• The Good: Lesbian necromancers in space, competing in a series of trials to serve by the emperor’s side
  • The Bad: Intentionally irreverent tone, slow second act, unearned romance
  • The Literary: Genre mashup of scifi, fantasy, mystery, and humor

The Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House, Harrowhawk, answers a summons from the Emperor, who needs necromancers. Harrowhark’s skill as a bone witch will aid her in the Emperor’s deadly trial of wits and skill to determine who will become an immortal servant of the Resurrection. But Harrowhawk needs a swordsman, and she forces the snarky orphan Gideon to join her cause in exchange for Gideon’s eventual release from the ninth house.

The necromancy-in-space world building serves primarily as a backdrop against which Gideon and Harrowhawk’s buddy comedy relationship unfolds, but what’s there is intriguing. Nine independent Houses exist on nine separate planets, each with a different specialty of necromancy (bones vs blood vs spirit, etc.) and different politics, all ruled by the Emporor from the first planet. The ruling class seems to be the necromancers, and there’s also some religious types and some muscle. I have many questions about this world.

Gideon is a snarky and occasionally charming swordfighter, but mostly she’s a thorn in Harrowhawk’s disciplined, responsible side. Gideon resents Harrowhawk for being the spoiled only-child of the Ninth House, destined to rule the planet, while Gideon grew up in an unloving nunnery. Both harbor important secrets from the other.

When they arrive on the Emperor’s planet, there’s a significant amount of aimlessly settling in, exploring, and meeting the combatants from the other houses. Gideon and Harrow stop talking to each other, so Gideon produces one edgy tongue-in-cheek joke after the other. It’s not until after halfway mark that someone is murdered, and the story turns into a mystery alongside the ongoing competition. The climax elevates the story back to an enjoyable conclusion.

I really like the idea of this unique premise that straddles the line between science fiction and fantasy and includes lesbian romance and cutthroat female fight scenes. I expected a chilling gothic mystery, packed with catacombs and resurrections, but the over-the-top intentionally irreverent humor feels at odds with the dark themes of necromancy. And when I say quippy, I mean Gideon and Harrowhawk’s exchanges are snide and spiteful, which undermines the enemies-to-romance arc. The science fiction is limited to the brief space travel between planets. And I just can’t forgive the second act for being such a slog.

Recommended for fans of quippy profanity-filled banter!