Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb Trilogy)
In the second of The Locked Tomb Trilogy books, Harrowhark Nonagesimus returns, having successfully consumed her cavalier and ascended to Lyctorhood. Well, almost successfully. It’s not an exact science—eating someone else’s soul—and Harrow appears to have bungled the process.
“They needed a miracle. Harrowhark had been studying miracles for years, and then one landed squarely in her lap: the chance to become a Lyctor. The chance to serve the Emperor her God, the change to become a fist and a gesture, the chance to become an immortal servitor and advocate for Drearburh; to refresh the Ninth House on her terms, with the rock never rolled away and the love of her life and her death quiet and unmolested in her deadly shrine of stone.”
“But like falling in love the first time, becoming a Lyctor had all gone wrong.”
“A normal Lyctor’s body could look after itself. But it had become obvious to everyone: you were not a normal Lyctor.”
With Gideon’s soul only half-digested, Harrow is only half a Lyctor. The skills she should have acquired from Gideon, namely the ability to fight, are nonexistent. In order to defend herself from the other Lyctors (who are frustratingly hell bent on kill Harrow despite their shared rank) and protect her Emperor from the Resurrection Beasts, Harrow most solve the riddle of her Lyctorhood.
The largest flaw in this plan, however, is that Harrow has very nearly lost her mind.
The first half of Harrow the Ninth is a twisting, teeming squabble of mashed up memories and confused worldbuilding. Upsetting/compelling for many readers will be the distinct lack of Gideon in the narrative. Her fate is a whisper through the first three-quarters of the book, left mostly in faded memories of Harrow:
“There had been another girl who grew up alongside Harrow—but she had died before Harrow was born.”
“A rubber-bodied toddler with a painted face and very red hair lay dead beside your knee and for some reason it was this that destroyed you, it was this that kindled within you something you had no hope of defending against.”
Where Gideon the Ninth was filled with sarcasm and bitterness that drove the narrative, Harrow the Ninth carries a deep melancholy and a distinct sense of entitlement. The first half of the book is long and overly-winded and presents a deep focus on Harrow whom many readers will have grown to dislike in the previous book. Hence, settling into the third person point of view presents a struggle in empathy for the title character, which is compounded by the unreliable narration.
Despite this, traces of the humor and sharp wit of Gideon the Ninth still spring up.
“You stare glumly at a painting opposite the bed of an exquisite woman with lots of ruddy golden hair, a dreamy smile, and no clothes—though she was holding a rapier and, for no reason you could see, a melon.”
“’Why do you keep them around?’”
“’It is the type of energy I wish to take into my future,’ Ianthe had said.”
“You didn’t have your original thumb and I’d touched your intestines, which is usually what, fourth date, but you were fine.”
Long-laid plots come into focus in the back quarter of the book and the final 150 pages are an action-packed delight. Whether the journey is worth the wait will depend upon the reader and their initial ability to connect with Harrowhark.
There are several touchstone moments in the middle of the book where Muir spends a paragraph having a character succinctly paraphrase the situation, and it is in these moments that the narrative takes a long, deep breath. They help bridge the excessive beginning with the powerful ending, but were too sparse in many areas to provide the needed relief.
“All I can say is that it was complicated back in Canaan House and sometimes a cute older girl shows you a lot of attention, because she’s bored or whatever, and you sort of have this maybe-flirting-maybe-not thing going on right, and then it turns out she’s an ancient warrior who’s killed all your friends and she’s coming for you, and then you both die and she turns up ages later in the broiling heat on a sacred space station and like, it’s complicated. Just saying that it happens all the time.”
For those who enjoyed Harrowhark in Gideon the Ninth, this book will be a sound addition to the trilogy. For those who found Harrow trying, the first half of Harrow the Ninth will be a study in patience. The ending is incredibly well planned out, sharp, and strong, and leads well into the upcoming third book. Whether readers will want to chance another character point of view change and potentially even less time with Gideon Nav, remains to be seen.