A scattered journey through Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir


You thought you were prepared for this book. You were, and I can’t stress this enough, not.

You loved Gideon the Ninth. In fact, you may have uttered words like “best book of 2019”, “genius” and “most fun I ever had reading a book in decades” and also “this book eviscerated me from inside like lyctor soup”.

So coming to Harrow the Ninth with your SOUL eviscerated by the previous book, dehydrated from sobbing your heart out and grieving but with your feelings and your memory somewhat dulled by time and by pretending things would be ok, you realise something very soon into the narrative that…

This is not Gideon the Ninth. Because there is NO GIDEON.

At least, not in a certain way.

You thought you may have been prepared for that given the end of the first book. The joke is on you, silly knuckle.

This new rollercoaster is a feverish dream of an unreliable second person narrative that does the UNPARDONABLE sin of rewriting memory and erasing a certain personage from most of the narrative. You do however, love unreliable narratives and narrators and this one is so cleverly done.

It is unpardonable though because it hurts so bad. But also because it brings back OTHER DEAD PEOPLE. The hurt is bad but also good, you think to yourself late at night staring into nothing.  

In a book about necromancy, you would think this is par for the course, but the author is ready to stab you in the back like certain betraying immortals.

But then you find that your feelings of grief and loss are mimicked by the narrative – in Harrow. And you see her actions and struggle with her mental health and a trauma that is both historical and freshly new.

And beyond the personhood of the shared narrative arc of Harrow and Gideon, there is a larger story being told, a story that started in the last book, or, rather, ten thousand years ago.

And being a historian, you notice that what’s happening in this series is that history is being checked mated. A history written by the victors and by a God named John (how utterly silly, you think, until God has a threesome and you like Harrow want to avert your eyes) who created an Official Narrative but there is a different side to it, a different narrative and that narrative is trying its absolute best to come to the surface. You realise you don’t know who the villains are. There is a story told about people and God, and faith and historical action and belief.

Lies, you are certain.

Then you go back to the Dramatis Personae on literally page 1 and realise all is foreshadowed.

GENIUS, you whisper to yourself.

But also confusing and vague and there is a certain amount of earned trust in the author but is that trust perhaps squandered a bit, you wonder. Maybe, because so, so much of it is very disorienting. You did find yourself rollercoasting through this feverish hellscape of a narrative, lost and often confused, and does it all coalesce into a beautifully built necromantic skeleton or does it fall apart without muscles and tendons and blood and heart?

You are not so certain, your eyes far too dry when the last page rolls in.


Ana Grilo is a Brazilian who moved to the UK because of the weather. No, seriously. She works with translations in RL and hopes one day The Book Smugglers will be her day job. When she’s not here at The Book Smugglers, she is hogging our Twitter feed.


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