Who is Nona? That’s the question you may ask yourself repeatedly throughout Tamsyn Muir’s Nona the Ninth, the third installment of The Locked Tomb series. Like the two books before it, you’ll be asking yourself many questions at first, but Nona the Ninth gives far more answers than before. Like you, Nona doesn’t know who she is either. Still, unlike you, who are probably asking for the whereabouts of Gideon and Harrow, Nona doesn’t know who those people are either. All Nona knows is she has lived for six months, is nearly nineteen, and if she doesn’t get mad, she’ll be able to have a birthday party at the beach with Pyrrha, Camilla, and Palamedes. If that sets off a thousand questions in your mind, then don’t worry; that is all part of the fun of this book.
The transition from Harrow to Nona can be jarring. Suddenly you’re with this mystery person as your protagonist, no Gideon or Harrow to speak of, with three unexpected characters as Nona’s caretakers. Camilla Hect, the Sixth House cavalier who was revealed to be alive in Harrow the Ninth. Palamedes, the Sixth House necromancer who died in Gideon the Ninth, now possesses the same body as Camilla. Finally, there is Pyrrha, the cavalier to the Lyctor Gideon, who is now in control of his body after he dies. All of them are crammed together in a city of nine million people on one of three planets everyone has been resettled on, where the words zombies, necromancers, or necromancy are not allowed to be said. Jarring may have been an understatement. However, except for missing Gideon and Harrow, characters readers have grown to love, none of this is a negative. On the contrary, it’s part of Nona‘s strength. Unlike Gideon and Harrow, Nona, as the lead, mostly likes the people in her life. She is earnest in a way the two previous protagonists are not, which comes with a tinge of irony, considering she doesn’t know who she is.
There is a distinct lack of necromancy, skeletons, and bones in a large portion of the book that readers may not be accustomed to, but the author makes up for it by replacing necromancy with overwhelming tension. The book’s first half is a slow drip of exposition as familiar characters and concepts reemerge. Due to losing her memory and relearning how to be a living person, Nona’s innocence is just rose-tinted glasses over a surrounding hostility you can feel from everyone from the beginning. In a city of refugees from different worlds, there is this feeling of everyone knowing something terrible will happen, but no one dares speak of it. There are layers to the tension, and everyone feels like they’re on edge to different degrees. Because we’re seeing this through Nona’s eyes, it requires a lot of reading between the lines. Though merely mentioned in Harrow the Ninth, The Blood of Eden, a separatist group or terrorist organization, depending on who you ask, seems to have this city occupied and have a strong influence over what the citizens think of the Emperor Undying and his Nine Houses. This is the other part of the tension, as our group is living in enemy territory without the benefit of us knowing why or how. The answers don’t lessen that tension but increase it. Nona’s childlike behavior plays a balancing act of decreasing and increasing that unease from the reader’s perspective.
In this book, the Necrolord Prime, the Emperor Undying, or John as he’s known to his friends, is such a sad boy. He has taken the events of Harrow the Ninth harshly, but as a result, we learn how we got to this point in the first place. Unfortunately, like the Emperor of the Nine Houses, it’s quite a sad story of humanity that’ll hit home in many ways. As the Resurrector tells his tale, you’ll likely say to yourself, well, except for all the necromancy, I, unfortunately, could see that happening. For a book filled with the science of necromancy, skeletons, six-legged dogs, and aerodynamic revenants, the King of the Nine Renewals’ story of how he got all these titles can be a bit too real. We, the readers, wanted answers to our many questions from the first two books. So the skeletal monkey’s paw curls on the writing desk of Tamsyn Muir to give us what we wanted in Nona the Ninth.
With answers come new questions in Nona, ones you don’t expect. Tamsyn Muir’s method of worldbuilding isn’t like anyone else’s. She presents the world as it exists and leaves it to you to figure out how it all makes sense. Everyone else is too busy living in Muir’s world of the Nine Houses to explain it to you. However, Palamedes would probably enjoy that if he wasn’t so busy. It’s not frustrating but exhilarating because it’s not as if the answers don’t come; they tend to just occur as a natural part of the plot. The most important of which why Hot Sauce, someone Nona befriends at her school, is called Hot Sauce. In the novel’s second half, that plot goes from zero to a hundred because even though everyone acts as if something is bound to go wrong, when it does, it is far worse than imagined. That is when the second finger on that skeletal monkey’s paw curls. While everything begins to go ass over teakettle for the characters we’ve grown to love, it also connects many of the dangling threads from the previous books and presumably the final book Alecto the Ninth.
Though the fourth book can’t come soon enough, the third has much left to discover and discuss with friends. Much like the series A Chorus of Dragons by Jenn Lyons, all the books in Tamsyn Muir’s The Locked Tomb are worth reading more than once. That includes Nona the Ninth, filled with charm, mystery, questions, answers, beginnings, endings, birthdays, and final days. Although Nona the Ninth only takes place over five days, by the time it is over, it feels as if no time has passed and that we have known Nona for a lifetime.
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Joshua was provided an advance copy of the book by Tor books.
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