Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – Book Review

Harrow the Ninth book cover

The prequel to Tamsyn Muir’s novel “Harrow The Ninth” was a hugely successful sci-fi novel of 2019. “Gideon the Ninth” won several awards, including the Locus Award, and left even the most esteemed sci-fi authors in awe. “Gideon the Ninth” burst onto the science fiction scene with pulsating energy, cheeky yet clever humor, and a unique vision (necromancers + romance = necromance). Only to then shift to a larger portion of the story resembling a subdued Agatha Christie mystery.

“Harrow the Ninth” lacks that dynamic start but fortunately, it also lacks the occasional anemia found in its predecessor. However, in return, it is at times completely incomprehensible.


The first thought-provoking moment occurs when you realize there’s not a single mention of Gideon, the protagonist of the Locked Tomb series’ first installment. It’s as if her existence has been erased. Then, the alternating chapters of the book are written in different grammatical persons (second-person singular vs third-person singular) while each chapter has the same viewpoint character: Harrowhark Nonagesimus, the charming but troubled teenage necromancer.

To top it off, characters show up in the pink, who died in the first book.

Are you into solving puzzles? Do you have a university degree? If neither applies to you, there’s a chance that up to about 80% of this book, you’ll wish “Harrow the Ninth”, to hell. And it’s no wonder if, along the way, you come to the conclusion that either reading the book titled “Harrow the Ninth” is entirely unnecessary or its predecessor, filled with the trials of Gideon Nav.

Maybe you won’t give up on Muir’s book halfway for only two reasons. One, if you’ve already crafted a compelling closing sentence for your book review and don’t want it to go to waste. The other is the Australian author’s writing style.

Because, in the end, Tamsyn Muir twists words in a damn unique way. The brilliantly unique world teeming with the dead, constructed with unparalleled vocabulary, clever wordplay, playful humor, and entertaining self-irony, undoubtedly justifies the spotlight on the author of the Locked Tomb series.

Whose characters, at times to their own surprise, engage in metered verse speeches (what masterful virtuosity!) or find themselves directly in an epic parody. These were probably born for no other reason than Muir had a great time amusing herself while writing.

Nevertheless, unfortunately, the plot of the book “Harrow the Ninth” resembles a moderately interesting squabble among girls taking place in a high school girls’ dormitory. It’s full of confident, pouting divas who, in one moment, share mascara and in another, quite literally stab each other in the back with a blade. Not to mention, they are ALMOST entirely asexual. In a kind of “Young Adult” way.

Moreover, the girls, even while pursuing the Resurrection Beasts, pay SPECIAL attention to their clothing.

Interestingly, despite the odd interactions among the characters, the main players work exceptionally well. Harrowhark, the seemingly unpleasant and cold-hearted teenage from the previous installment, manages to sneak into your heart in just two paragraphs. Harrowhark Nonagesimus is, in fact, the slightly neurotic, overthinking, but also kind-hearted and dutiful, real girl-next-door type of necromancer.

His Celestial Kindliness, aka the First Reborn, also known as The Necrolord Prime, or GOD, is the target of numerous well-executed jokes and jests. Simultaneously, he serves as the ideal ruler of all time. (Okay, maybe a bit liar at times, but no one is perfect.) The constantly conflicting expressions of the all-powerful, omnipotent being, and at the same time, the benevolent grandpa, provide ample opportunities for Tamsyn Muir to revel in entertaining sarcasm.

And then you ponder for a moment what kind of enthralling books Tamsyn Muir will write WHEN she truly grows up and doesn’t craft a novel like a hyper-intelligent, prematurely aged teenager. And her dark, undead-filled universe won’t be filled with childish conflicts and an incomprehensible plot. Yes, the end of the book is entirely baffling. At least to the average reader’s mind.

Because as soon as you’ve successfully reached the end of “Harrow the Ninth,” you can immediately go to Wikipedia to check out what the heck you have actually read.

Tamsyn Muir’s science fiction fantasy novel, “Harrow the Ninth,” is evidently crafted for the Young Adult readers. However, they are likely unable to comprehend it in all its captivating completeness. The majority of adult readers probably find it simply childish. It is entirely likely that only those falling into the narrow intersection of teenage female necrophiles will truly enjoy it.

7.4/10 (74%)

Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #2) by Tamsyn Muir
510 pages, Hardcover
Published August 4, 2020 by Tor.com

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