A Clue-style haunted(?) mystery setting mashed with scintillating razor-sharp humor mashed with intricate puzzle-box plotting mashed with post-apocalyptic necromancy mashed with intergalactic space vibes mashed with death/not-death mashed with lesbian drama mashed with--
I could go on, but we’d be here all day. This is an excellent chaotic casserole of brilliant nonsense.
I now completely understand why Gideon the Ninth is marketed the way it is. Let me explain.
This book came out in 2019. It was pitched as "lesbian necromancers in space." I, not particularly liking space and not receiving much else from that limited pitch, took a pass on reading it. "Lesbian necromancers" was interesting... but vague. I didn't have enough to go on to outweigh my dislike of Star Wars-esque space-y stuff involving politics and planets.
Then the reviews started coming out and all of them said a confusing blend of nonsensical ?!?!?!, fandom love for the queer epic-ness, mentions of how messed up and dark and brutal it was, and a general sense of awe and an utter unwillingness to describe what was going on.
I was more intrigued, but not quite enough to pick it up. I had a lot to read, and this was still in my no-no zone of adult hard science fiction (I believed it to be, anyway.)
I waited until 2022 to read it.
Hot diggity dang. What a book. One of those Amy-you-dumbass, shoulda coulda woulda read it earlier type of moments.
Gideon the Ninth is an epic done on the intimate and bonkers foundations of the post-modern cultural moment of the now as opposed to the traditional scale of genre and expectations. Its readership both fits the pitch "lesbian necromancers in space" and yet needs to include other groups of people—myself included—who should ignore that pitch and try this glorious black hole of a book anyway.
I, too, will remain weirdly vague and wax rhapsodic on its attributes over its actual plot because going into this book blind, like a horror-thriller, is really the way to go.
It's a murder mystery. It's a haunted house novel. It's a video game-esque questing story with challenges to defeat. It's puzzles to solve. It's hidden clues on the tale ends of sentences and descriptions leading the reader unknowingly to the inevitable. It's a plot-twist thriller. It's an intimate enemies-to-[something?] with a passionate rivalry/hatred to rouse the interests of the most hardened of the slow burn smut readers—an unbelievable feat considering there is no pay-off in this particular installment. It's a gut punch, a brutal overthrow of your expectations. It's also pop-culture level funny with quips that seriously date it and yet add to the humor and surprise.
I'm honestly shocked at how not-science fiction this novel feels while remaining such a strong science fiction novel.
This is a gothic ballad to the queer emo mixed with the sardonic humor of the Black Death aficionados. I have spent this review making sentences with lofty nonsense pairings for the vibes and to depict the emotional aura of this novel because frankly, I think Tamsyn would approve. (If my review annoys you, pass on this book.)
This is... an amazing debut. I will be shouting from the rooftops about The Blood Trials for quite some time. Ikenna has my HEART and her science fiction world mixed with old magic has set my expectations for the genre that much higher.
Character development: ★★★★
We meet Ikenna Amari in a bar. She's getting rip-roaring drunk with her two friends the night before their graduation from the academy—and it's not working. She's trying to forget, she's trying to stop time... and she's spoiling for a fight.
Ikenna's life is over, you see. Her grandfather is dead.
The Amari family consisted of just two people: Ikenna and her grandfather, Verne Amari. Verne was one of the highest ranking Commanders from the Gamma Unit in the Republic of Mareen, the savior of Mareen's people from the evil Blood Emperor, and the shining star of Ikenna's entire existence. It was the Amaris vs. the world in more ways than one—as two of the only dark-skinned people in Mareen, and the only two in sea of pale-skinned war houses leading the military-based government, Verne was a symbol of equality as much as he was Ikenna's personal inspiration. He was the first in the Amari line, and Ikenna was all set to become a Praetorian soldier to continue their budding Amari war house dynasty.
But now the dream is dead, and Ikenna's debating not pledging into the dangerous Praetorian trials to rise up into the academy. What's the point, without her family?
However, everything changes when Ikenna—bruised from the bar fight that she got after all—returns home the night before graduation to find her grandfather's best friend and advisor, Brock, there with some shocking revelations. Her grandfather was potentially murdered—by one of his own men in the Praetorian.
The stakes have changed. Filled with rage and retribution, Ikenna decides to join the Proletariat trials after all. Two thirds of every class doesn't make it out alive, and the Praetorian is filled with snakes.
Watch out, little soldiers. Ikenna's ready for war on a deadly scale.
And the cards she has in her hand are older and steeped in the blood of the gods. It's not a fair fight, Ikenna won't even pretend—her arsenal is loaded for bigger beasts.
Let the games begin...
Ohhhhhhhh let's talk about this absolute banger of a debut. If the above pitch didn't sell you—I don't know how you're NOT yet intrigued, but alright—let me say that this is the grown up, kickass older sibling to what Divergent tried to be. (I love Divergent, but this needs to be said to show you what kind of scale The Blood Trials is operating at.)
This is a takedown. A high-stakes competition. A series of challenges leading to a spot in a deadly faction. A physical and mental showdown across multiple spectacles. A personal Everest of reconciling grief with action. An intimate and global discussion of racism and corrupt systems. A series of shocking betrayals and twists with some truly jaw-dropping reactions. A setup for more, and a promise for epicness.
The Blood Trials has it all--action, a deadly competition with REAL stakes, an accurately paced romantic arc, a relatable and incredibly flawed main character, discussions of racism and systemic oppression, and the perfect blend of worldbuilding vs. plot for my reading tastes.
Do yourself a favor and pick it up. Especially if you're interested in genre blending in the science fiction/fantasy space and are a reader of both young adult and adult work. This is a gem.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.