This is very much Gideon’s story. She is (almost) the only narrative viewpoint throughout the entire book, and so for the book to succeed, she has to work well. There are times when she perhaps comes across as a little juvenile, but on the whole, Gideon is a strong protagonist who is very easy to root for. For someone who has, in essence, been a prisoner since birth, she has a remarkably blasé and chipper outlook on all things, and her go-to setting is biting wit and sarcasm. She shares a wonderful to-and-fro relationship with Harrow, her necromantic superior, and without doubt the scenes where the two of them are front and centre are the most enjoyable. The relationship is complex and nuanced, with Harrow’s personality counterbalancing Gideon’s perfectly.
“I have tried to dismantle you, Gideon Nav! The Ninth House poisoned you, we trod you underfoot – I took you to this killing field as my slave – you refuse to die, and you pity me!”
Harrow, in her own right, is a superb character as well. As the story progresses, you begin to understand and empathise why she is the way she is. Her origin is deliciously macabre, and her work ethic and quest for perfection in her particular branch of necromancy (yes there are several) is endearing.
I am also of the opinion that there were some little gems in the supporting cast as well. Yes, there were a lot, and the ‘dramatis personae’ at the beginning saw good use. And yes, there were times when the plot meandered a little with conversations between Gideon and * insert character * to allow the reader to learn a little about them.
But Dulcinea’s (perceived) story was quite moving. The hideous teenagers made me laugh, particularly early on. And Camilla demonstrated a high level of competence in everything she did. It is worth noting that all of the successful characters are female – I did find the male characters lacking somewhat.
Where character does succeed (for the most part), I have to admit that the plot fell flat on its bony arse. Muir’s imagination is vast and bonkers, this cannot be denied, but the book simply couldn’t make its mind up as to the type of story it wanted to be. It was partly reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ (only with a few more skeletons). It was partly a ‘Hunger Games’ style competition to the death. It was partly a Scooby-Doo-esque mystery spectacular, with keys and puzzles and secret rooms, all while trying to find a balance in tone between Terry Pratchett and Scott Hawkins. Oh, and it’s also set in space.
If it had not been for the strength of Gideon and Harrow, a star would’ve tumbled. The broader world and the peculiarities of the other Houses and how they differ from one another may well be explored in future instalments, but it meant that, in regard to this one, there were times when everything fell into a convoluted and confused mess. Gideon is forced into the role of Cavalier (assistant) within the space of three months, a role the other House Cav’s have spent their lives training for, and yet the differences between Gideon and the others are largely non-existent. Conflict between the Houses is largely brushed off.
Despite its flaws, and despite its inconsistencies, I did find the book an easy and entertaining read. The humour landed smoothly at times, although there were a few moments of definite cringe (pretty sure there was a ‘That’s what she said’ moment). Gideon and Harrow are characters that I want to follow, and so I will have no hesitation in picking up the next instalment in ‘The Locked Tomb’ series.