Cover Image: Harrow the Ninth

Harrow the Ninth

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Where to start with Harrow the Ninth? Tamsyn Muir has created a fantastic world that I fell in love with in Gideon the Ninth. In Harrow the Ninth she continues that story, but this time from Harrow's point of view. It is hard to talk about this book without giving too much away.  Filled with magic, dark humor, fantastic writing and of course, skeletons Harrow the Ninth is a fantastic sequel. Though it starts off a bit confusing for the reader, and does have chapter told in the second person which took some getting used to, the story brilliantly comes together in the end. Needless to say, if you where a fan of the first book then you should definitely pick up Harrow the Ninth and join me in eagerly awaiting for the third book in The Locked Tomb series.
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To say that Tamsyn Muir is a unique and interesting writer is almost an understatement. The writing is so good it's almost too deliciously complex and interesting for me to keep up with. Muir's first book of this series, Gideon the Ninth was such a splash on the scene for me that I didn't know if I felt that I loved it or just didn't. I couldn't quite get it, but I knew it was brilliant and the sense of humor is so original--this book follows the same lead. The way in which the book is written in terms of character perspective is great. Harrow and that world is so unique, dark and almost ridiculous at times, but it's so uniquely dark and undeniably rich. This is such an interesting world and it continues in this book. It's impressive to read.
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The first things to know about this book is that the timelines are not linear, happening at the same time, or in the same place, but trust that Muir will bring it all together. 

The religious aspects are front and center in the sequel, as expected since Harrow is training to be a Lyctor with the Emperor, with God. 

It's full of monsters and some extra gross stuff (seriously, so gross, and it was so awesome) with a unique mystery at the center of it all. Fans of the first won't be disappointed, but if you left Gideon not at all liking Harrow, then this is going to be a rough book for you. If you finished Gideon liking Harrow, even just a little, this is a great sequel. 

Now we all wait and wait and wait for the final book.
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A worthy sequel. 

As with the first one, there is SO MUCH in this book that I'm not sure where to start. Muir is a master worldbuilder and those skills are at the forefront. The amount of new information about the world of the necromancers is staggering. 

This book is for anyone who finished Gideon with a soft spot for Harrow. If you didn't end up liking Harrow at least a little in Gideon, then this isn't going to be for you. A good portion of the book is told in second person, which also isn't for everyone, but the use of the second person serves both as a plot point and an immense part of understanding Harrow as a character. This is the most raw depiction of PTSD I've ever read, and it's obvious by the acknowledgements at the end that it's based on some of the author's own experiences. There's a really poignant scene near the end that ties it all back together with how Harrow was raised. 

The book is complicated and a little confusing. The timelines are not only not linear, but aren't all real, and are definitely not even happening in the same spaces. Just trust that Muir is going to make it all (mostly) make sense at the end while leaving us with new questions. 

After binging these two, it's going to be an interminable wait for book three.
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Necromantic lesbians save the day--again! This was the perfect follow up to Gideon the Ninth. The form and story choices were strong and surprising, immediately dumping the reader into some unexpected places. It took me a minute to catch up, but I trusted Tamsyn Muir enough to go along for the ride and oh boy am I glad I did! I don't think anyone else could've pulled off what she did with this book. The carefully crafted twists and turns, the complicated storylines, the overlapping understandings of events--it was just incredible. 

If you liked Gideon the Ninth, you need to read this book. If you haven't read Gideon the Ninth, you need to read that book and then read this one. Dark space necromancy certainly isn't for everyone, but it is for me. And honestly it's probably for you too.
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While I was pretty quickly hooked on the first novel, Gideon the Ninth, Harrow took me a lot longer to get into. Even after reaching the halfway point, I was still confused about what the hell was going on.

This is why I tend to stay away from the world of fantasy. I can never keep track of the characters, the world is always filled with ideas I can't wrap my head around, and I tend to only understand the big picture without really getting how we got there. That's pretty much what happened here.

What I loved about Gideon was that she was about as in touch with what was going on as I was. I had a character to follow who needed things simplified, so I always kind of got an explanation. No such luck for the most part with Harrow.

It's hard to talk about this one without spoiling too much, but the majority of the novel sees Harrow preparing for a showdown against a massive resurrection beast that seeks to destroy their Necrolord, whom Harrow has pledged her allegiance to when she became a Lyctor.

The problem is that Harrow is worried she's gone mad. Reality doesn't really seem to connect properly anymore, and her fellow Lyctors just seem to be waiting for her inevitable demise. Plenty of astounding secrets are revealed, and fantasy fans will surely enjoy (and understand) far better than I did.

Honestly, I was halfway through before I could really understand what was going on, and I was three quarters of the way through before I finally got it. Of course that was thrown into disarray with some last minute revelations, and the epilogue had me back at square one wondering what the hell was going on.

The writing is wonderful, and the world created is incredibly rich, but the time jumping, reality bending story just left me lost too often. I wanted to love this, but it never really connected with me. With that said, I'm still fascinated by where things left off, and will undoubtably return for the final novel, even if I must turn to friends to sit me down and explain what is going on.
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Dear (potential) reader, please indulge me while I take you on a short journey that has both everything and nothing to do with the actual contents of Harrow the Ninth.

Imagine for a moment that you’re seated at a night-black table in a room. The room could be said, depending on how many times you’ve blinked, to resemble any number of spaces you may or may not be familiar with: a projection booth, a bedroom where a box full of magazines not enjoyed for the scholarly articles sticks out from under the bed, the command deck of an imperial spaceship, an ancient tomb that serves as the locus of a necromantic cult’s entire religion, your mother’s basement. Whatever tickles your fancy—I certainly can’t speak to what resonates most with your psyche.

In any case, once you focus, your attention is drawn to an open film reel canister in front of you. It seems you’ve settled on the projection booth. Except… if you want to watch the movie, you’re going to have to piece together the perfectly square and indelibly separated pieces of plastic in the canister before you. Of course, you could turn around and walk back out of the projection booth, but you came here for a reason, and it would be pointless to waste all the time and energy you spent getting here.

(Wouldn’t it?)

So you settle at the table and you begin to piece the story together, frame by frame. It’s not exactly an easy task—you’ve seen other entries in the franchise before, so you have a contextual reference for the characters and events playing out before you, but as far as you can tell, there doesn’t seem be any sort of coherent time line. Still, the scenes before you range from gorgeously grotesque to heartbreakingly painful, with a nice smattering of vicious clarity throughout. There are even stills of a notable politician staring plaintively into the camera and a cartoon drawing of a dog sitting at a table while a house burns around it, which shouldn’t really fit anywhere into the narrative you’re trying to construct and understand, but it does. Somehow. You don't know, you're just here to watch a movie. Right?

There are some setbacks as you work. Sometimes you close your eyes for a moment of rest and find the strips re-arranged in front of you in a different order. Sometimes, there’s a scene so vivid even without the gifts of sound and motion that you’re moved to tears, and you’re forced to stop for a moment while you dry your eyes. At one memorable point in the process, about halfway through your dusty tin of piecemeal bits, gravity asserts itself in a decidedly undownward direction and you continue your work on the ceiling—or what used to be the ceiling, anyway.

You finish. You load the newly constructed reel into the projector, because in all of this, your sudden knowledge of how to operate movie theater equipment is the least delightful part of this journey. You watch the movie the whole way through.

And, when the acknowledgments start to roll, you realize that everything you thought you understood as you diligently worked at your task of reconstruction… you didn’t. The story has simultaneously met, exceeded, and defied your expectations. You give a standing ovation of one in the projection booth, elated, your mind blown apart and put back together like the magnum opus of a flesh magician. You are but a humble sack of meat, moved by base electrical impulses and the grace and glory of the magnificence you just experienced.

This is what reading Harrow the Ninth was like.

Be still my queer, hot, wetly thumping heart. I cannot wait to have this physically on my shelves and treasure it as dearly as Harrow does the very notion of bones. Tamsyn Muir’s electric, weird, wonderful, sharp, intelligent, emotive voice shines through every moment of this book, and if you loved Gideon the Ninth, you will be delighted with this continuation of The Locked Tomb trilogy. There are even more lesbians, there is even more mayhem, and the novel is nothing short of unforgettable.
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DNF at 15%, my eyes are bleeding, reading this felt like I was drunk, and I do not have enough alcohol in my possession to be able to even attempt to wade through this.
Disclaimer: I thought Gideon the Ninth was alright. I didn’t really like it that much, it was hard to get into, the language felt really weird and unnatural, etc, but I had nothing else to read so I requested an ARC from Netgalley.
It was a huge mistake.
So, it’s from Harrow’s perspective. But it’s in second person. “You looked at the letter, you tried to grab the greatsword, etc” I am NOT a fan of that at all. Maybe I would be okay with second person if it was like, maybe one of those chapters that’s a few sentences and that’s it? You know, for dramatic effect? Not this. Entire whole chapters were second person. Sometimes it blipped you another time period and it switched to third, which was better, but those were rare.
Not only is it weirdly in second person, it is INTENTIONALLY confusing.
Harrow sort of has amnesia, she fades in and out of coherency and memory, she remembers events of the first book entirely differently. As in, she has no memory of Gideon at all.
As most of you probably know, amnesia is my most hated trope that had ever plagued the literary-verse. It’s dumb. It does nothing but cover the fact there’s no plot. It’s not enjoyable to read. Et cetera.
I read a little more, hoping it would be over quickly, maybe I could bear it if it was just in the beginning, but it continues, I go to goodreads and look at reviews... To my utmost horror, apparently the first HALF of the WHOLE novel is like this?
No. Goodbye. I’m not going to do this to myself because I’m not a monster. Maybe the ending is good, but to me, no ending would be good enough to make up for the fact that the first half of the book is waxing insanity and amnesia. Will not be recommending this to anyone and will not be continuing the series.
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People who didn’t like Gideon the Ninth for the utter unwillingness to slow down for the readers are not going to like Harrow the Ninth. The pace is unforgiving, and much like the early sections of Gideon, it’s going to take a while for readers to get their feet under them. Luckily, the action is so bizarre, and terrifying, and the mystery so compelling that it pulls you along, and your faith in the story is rewarded-- the pace picks up significantly about halfway through and the tentacles of the story that have wormed their way into your heart explode and everything hurts (but in a good way, I swear). I think this is a series that benefit from rereading, not because it isn’t awe-inspiring the first time around, but because when you know what’s happening you can go back and see all the little clues that were left along the way. I’m sure there’s a skeleton-being-summoned-from-bone-dust metaphor there, but I’m not Tamsyn Muir, so I won’t even try writing it. 

I don’t know a single author who can so deftly weave so many genre elements, completely disregard convention, write highbrow literary elements right next to references to shitposts and memes and have it work. There is no way this series should work. And yet… Construction wise, emotional impact wise, it works better than almost anything I’ve ever read. The sheer, naked explosions of convention and utter disregard for everything people expect in a book is like lightning in a bottle. Except I think Muir has several bottles and a lightning machine. I’d put this series up with some of the top books I’ve ever read, and I think it’s going to hold the test of time as both an outstanding series and an expert crystallization of the time it’s being written. 

Also, that ending? My heart. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to wait for HtN after reading GtN, but now I’m certain I’m going to die from the wait for Alecto the Ninth.
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Harrow the Ninth takes all the twisty, intricate worldbuilding of Gideon the Ninth and just catapults it to another level. I highly recommend rereading the first book before starting this one, as it throws you right in to its fascinating, many-layered story. I absolutely devoured this book and can't wait for the next.
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This book took what I loved about Gideon and amplified it. It had been a while since I'd read Gideon, so I was a little confused on what I'd happened prior and what exactly was going on, but oh boy oh dear the writing was amazing and I loved Harrow and I cannot wait for Alecto the Ninth to come out.
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I’ve been impatiently waiting for Harrow the Ninth but I wasn’t even close to ready for Harrow the Ninth. This book! It’s everything I hoped it would be plus so much that I never could have imagined. I thought I would race through it but I couldn’t. There is so much I still don’t understand about this amazing puzzle of a story - definitely going to read it again. It does come together - kind of - and start to make sense but I still have so many questions. I don’t have the words for this book yet. Except that it’s just the most perfect gift. 

The author is a genius. The book is brilliant. And the ending - oh my god that ending. My brain is still spinning and my heart can’t take the idea of waiting for the next book.
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What a fun and fantastic read, I will be recommending this all year long. The story keeps you on the edge of your seat, and the main character's voice plays with tropes of the fantasy genre in a delightfully fresh way. The worldbuilding is lush and detailed,  like Game of Thrones meets Firefly.
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Rating: 10/10

I am going to be upfront and say that I have been stalling writing this review. I finished Harrow five days ago, and I have been ruminating on it every since, afraid to put any words down on the page because I am afraid they will not be good enough. That I will not do the book justice. The typical writer’s quandary. I usually break out of that slump by writing the first thing that comes to mind, so here goes:

Harrow the Ninth is a great f*cking book. PERIOD.

Yeah, I was confused by the plot for a little while, as the story is quite complex (and the author does not give much away in the beginning of the story) but Tamsyn Muir is such a great writer that it was easy to stick with it. Harrow is similar to Gideon in the way it is written in so atmospherically. Tamsyn’s writing is such that once this story grabbed ahold of me it pulled me into its gravity, and I just did not want to leave. There is a lot of mystery in those first pages that needs to be unwrapped, but even as the wrapper began to come off I found it just opened up a door more secrets and enigmas. Part of the fun of this book was sorting through them all.

I was taken aback by the second person point-of-view, at first, and even moreso when it began switching from second person to first person. After a little while, though, as I continued to read I realized that this was another fragment of the mystery. Due to the changing of perspective, it felt like there are two narrators. Another piece of the puzzle to be solved, and now not only was I here for the amazing writing, but now was I here to solve this puzzle of what the hell is going on. Now the author is piling intrigue on atmosphere on even more intrigue, and the whole thing has this Inception kind of feeling where the reader is left attempting to penetrate this dark world, this captivating narrative all the way to its core. It is a wild ride that quickly goes off the tracks, and one that I hoped would never get back on straight.

As in Gideon, the character set of Harrow is another partially driving force in the story. There are many characters, some the reader is already familiar with and many which are new. Getting to learn these new people and discovering their connections to each other is a lot of fun. Tamsyn uses these characters as a medium for developing much of the history of the Nine Houses, and I really enjoyed learning about this world through their dialogue and interactions.

Harrow the Ninth is my favorite book of 2020, so far, and having already placed Gideon the Ninth on that pedestal I have no doubt The Locked Tomb Trilogy is going to be one of my favorites of all time. It probably already is, but I am reluctant to label any series in such a way when I have not yet seen the whole series play out. I have no doubt that when Alecto the Ninth, the third and final volume in the set, is released in 2021 it will not disappoint. Upon finishing Harrow, Alecto immediately became my most anticipated upcoming release. I cannot wait for it, and I honestly do not know what I am going to do with myself until then (who am I kidding, I will just read more books and let the anticipation build).

I recommend Harrow the Ninth to fans of fantasy and sci-fi and mystery and lovers of atmospheric novels and character-driven novels and really every other person alive (or not). It was an amazing read, and I cannot wait to see how Tamsyn Muir finishes the series.
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