Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

“One of the most irreverent characters I’ve encountered in a long time, Gideon Nav wants only to escape the House of the Ninth, a dark place populated by the dead and the few living necromancers that control them. Gideon, no necromancer but an enthusiastic swordswoman, keeps trying to escape and join the military Cohort, but her plans are continually foiled. Then she’s offered something new—if she accompanies the Lady of the Ninth House, the much-loathed necromancer Harrowhark, on a mission. The Emperor, the King Undying, has called for each house to send their first (Harrowhark) and their cavalier to be tested as potential Lyctors. The problem is the Ninth’s cavalier is unwilling, so Harrowhark drafts Gideon, and the two are off to another world where they end up in an incomprehensible contest against the other eight houses in a decaying, mazelike complex. Foul-mouthed Gideon is a joy to watch as she attempts to pass as a cavalier, falls for one of the competition, and basically spends a hell of a lot of time trying to figure out what’s going on – gradually learning to work with Harrowhark, and maybe even coming to appreciate her. Other characters aren’t always as well delineated, which adds to the confusion at times. This universe is fascinating and the story intense; much remains frustratingly obscure, but intriguingly so. I was seriously starting to question how an empire this decayed could possibly survive, but somehow it all manages to be truly compelling fun. Muir’s impressive first novel offers a heady and macabre mix of science, necromancy, constant danger, and a healthy dollop of Gormenghast-like weirdness like no other.” — Locus