Book Review : Harrow the Ninth

This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Book Review : Harrow the NinthHarrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #2) by Tamsyn Muir
on August 4th 2020
Pages: 497
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Harrow the Ninth, the sequel to the sensational, USA Today best-selling novel Gideon the Ninth, turns a galaxy inside out as one necromancer struggles to survive the wreckage of herself aboard the Emperor's haunted space station.
She answered the Emperor's call.
She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only friend.
In victory, her world has turned to ash.
After rocking the cosmos with her deathly debut, Tamsyn Muir continues the story of the penumbral Ninth House in Harrow the Ninth, a mind-twisting puzzle box of mystery, murder, magic, and mayhem. Nothing is as it seems in the halls of the Emperor, and the fate of the galaxy rests on one woman's shoulders.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.
Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor's Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?

When I finished reading Gideon the Ninth and imagined what it’s sequel, Harrow the Ninth would be like, I thought Harrow would be shaking up the galaxy as a new Lyctor. Instead, she seemed to have lost her sanity, rendering her unable to remember the true events of the first novel or to even use use most of her newfound powers. To top it off, most of Harrow the Ninth was written in second person. I found it to be a frustrating read due to this narration style, Harrow’s insanity, and spent much of the novel, like Harrow, not really grasping what was going on. If this disorientation that I experienced is not immersion at its finest, I don’t know what is.  Too bad I just couldn’t stop asking questions and enjoy the experience itself more. 


“You were a daughter of the Locked Tomb. The option of destruction had been your constant companion since you were three years old.”


When I found out Harrow the Ninth was written in second person, I asked myself what possible reason there could be for writing in second person. Immediately, the only option that came to my mind was an obvious one—View Spoiler » Turns out, my suspicions were correct, but I didn’t actually get this payoff of confirmation until almost the end of the novel. That’s a lot of schlepping through second person in the meantime. Plus, it angered me that Gideon, the awesome, smart-mouthed protagonist of the first novel, and her sacrifice was not remembered by her best friend, Harrow. I hated reading Harrow’s reconstruction of events of the first novel, with a different cavalier cut and paste over Gideon’s existence. And with Harrow out of commission mentally and physically, it felt like what were all the losses of the first novel for?


“It was as though your brain had formed a scab over everything that had happened to you.”


I was also just plain confused by much of what was going on in Harrow the Ninth. There are Resurrection Beasts, Heralds, Blood of Eden, and something called The Sleeper and The Body. Even after finishing the novel, I’m uncertain how many of these were gunning for the God of the Nine Houses or how many just wanted to murder Harrow herself. I also found it perplexing that a Lyctor had the same name as another character. And it was difficult to tell which Lyctors were actually not evil, or what side was even the right side. And Harrow certainly doesn’t have any answers either.


My bewilderment signifies that the author, Tamsyn Muir, does a great job at portraying mental illness. And it’s certainly admirable and unique that Muir exemplified her narrative by writing in second person. But I can admire a writer’s dedication to her craft without wholly enjoying it. That was the case with Harrow the Ninth for me.


“The problem was that she had never been a child; she and Gideon had become women before their time, and watched each other’s childhood crumble away like so much dust.”


My favorite parts of the novel definitely consisted of Harrow and Gideon’s relationship. It’s amazing that the author is able to show their care for one another even when they aren’t able to directly interact and View Spoiler » Gideon’s wise-cracking was a much needed reprieve from poor Harrow’s sickly moping and a lot of questions are answered about Gideon’s background. As usual, I laughed aloud at many of Gideon’s vulgar sayings, such as:


“Fuck one flesh, one end, Harrow. I already gave my flesh to you, and I already gave you my end. I gave you my sword. I gave you myself. I did it while knowing I’d do it all again, without hesitation, because all I ever wanted you to do was eat me. Which is, coincidentally, what your mother said to me last night.”


So, I’m glad I read Harrow the Ninth, even though I didn’t really enjoy reading it. I had to force myself to pick up the book and to not put it down. I wasn’t blown away by this novel like I was with its predecessor in the series. To me, the second person twist was obvious even before reading the novel, as it was the only plausible reason for the way Harrow the Ninth was written. Despite my disappointment, I still love Harrow, Gideon, and even Ianthe. They are fully fleshed out, flawed characters, with human failings, despite their powers of necromancy. I can only hope that Harrow regains her mental facilities in the last entry of The Locked Tomb series and goes back to ass kicking.


Despite Harrow the Ninth not meeting my preconceived notions of Harrow wielding her new Lyctor powers and reaping destruction, this novel, and its predecessor is a wholly unique experience—they are truly unlike anything I’ve ever read. Though I sincerely struggled with this novel, I think a lot of it was my own inability to just sit back and to see where things would go. I was too focused on constantly trying to figure out what was going on, and with the twists and turns of Harrow the Ninth, trying to puzzle out the twists just equaled frustration. Despite this frustration, I will definitely read the last novel in the trilogy, Alecto, to find out what happens next, which I think, says a lot about the skill of the author and the world and characters she crafted. I can only hope that Alecto will be a little less confusing than Harrow the Ninth and that I will be able to allow myself to enjoy it more.


Book Review : Harrow the Ninth - Blogging with Dragons

Posted October 5, 2020 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Science Fiction


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