Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
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?
If Gideon the Ninth was about necromancy in action, Harrow the Ninth is necromancy in confusion.
It’s one part Harrow’s confusion. She answered the Emperor’s call and became a Lyctor in his service, but unlike the other saints, she cannot harness the full extent of her abilities. Worse than that, she cannot trust her own mind. It leaves her lonely in a place where she should be among equals, her health spiraling, her doubt slowly multiplying.
But it’s also confusion for the reader, as we plunge into a story told in one part through third person, focusing on Harrow’s past, and one part in second person, addressing Harrow in her present. It’s a phenomenal feat of craft to remain so engaging through such a difficult point of view, and it adds to the uneasiness that plagues Harrow throughout the book. You can’t help but feel tied to Harrow throughout, can’t help but sympathize with her even in the depths of her misery.
Harrow the Ninth is twistier than the first go round.
Sure, Gideon the Ninth had a murder mystery in a gothic space palace, but Harrow the Ninth gives it a solid run for its money. Last time, I was able to predict certain plot elements. This time, I only guessed at snippets before the big reveals, and it was thrilling! Better yet, the reveal makes perfect sense in hindsight. Not only does it overall make more sense of certain things that were perhaps less than grounded in Gideon the Ninth, but it also meshes perfectly with the mysterious use of second person that permeates the beginning of the book.
Plus, when’s the last time big reveals have given me SO MANY FEELINGS? I honestly couldn’t give you that answer because I’m still trying to deal with all the Harrow feelings that I can’t seem to manage. 😭 The snark of Gideon the Ninth gives way to a wandering, barely clinging to hope despair in Harrow the Ninth, and the unsettling atmosphere combines beautifully with the rush of emotion.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus is a sad little sack of immortal bones, and I just want her, for once in her life, to have good things happen. Which, truth be told, seems unlikely. Alecto the Ninth, the series conclusion, is probably going to pummel her mercilessly, if this installment was any indication. But I can still dream, right? I can still hope she doesn’t have to be sad and can be goth and snarky again instead?
But you know what? I still got in a laugh!
Sure, Harrow the Ninth isn’t as sharp and snarky as its predecessor. We’re missing a key voice for that. But a different sort of humor makes its way in, and astonishingly, it’s…in the shape of memes. Normally, I’d find it a little tacky, but given the implications of the Undying Emperor’s origins, it reads more like middle-aged parental figures actually fluent in their meme usage to the point of almost not sounding like a meme. Like they’ve adopted these memes into speech patterns without fully realizing their origins.
Again, I thought it would be cringey and out of place. Instead, it works surprisingly well, and the phrase “none House, left grief” continues to take me out at the knees when it jumps back into my head.
Plus, even immortal necromancers still need to eat, drink, and be merry, so it leads to some dining scenes of a particular flavor, let’s say. And then you also have the juxtaposition of Harrow, born goth, with the flashier necromancers who serve alongside her to the Undying Emperor. It’s a little like dumping a sad crow in the middle of a flock of peacocks, and the peacocks pick on it and coddle it in almost equal measure.
I know, weird metaphor. But you know what? Weird book.
I loved Harrow the Ninth, and waiting for the end of the Locked Tomb trilogy might drive me up the wall.
There’s still questions left unanswered, and plenty of danger still resting on the horizon! Plus, we’re going to see some important returning cast members, including some of my favorites from Gideon the Ninth, not to mention that we’ll be gifted with a gorgeous final cover. Oh, and a showdown to rock the cosmos, probably.
I will say, if Gideon the Ninth wasn’t your cup of tea, Harrow the Ninth probably won’t be either. They have a particular vibe to them that’s hit or miss. But if you loved the first look at space necromancy, the second look is probably going to blow your mind. The detail! The emotion! And lest I forget, the unusually strong application of memes!
Go get yourself this book about a sad sad girl who makes bones do things with her mind. See what the Ninth House really has to offer. And while you’re at it? Pray that the Tomb remains closed. 💀
CW: violence, suicide, genocide, miscarriage, vomiting, body horror, gore, graphic injury, child death, loss of a loved one, smoking, nudity