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?
Check out my review of Gideon the Ninth!
This is one of the most ambitious novels I’ve ever read. Last year I said Gideon the Ninth is bonkers, which it is, but it has nothing on Harrow the Ninth, which goes beyond the realm of bonkers and straight into some kind of necromantic fever dream.
I can be quite an impatient reader. I don’t tend to enjoy novels that are actively seeking to confuse me, often those kinds of stories come across as rather pretentious to me even when that isn’t the intention of the author at all, but Harrow the Ninth is a novel that’s well worth your patience. Even if you read and loved Gideon the Ninth like I did, you’re still going to start Harrow the Ninth and think ‘hang on… what?’ – but I promise you that Tamsyn Muir knows where she’s going.
While the first 75-80% of the book is a pretty confusing read, it’s still such a delight to experience. Muir’s writing is funny and accomplished and so unapologetically queer; frankly, I’ve seen no marketing pitch as accurate as ‘lesbian necromancers in space’. We get introduced to a little more of the world in this second book, but it’s still very much a series that focuses on its characters, their decisions and the relationships between all of them.
Ultimately, though, this is a very difficult book to review without spoiling Gideon the Ninth or giving away where Muir is taking the story in this book, but what I will say is that this is one of the most fresh and visceral portrayals of grief I’ve ever read in a book of any genre. I loved being in Harrow’s head – she’s the personification of gay panic – and I can’t wait to see where this series go next.
If you love unreliable narrators, blended genres, lesbians and bones and you haven’t read this book yet, what’re you even doing?