Looking back at the books of 2019, the one that has stuck with me the most, latching on even as my brain slowly melted in quarantine, was Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth. February feels as if it were years ago, 2019 is ancient history, but reading Gideon the Ninth feels like yesterday. The follow-up, Harrow the Ninth, has been the first book to truly sink in since the pandemic started, though it was slow going at first it outdoes the first book for drama, love, mystery, and, of course, necromancy in space. Be warned that from this point forward in the review I will be spoiling both books.
Though the closing chapters of Gideon the Ninth had Harrow Nonegesimus opening up as a character and becoming far more complicated and likable, I still had misgivings about Harrow as the protagonist before the book even began. Not because I didn’t trust Tamsyn Muir, but more so because of who I am as a reader. Gideon was the lens in which the reader could make sense of her world and the intricacies of the necromancy Harrow Nonegesimus and her like were using. Besides that, Gideon had charm and charisma oozing off of her, while Harrow seemed more cold, calculating, and closed off. In a way, I was still mourning Gideon before even opening to page one of Harrow the Ninth, but as I would soon find out, not nearly as much as Harrow.
The book begins as ominously as you can get with a prologue subtitled “The Night Before the Emperor’s Murder,” and what may be the final moments of the plot. This followed a parodos taking place fourteen months before the Emperor’s murder. That takes place back in the Ninth House, where it all began during Gideon the Ninth, except everything is incredibly wrong. Events have changed with no sign of Gideon whatsoever; the already deceased Ortus alive and well as the Ninth’s cavalier. It is as if Tamsyn Muir is taunting the reader you thought Gideon the Ninth was a mystery; you wait and see what I have cooked up for you this time. Muir hammers gently at the icepick in my frontal lobe with the last line Harrowhark gives before there is even a chapter one, “You see, I am insane.”
Chapters moving forward split between these altered events of the first novel and the present, all the while counting down to the murder of the most important figure in this series. The first book asks the reader one major question: whodunnit? Harrow the Ninth takes that question and likes a sleight of hand trick turns it into many. The sentence “What is going on?” will continuously be on the reader’s lips as they turn page after page. What happened to Gideon? Why is Ortus alive? Why are the events of the first book happening again? Who is the killer if it’s not the same? How do you murder an emperor who is a god? Why can’t Harrow remember Gideon? This will continue throughout until, thank the King Undying, all of them are answered. Alongside, there are lingering questions left unanswered from Gideon the Ninth that this book will trick you into forgetting about, so when Muir finally does answer them, you’ve more flabbergasted than if you had been anticipating them.
If you can, I highly recommends rereading Gideon the Ninth before starting this book if it’s not fresh in your mind. Not only do characters from the first novel return, but those who weren’t as prominent get their chance to shine. It also helps with the necromancy-based jargon about thanergy and how it works. Characters return not only in this altered past but in Harrow the Lyctor’s present. If you are asking yourself, with the memory of how the previous book ended, “how can this be?” remember that these are a series of books about space necromancy.
Alongside these previous characters, we learn more about the Emperor and his Lyctors, who act as more of a dysfunctional family than a god and his disciples. Like Harrow and Ianthe, we learn the Necrolord Prime and his Saints are not above being petty, argumentative, hypocritical, and downright fallible. All the while, undead abominations the size of planets are threatening to destroy the Nine Houses. If you were worried, by the way, that this or the lack of Gideon Nav would get in the way of the gay pining and horniness of the first book I assure it does not. There is a reason the back of the book has the tagline The Necromancers are back, and they’re gayer than ever.
What makes Harrow the Ninth, both the book and the character, flourish is that this book is far funnier than it has any right to be. It has that dry British humor you’d see out of an Edgar Wright film alongside the wild necromancy happening throughout. There are moments where this book needed some severe levity, and it delivered in a way that added to the seriousness rather than ruin it. The altered events of Canaan House had me asking for many pages what has happened to Gideon. However, Muir writes Harrow as such a compelling protagonist, no matter how different she is from the Gideon Nav I fell in love with in the first book, that I couldn’t help but be compelled by her.
unprecedented times of global pandemic and civil unrest, it has been difficult to enter that space where a book can make the world around cease to be. It took some time, but Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir finally pierce the veil that was my brain and had me compelled to keep the pages turning. I thank the author for that. I thank Harrowhark the First, Ninth Saint to serve the King Undying, Gideon Nav, wherever she is, and even Ianthe the First though she doesn’t deserve it. In times like these, treat yourself to some gay necromancers in space and pick up both Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth, when you can. I look forward to when the tomb will open again with the next book.