REVIEW: Harrow the Ninth Goes Well Beyond Gideon’s “Lesbian Necromancers in Space”

A figure walks forward dressed in skeletal attire and mask, with skeletons behind them

After the events of Gideon the Ninth you may be asking yourself, is Harrow okay? Like, not “doing good” exactly but basically…all right? I am here to tell you, No. No, Harrow is not in any way okay.

Harrow the Ninth

Tamsyn Muir
August 4, 2020

the cover to Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
The biggest point I can make about the book Harrow the Ninth is that if you loved Gideon the Ninth you will be thrilled with this follow up to it. If you haven’t read Gideon the Ninth, go ahead and read on! I’ll tell you why you should.

Gideon the Ninth was billed by its publisher as “Lesbian Necromancers in Space,” and while that is entirely accurate, it didn’t even hint at two of the most important things about the book, which were swords, and that it is a puzzle mystery. In Gideon the Ninth, Harrow is the Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House, skilled in bone-based necromancy, invited to participate in a contest to try to join their God-Emperor’s special cohort as a “Lyctor.” Gideon is her contemporary, an uncannily gifted swordswoman who just wants to read her dirty magazines and run away to join the military, where hopefully, she’ll be appreciated. Unfortunately, Harrow drags her along to this contest as her Cavalier, and that is where the puzzle mystery ensues.

In Gideon the Ninth, redheaded, aviator-wearing, sick of your shit Gideon is our point of view character, and reader, everyone loves her.

As Harrow the Nintht starts, Gideon is nowhere to be seen. Harrow is puking her guts out in a spaceship, newly a Lyctor under circumstances that don’t seem to match up with what we all remember happening in the first book of the series.

Another new Lyctor hands Harrow some letters from her former self. That’s right: Past Harrow wrote Future Harrow a number of letters, entrusted them to another new Lyctor, and then somehow, we know not how, forgot, like, a lot of stuff.

Some of the scenes following these revelations are narrated by a voice addressing Harrow as “you” in the second person. These scenes are interspersed with a more-standard third person narration of the events of Gideon the Ninth…minus Gideon.

Like Gideon the Ninth, this book is also a puzzle mystery, but the puzzle in this one is: what the hell is going on? Why are Harrow’s memories different from what we know happened? What actually happened between the end of Gideon the Ninth and the beginning of Harrow the Ninth to account for this weirdness? Who is that guy?

Harrow in this book is the least reliable point of view character I’ve ever experienced in my life and I’ve read Liar by Justine Larbelestier and “The Faery Handbag” by Kelly Link. Harrow doesn’t even trust herself and frankly, her doubts in herself are well-founded.

She has, however, experienced enormous trauma and somehow come through it deciding to be a good person, and I, for one, am here for it.

And the really good one-liners. I’m also, clearly, here for those. Many of my favorite lines happen quite late in the book after significant reveals and thus I cannot quote them here because they would be spoilers, but rest assured there are a lot of good ones. Reading this book, I repeatedly had the experience of needing to put down my reader and physically get up and go into a different room to process how good a line was. I am heartily looking forward to my husband and friends reading it now that it is out, and telling me all their favorite lines.

I mentioned above that Past Harrow has left Present Harrow a number of letters, to be opened if certain situations arise. Thus is enacted a plot device I generally find kind of unwieldy, in which a shocking thing occurs and the main character takes out and reads a letter that had been secreted about her person during the very tense, shocking moment, as all the other people in the scene presumably stand around and watch.

What makes this plot device palatable in Harrow the Ninth is that I, too, really want to know what’s in that letter every time. It seems like the best bet for making sense of anything going on. Also, Harrow is exactly the kind of person who might write herself instructions for unexpected events and then stop to read them. Harrow is so removed from normal interactions that everyone around her takes this behavior in stride. “It’s just Harrow being Harrow,” they must be thinking of the weirdo who recently assessed pasta to be “flour paste shapes.”

As I am coming to recognize, I am the mommest of readers and wish simply to give Harrow a nice blanket (she doesn’t like cookies) and a comfortable sense of reality. That doesn’t seem to be on offer, however.

And yes, yes, no spoilers, but I’ll tell you that by the end of Harrow the Ninth, scenes coalesce into an extremely satisfying amount of dramatic irony. The reader is presented with more pieces than any one character has, and it feels great in a “well, thank God there’s another book in this series to come” way. Immediately after finishing it, I confirmed that the third book, Alecto the Ninth, will indeed conclude the Locked Tomb trilogy. I am already looking forward to it.

Emily Lauer

Emily Lauer

Emily Lauer lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter and dog. She teaches writing and literature at Suffolk County Community College where she studies comics, kids' books, adaptations and visual culture. She is a former Pubwatch Editor for WWAC, and frankly, there is a lot more gray in her hair than there was when this profile picture was taken.