Gideon Nav hates living in the House of the Ninth, and everyone there seems to hate her, even though they won’t let her just leave. When she finally gets close to actually escaping, Harrow, a necromancer and the heir to the Ninth House, manages, through some sneaky means of her own, to convince Harrow to come with her as she seeks to become the emperor’s next Lyctor. To become a Lyctor, Harrow will be tested, and she’ll need a skilled cavalier at her side. So Gideon and Harrow, along with seven other necromancer/cavalier pairs, gather at the First House’s home planet to face an undefined series of tests.
Gideon’s bad attitude about the whole thing reminds me a bit of Murderbot, as did the complicated plot. This book gets a lot darker than Murderbot, although Gideon never stops being a smartass about it all. As the book went on, I got a little more of a handle on the plot and the large cast of characters, but that took a while! For about a third of the book, the teams outside the Ninth were a sort of undifferentiated blur, but gradually each pair’s unique qualities and special skills start to emerge. And there is a character list at the beginning of the book, which helps a lot. (And here’s a helpful hint from me to you: The necromancers’ surnames are all derived from the number of their houses — Harrow Nonagesimus for the Ninth, Silas Octakiseron for the Eighth, Dulcinea Septimus … etc.)
As the danger increased and the nature of the book’s central mystery became clearer, I got pretty wrapped up in the story. Gideon and Harrow’s contentious relationship forces Gideon to turn to other characters for companionship. She develops something of a crush on necromancer Dulcinea, gets into some duels, and finds partners to help her solve the mysteries that keep emerging. The partnership between Gideon and Harrow, however, is the heart of the book, and by the end, I found myself more and more drawn to Harrow as a character. I like how she just gets to business and could relate to how she keeps to herself except when collaboration is necessary (and it turns out she has some good reasons to be mistrustful).
The good news is that Tamsyn Muir’s next book in the series focuses on Harrow. And there are two more books planned after that. The world of this novel is clearly complex enough to warrant more books. By the end, it was clear that this story barely scratched the surface of what is happening, and many more mysteries and secrets are left to uncover.