Bolstered by all the delightful comments on my Gideon the Ninth review, I thought I should try to put my thoughts together about Harrow the Ninth, the sequel.
SPOILERS FOR GIDEON THE NINTH FOLLOW! Really. It’s impossible to talk about Harrow without talking about the end of Gideon. It doesn’t just follow chronologically (sort of), but the impact of the ending on Harrow informs the entirety of her story.
So… wow. I am so impressed by author Tamsyn Muir, who took her sure-fire hit–where one of the main things people loved was the narrative voice and the protagonist–and turned everything on its head. Content-wise, this book is very similar. (Bones! Lots of them! Teenagers getting in way over their heads! Necromancers of all ages being incredibly socially awkward!) But in most ways, Muir does not tread the same path as Gideon. She pretty much hops the fence and treads a path across entirely new ground, making fascinating choices that work even though they shouldn’t.
A quick summary: Harrow is brought into the small group of Lyctors: Ianthe the Self-obsessed, Mercymorn the Bitchy, Augustine the Pompous, ORTUS the Quietly Murderous, and John, AKA God, Necrolord Prime, maker of terrible jokes and user of memes. (My names for them, not the book’s). It soon becomes clear, though, that Harrow is not really a Lyctor. She’s more powerful than she was, but her cavalier side is broken. This is a problem, because the Lyctors are being tracked by enormous vengeful monsters and they need all the help they can to fight them off. Also, something weird is totally going on at the massive space station at the edge of the universe.
70% of Harrow is told in the second person. Yes, that voice best known from choose-your-own-adventure books and text-based RPGs. But it–weirdly–works, and this is largely because of a scene that takes place quite early on. In this scene, which apparently took place at the same time as the beginning of Gideon and yet is super confusing because it doesn’t seem to be anything like the beginning of Gideon, Harrow says simply, “You see, I am insane.” There are other early signs that Harrow is insane or at least seriously messed up (no surprise there, after the trauma of fighting Cytheria and Gideon’s death), so the narration style works to create a weirdly distant yet bizarrely intimate feel.
And then there’s Harrow’s recollections of what happened at Canaan House. It quickly becomes clear that something is wrong and that Harrow isn’t remembering anything of what actually happened–especially not Gideon herself. The 20% or so of ‘AU Canaan House’ scenes are really fun, especially once you pick up what’s going on.
So much of the book is tied up with Harrow’s essence of character. Yet it is also a more sensual and sexual book than Gideon in many ways, despite the fact that Harrow is SUCH a virgin. Gideon thought happily about nice tits; Harrow doesn’t ever want to think about tits of any kind, not even her own, and yet her deep-down feelings get away from her: the intense longing Harrow has for the Body and her complicated relationship with Ianthe. But it’s not those elements that make it more sexual: it’s the way Harrow thinks and talks about bones. I didn’t mark any of the passages, but some of the parts where Harrow thinks about or uses complex necromancy employs language that would fit in a description of a lover or a relationship. It’s wonderfully macabre and perfectly suits Harrow’s extremely repressed sexuality.
Don’t expect to understand what’s going on in the book. I definitely picked up on some things fairly early, but even then I still couldn’t follow all the threads to the end. And I think that’s okay. Let it wash all over you, reread and then try to figure out what’s going on when you know what the endgame is.
Once again, Moira Quirk’s narration is superb. Her Mercymorn, her God, her Harrow voices are so perfect, but Ianthe is again just the best. Everything the character says is instantly funnier or cattier coming out of Quirk’s mouth. I read Harrow first and then listened to both audiobooks because I wanted to see what I’d missed, and I really liked that way of doing it because I can somewhat tune out of audiobooks and have a harder time following than on paper. (Also, I kept flipping back to the front list of Lyctors and cavs, which was useful). I think I listened to every line of Quirk’s narration with rapt attention, though. And lots of laughs. Plus, thanks to the mask rules on public transport in my country (finally), I could grin hugely to this without looking like some weirdo. Also, cry a little. It was very nice.
It was hard for me to write this without spoilers, but I firmly believe that the less you know going into it the better. So, if you’re interested, here are my spoilery thoughts! (Please ignore my terrible writer’s website; I haven’t had time to make it work).