Review: Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #2) by Tamsyn Muir


Review: 10/10

Synopsis

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?

Review

The cover is so damned beautiful … would you look at that?

Harrow the Ninth is the utterly full of mood sequel that we needed for the Locked Tomb; the prose sings old harmonies from an ancient turntable, the needle screeching in eloquent – but drawn out – screams that dig deep into a sense of misguidance, a sense of the unknown dipped into depression and coated in necromancy. This sequel takes the gothic laboratory in space, seeped in mystery and necromantic theorems and flips it upside down with planet-sized Beasts of the Resurrection, terrorist orgs with nukes, God himself, Necrosaints to the Lord Undying, and bones … lots of bones.

In short, the plot is crazy, personal and twisty; I’ve no hope of properly distilling it without spoiler. But I loved it. Somehow, despite us knowing the characters, the world, the Lyctor Eightfold Word process, Muir manages to drench the plot in mystery by very clever device – what to do when your POV is a genius that’s unlocked the secrets to near-immortality? Well … that’s something you’ll have to read to find out: Harrowhark the First is the Ninth Necrosaint to Serve the Necrolord Prime, a necromancer with unlimited thalergy and the ability to use complex theorems at will and in space; she’s a Saint of untold power, but she’s incomplete. She’s only half a Lyctor, and she doesn’t remember why. What’s more, the Emperor of Necromancers calls all his Necrosaints to assemble – even the Harrow – because one of the Resurrection Beasts, those monstrous, near-undefeatable enemies borne out of the First Resurrection, has found him. Beast Seven is ten months away and he needs everyone in fighting shape before it gets there … because even Gods and Saints face annihilation at its hands. Meanwhile, Harrow must unpick her convoluted memory, one that is wiped clean of anything Gideon Nav, one that remembers the events of book one very differently to the reader. The plot has such a sense of urgency, a sense of danger and it’s not even clear what is coming for them … because even the Lyctors that have lived after facing a Beast can’t agree on what they are, nor what they look like, namely because their eyes bleed out of their skull when they get near, their very presence driving even immortals to brief insanity; Muir does a fantastic job at layering on the danger, the worry and the sense of helplessness while surrounding us with characters that can kill planets. I mean …  God, the Emperor Undying, the Necrolord Highest, the Kindly Prince, the King Everlasting … and all his other titles, is a main character in this book, but even with such a powerhouse, there’s still the dread. I can’t quite quantify what it is Muir does, but it’s good. It’s very good. My only gripe with the plot was how confusing it got at times: there are points when I questioned what I remembered of the first book, where I thought – along with Harrow – something was up with my memory. There’s one hell of a twisty mystery, but until you realise that it can seem like you’re misunderstanding what happened. But OH BOY! does it pay off.

The necromancy itself and the fights with it were something of a real treat for me. Along with the sharp, erudite and surgical voice of Harrow, they’re an anatomical delight; from the grotesque of her own trapezoid and capitate sprouting from her arms as claws to grasp hold of her fleshy opponent, of using her own smashed molars as blossoming spikes sent out like bullets to gouge eyes, it’s incredibly original. All of it sweeter for the high register, the intelligent delivery of a necromancer sick and tired of being incomplete, of being the odd one out. Of being utterly depressed and not really knowing how to have a handle on it … I love how sincere Harrow is in her misery, how normal it is to be low and not know why. There’s something very human that shines through the heart of a novel drenched in the blood of necromancy, space-travel and planet-sized fights. Something so very in need of a love and so happy to be trashy.

I marvel at the use of third, second and first person on show here – Muir is a genius with it. If you thought that POV couldn’t be used to add to the twists and mystery of a piece, and you thought that POV is exactly how it presents itself grammatically, then you’re very wrong. I wouldn’t want to go into any detail here, because it would spoil significant parts of the novel that make your jaw drop, but I had to mention it.

THAT WORLDBUILDING! – the ramifications of the Resurrection that the Emperor Undying performed are just incredible. That everything happening in the plot now is a direct result of him bringing back the Nine House System from a catastrophic, solar system breaking disaster are awesome. I mean, there’s a lot we still don’t know about it, but the Resurrection Beasts were what we got. The history shared by the Lyctors in trying to defeat them, the tragedy, how necromancy is a hard magic system that sprouts from this is all so clever. So very clever I can only gush about it,

Harrow and Gideon … just read it.

Overall, this book is everything I love about science fiction and everything I love about fantasy mashed together into a character-driven, universe spanning story of sapphic love, despair, and general necromantic antics. I NEED Alecto the Ninth … it’s going to be such a long year.

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