as many Lichtors as he can get, and they will also need to work together.  So why not just let them know they can work together if they wish?  

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)
6 hours ago, ants said:
  Reveal hidden contents

Except its also established he really needs as many Lichtors as he can get, and they will also need to work together.  So why not just let them know they can work together if they wish?  

 

Spoiler

I don't think it is established that he needs as many as he can get. There were only ever 8 and he hasn't tried to get anymore for 10,000 years. Lyctors are apparently dangerous enough to be something of a threat to the emperor, Cytherea certainly seems to think she can kill him anyway. It was always pretty clear working together was one option, they talk about it, but finding out if one of the candidates is willing to, say, kill all the others in pursuit of power might be something he wants to know in advance.

 

Edited by ljkeane

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

So I'm about 20% through Harrow the Ninth and so far it's significantly weirder than the already pretty weird Gideon the Ninth.

Spoiler

Er, is Harrow having some sort of psychotic break after the events at the end of the previous book? It seems possible.

 

Edited by ljkeane

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I noticed from a quick perusal via amazon that Harrow the Ninth is written, at least partly, in the second person which is a bit off-putting.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
24 minutes ago, john said:

I noticed from a quick perusal via amazon that Harrow the Ninth is written, at least partly, in the second person which is a bit off-putting.

Yeah, quite a bit of what I've read so far is, some of it isn't. I do find it a little irritating but I suspect it's going to have some relevance at some point.

Spoiler

The 'past' that doesn't seem to match the events of the first book is written in the third person like the first book but the 'present' (which jumps around a bit and may not be the present) is written in the second person.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've finished it now and the explanation for what's going on was significantly more satisfying than my guesses, and I loved it as a whole. I'd only just read Gt9 and it was mere luck that it lined up right in time for the next book. There are a lot of details buried in the story and I suspect it would reward a second read quite a lot.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I finished it too. It's very convoluted. I liked some of it but it felt like there was a lot more going on than there really needed to be.

Spoiler

Basically the whole Harrow has Ianthe perform brain surgery on her, forgets Gideon, makes up a whole lot of false memories to take the place of Gideon and accidentally summons the ghosts of most of the people who died in the first book to help her with that bit seems a bit superfluous.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm patiently waiting on my Harrow loan from the library. Early on in Gideon I was very much WTF is going on here. I decided I wasn't going to worry about what I didn't get and as I moved on my enjoyment went up immensely. I was loving it by the end. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

I really struggled through Gt9 until the very end, then I immediately started the book for the re-read and it was so much more satisfying. I'm having the same struggle with Ht9, especially when it comes to @ljkeane's spoiler comments, so I suspect I'll have to do the same finish-and-reread for this book too. I really enjoy this book series but...a lot of the worldbuilding feels incredibly overwrought. Like, their entire societal structure (that we've seen) makes no sense right now, so I am hoping that gets resolved, if not in this book, then in the final one.

Edited by Xray the Enforcer

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10 hours ago, Xray the Enforcer said:

Like, their entire societal structure (that we've seen) makes no sense right now, so I am hoping that gets resolved, if not in this book, then in the final one.

Yeah, I think to a degree that's deliberate. Muir's set pretty much everything so far in out of the way places which don't lend themselves much to interaction with wider society. I think there's some hints we're going to see more in the next book though.

Spoiler

Mainly Coronabeth and Camilla apparently joining up with the resistance group(?) and this book ending with them on an apparently more densely populated planet.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I found Harrow to be a book of two parts. Part One (which is nearly 60% of the book) is a bit tedious to read as Tamsyn got a bit carried away with her own prose (esp in second person narrative). There's only so much of Harrow's misery monologue that I could take before it gets frustrating. Part Two is where the plot actually progresses rapidly. It feels a bit rushed as events cascade right on top of each other and revelations unveiled at every other page. Leaves you hanging in a nice place waiting for book 3. 

I liked this slightly lesser that earlier book as Gideon was a far better character than Harrow. Still a good read. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 8/13/2020 at 6:12 AM, ljkeane said:

Yeah, I think to a degree that's deliberate. Muir's set pretty much everything so far in out of the way places which don't lend themselves much to interaction with wider society. I think there's some hints we're going to see more in the next book though.

  Hide contents

Mainly Coronabeth and Camilla apparently joining up with the resistance group(?) and this book ending with them on an apparently more densely populated planet.

 

Yeah that's very much what I'm expecting as well

Spoiler

That jump at the end felt like we're suddenly in a near future Earth that's actually populated and like a real society.

@Xray the Enforcer In addition to the "out of the way" place, I also think this emotional response to the setting is intended, there is a lot going on and our perspective is so narrow. I definitely think the reread would be quite a different experience even if you aren't struggling with it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm a bit behind the times and just finished Gideon the Ninth, so I'll have to avoid the recent spoiler tags. I really liked it. I thought I'd be annoyed by Gideon's 21st century voice (I usually really don't like it when characters in the future sound like they've time traveled from my instagram feed) but somehow Muir makes it work.

Spoilers for Gideon the Ninth:

Spoiler

This may be completely wrong, but given how many hints there are that Gideon (or a previous version of her) has been around for 10,000 years, and given my suspicions that this solar system is ours, maybe Gideon will turn out to be a millennial from our century after all.

I did feel the book got slightly over-convoluted with too many characters who were hard to distinguish and too many machinations, and I wish I had gotten a better sense of the world and the magic system before things started going crazy in the palace. I also wish there'd been more of a denouement; the Cytheria twist was cool, but needed more non-action scenes to breath a little.

But this was a very strong debut novel, and I'm excited to read the sequel soon.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10 hours ago, Caligula_K3 said:

I'm a bit behind the times and just finished Gideon the Ninth, so I'll have to avoid the recent spoiler tags. I really liked it. I thought I'd be annoyed by Gideon's 21st century voice (I usually really don't like it when characters in the future sound like they've time traveled from my instagram feed) but somehow Muir makes it work.

Spoilers for Gideon the Ninth:

  Hide contents

This may be completely wrong, but given how many hints there are that Gideon (or a previous version of her) has been around for 10,000 years, and given my suspicions that this solar system is ours, maybe Gideon will turn out to be a millennial from our century after all.

I did feel the book got slightly over-convoluted with too many characters who were hard to distinguish and too many machinations, and I wish I had gotten a better sense of the world and the magic system before things started going crazy in the palace. I also wish there'd been more of a denouement; the Cytheria twist was cool, but needed more non-action scenes to breath a little.

But this was a very strong debut novel, and I'm excited to read the sequel soon.

Without spoiling Harrow the Ninth - while it doesn't proceed directly from the end of Gideon, it does follow on in a way that a longer denouement would have conflicted with what she's doing. I say that because I felt the same at the end of Gideon, but I'm now satisfied with why she didn't.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...