Week 16½, young necromancers

Skeleton Astride a Skull,late 18th–early 19th century

Skeleton Astride a Skull, late 18th century, Japan

An unprecedented Wednesday edition, because if I don’t tell you about this book right now, weeks will pass and I’ll forget.

I know there are some film and TV people lurking out there, and I am writing this message almost expressly for you—is that weird?—so please don’t miss my note at the bottom.

On Monday, I received and began reading an advance copy of the novel Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, to be published by in September.

(I know it’s annoying to talk about books that aren’t available yet. For clarity, here’s how this worked: on Instagram, a big-time reader I follow posted about the book. Twice. The second time, she was wearing black-and-white skull face paint, an endorsement sufficiently enthusiastic to make me go pecking for the book’s description. This description was extremely compelling, so I found the email address of a person at Tor with whom I’d once corresponded briefly, sent them a polite note [“please, may I have the skull book”] and about a week later it showed up. You, too, can get advance copies if you follow big-time readers on Instagram and maintain a very small database of publishing industry contacts.)

Now: this book. I stayed up late reading on Monday night, only relenting when the book drooped and bopped my nose for the third time. I rushed home on Tuesday evening to continue reading on the porch. I felt like a kid.

Gideon the Ninth

It’s a story about young necromancers and their liege knights, set in a mysterious future in which a dark emperor—the Necrolord Prime—rules over a constellation of planets. It’s dark fantasy AND it’s sci-fi AND it’s puzzle fiction AND it’s an Adult Swim cartoon AND it’s wry and sarcastic, a profane Daria in space…!

In short, it’s an offering from someone who knows what she likes and was not afraid to put ALL OF IT into a novel. It’s possible a friend or editor at some point cautioned her: Tamsyn, this might be a bit much. (If they didn’t, they probably should have.) And, honestly, if she had loaded the book with a hair less energy, spun the story with a touch less charisma, it WOULD have been too much. But these pages sizzle with energy and charisma; the alchemy succeeds; and what might have been a huge mess becomes a wild hybrid genre. Somber rituals, snarky interjections—it WORKS.

And the lesson here is that anything can work. Not automatically; never for free. But, if you can supply the required energy, there is no formula that cannot be successful on the page. What an astonishing thing.

Some readers will struggle with the snark, which has its roots in fan fiction. The protagonist Gideon talks like a smart-ass from 2019; she is the only character to do so; this is not explained. But it IS delightful, and it works for me. I’ve been laughing aloud at this book for two solid days.

And—again, this might be the main reason I’m writing this email?—the whole thing is astonishingly televisual. To the film and TV lurkers: GET ON IT.

Not that this is one of those crass novels that feels primarily like a pitch for a movie adaptation. Gideon the Ninth comes by its screen potential honestly, on the strength of its author’s kaleidoscopic imagination. This book would make a bonkers Netflix show, and there are actors out there who would KILL to play Gideon or the necromancer Harrowhark.

I mean they would literally murder each other.

Honestly, this might be the first time I’ve ever wanted to be a film or TV person myself, because this is such a slam dunk. I would option Gideon the Ninth in a second, and the resulting show would make SO many people happy. There would be viewing parties with black-and-white skull face paint. I would be very rich.

Heed this blurb from the Necrolord Prime:

Also the author is clearly insane.

“Genuine pleasure” is exactly right. Warm and cold at the same time; goofy and gleaming; campy and epic. Tamsyn, this might be a bit much. What an achievement.


April 2019, Oakland

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