Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Publisher/date: Tor.com (June 2, 2020)
Genre: Space Opera
Series: The Locked Tomb Trilogy
Rating: T for gore and necromancy theme
"You've got two short minutes left before I punch you right in the butthole."
Usually I'll include a plot summary here, but fuck that. Because I just finished this book and I still have absolutely no effing idea what just happened. Literally, I'm not real sure.
So let's start off with the good. Slash awesome.
Tamsyn Muir has a sense of humor that I adore. It's smartass, vulgar, and includes foul language in the most imaginative ways. She knows how to make me relate to, love, or hate a character properly. After the first book I was not sure I could ever love Harrow as much as Gideon, and wondered a little at whether I'd want to read about her. But I seriously wanted to hug the little shit throughout this entire book. And I am always entertained, so while the book was long, it wasn't tedious. More like, how much of this do I need to remember that's going to pop up again later?
Now to the not so good.
This book is confusing. And the longer it goes, the more confused I get. Let's dig down into the why of that. First, names. There are multiple characters with the same name or similar names. There are two Gideons, possibly three. Ok, I possibly could figure that out, despite Tamsyn giving them multipe cute pet names instead of picking one. (Gideon the Original, Gideon Prime, etc.) But then there are two Ortus's. And there is Cytherea and Camilla. Not to mention the reappearance of all of the characters from the first book, including the dead ones (because, you know, necromancy.) And I didn't do a reread of Gideon before I started it because it really wasn't that long ago that I read it, but turns out, I should have, because I was so lost.
And the thanergy/thalergy necromancy theories were enough to make a person feel like they're reading someone's dissertation. It was a bit too much, though I am really impressed at the physiological knowledge of the author that went into writing this book. I feel like I'm a relatively smart girl, straight A's and a college degree all that jazz, but I felt like Tamsyn was way smarter than me and talking over my head. Like the book was written for only doctors, not the friendly every day reader.
There is a split timeline, which for the plot of the book was necessary. I've read many a book with this structure, and while it's always confusing, usually when the timelines finally merge I get it. It all culminates into one huge momentous crescendo that makes it all worth it. And it did here too. But despite the exorbitant length of this book, the ending was not explained enough for me to understand what the hell actually happened. There was a monologue which explained it, but frankly it was performed by a 10,000 year old insane woman and it came out that way, and it wasn't clear enough for me to see the puzzle pieces fit together.
Not to mention that this is a trilogy that I have absolutely no clue where the third book would go. Who the hell is Alecto the Ninth? Did I miss that?
So basically, if I have to wrap my feelings up all together, I kind of want to re-read the book, creating a loose timeline as I go to Sherlock Holmes what the fuck just happened. And I would, but that book was SO DAMN LONG. I mean, we get it, Harrow is insane. (Not a spoiler - you'll figure that out within the first chapter. And who wouldn't, absorbing the soul of your best frenemy?) But the entire book is written from the perspective of the insane woman, and I kind of felt a little crazy myself upon finishing. And I'm kind of confused, because while this kind of book makes total sense for a self-published title, this was published by Tor, who should have done a better job of editing the story to help Tamsyn Muir make it more understandable.
UPDATE! After completing a reread with my handy character list and plot summary, I now understand the sheer genius of this work and we are not worthy Tamsyn! 5 stars!!!
All this makes me desperately confused on how to rate this book.
5 stars for effort and knowledge
3 stars for verbosity
1 star for explaining of shit clearly - you need an outline and character list for this
4 stars for entertainment value
5 stars for character likeability
That averages out to 3.6 stars. Feels right. Will I be reading Alecto? Probably, because necromancy and Tamsyn's characters make me want to come back for more. But I'll be checking the page count first.
PLOT SUMMARY (SPOILERS!!!)
We open on a battle scene, something is attacking the Emperor’s ship and Harrow, only half of a Lyctor for some reason, ends up with a rapier through the gut.
flashback to Harrow speaking with Ortus, telling her he must be her Cav to help her cover up the fact that she is insane. Since she opened the locked tomb, she has seen the ghost of the woman inside following her around near constantly.
Present day Harrow is on a ship with the Emperor, suffering some sort of PTSD mental break, hating Gideons sword but not letting anyone touch it, vomiting every time she does. Believing she absorbed Ortus.
The Emperor tells her that there were 9 planet sized revenants caused by the murder of those planets (The Resurrection) and that he and the Lyctors have been running from them for 10,000 years. These Resurrextioj Beasts can sense them. They’ve managed to kill 5, mostly by accident, and there are 3 left (yes, we all know that math don’t fly.) These beasts eat planets like vampires. Harrow can’t go back to her planet or she will draw one to it.
Upon coherence, Ianthe delivers Harrow letters.
There are a series of letters, 24, from herself letters o herself. Ianthe is to keep 2. They have prompts on when to open them. She opens the second letter, to be opened upon coherence. It says she must live, and that she owes Ianthe a great debt. Oh, and to examine Ianthe’s jaw discreetly and if it’s been replaced to kill her. It hasn’t.
Side fact but probably important: the bodies of Gideon, Camilla and Corona were not recovered.
An…alternate past? Is presented where Harrow lands on the First planet with Ortus as her Cav. Harrow sees a message that isn’t there… the eggs you gave me all died and you lied to me.
The Joy Knight aka Mercymorn kind of kidnaps/bullies the Emperor (along with Hatrow and Ianthe) off his ship. Mercy asked Hatrow how old she was and “the body” (aka the ghost of the woman in the locked tomb who follows Harrow around) tells her urgently to lie, so she says 15 instead of 17. They use liminal travel to go 40 billion light years away. The premise is that “the river” (an enormous liminal space formed of spirit magic) is magma. Over land it would take you much longer to go somewhere than to just drop into the magma. Only the river is deadly to humans on its own and it’s full of ghosts gone mad from hunger.
They drop into the river. They make it out but Harrow tried to use necromancy and almost got sucked in. The Emperor saved her.
She and Ianthe wake up in a pew at Cytherea‘s funeral where they meet Augustine and Ortus the first. Ortus tells them The Revenant is coming.
Harrow keeps re-imagining the trials with Ortus instead of Gideon. The characters in her imaginary play always ask, “is this how it happened?” Harrow has still not looked at herself in a mirror (if she does we suspect she will see Gideon's eyes, not Ortus's.) Any hint of Gideon mentioned and she will immediately pass out.
Harrow is convinced someone is moving Cytherea s body. She confesses to the Emperor aka John that her parents killed 200 children to conceive her. She does not confess that she opened the locked tomb.
Back to Harrow's reimagining of her time at the trials, Judith is killed when she and Marta are attempting that first trial, the one where the necro has to see through their Cav's eyes while they're fighting a construct to pull it apart. In this imagining the killer is "the sleeper," a figure in a coffin that Teacher has told them not to wake up. Only they don't know what wakes it. It has a gun, shoots Judith, and goes back into it's coffin. Marta swears she saw it lay upon a two handed sword. (If I haven't mentioned it before - that's Gideon's style of sword.)
Ortus the First is trying to kill Harrow. He is the Emperor's guard dog and conceives her a threat, so no amount of anything from John or the other Lyctors can protect her from his attempts to kill her. He also wants her sword. When Harrow says, "why does Ortus the First want me dead?" Mercymorn replies, "who?"
In the reimagining the sleeper has killed the Sixth. Dulcinea and Pro seem to be their real life selves, not an re-animation and Cytherea. Im very confused because it seems like Ortus her Cav, his gather her parents Cav, and Ortus the Lyctor are all called Ortus the Ninth??? Harrow finds out Ortus has known her secret about her parents all along, and Hatrow I her insanity sees another message:
Cytherea gets up and comes after Harrow in the night like in an excellently terrifying The Ring are-enactment. The next night Harrow walks in on Ortus the Ninth in the…necromantic throws with Cytherea’s body. She tells Ianthe who tells her not to be such a prude. She finds out she ensorcelled Ianthe’s jaw so as not to tell…whatever it is she’s not supposed to tell.
Ortus the First attacked Harrow in her bath. He was a thanergy void, he could undo all her wards. She manages to us a tooth she knocked out to stab him in the eye. Ianthe finds her half dead and despairing. She then realizes Ianthe has become an ally of sorts, her only friend and thus her only solace.
Re-imagining: Silas pushes Corona off a cliff. Harrow challenged him to bight and he jumps off the cliff.
Harrow puts her bone marrow into the dinner soup after not sleeping for 6 days in terror of Ortus. She explodes bones from his insides and almost kills him bit Kohn makes her stop. She begs his mercy, why should he protect John but not her. He acts kind of oblivious, like he doesn’t really think Ortus would all the way kill her. Ianthe takes Harrow back to her room and Harrow sleeps. When she wakes she helps Ianthe cut off her useless arm and replaces it with a bone construct arm.
Augustine and Mercy agree to help kill Ortus for their own reasons. They distract John while Harrow goes after him. She finds him in the incinerator after almost being killed by Cytherea. Nobody believes her but he does tell her that the way to block him is fresh blood wards every night.
She goes to a planet to kill it and Camilla Hect intercepts her. She saved a bone from his skull and said his plan was to attach his soul to it, to become a revenant. Harrow checks and he’s there, on the river in a thanergy bubble. The sleeper comes after her and she has to leave the river. She makes the bone shard into a hand so that Palimedes can move it.
Corona & Captain Deuteros, are with her.
Back to present day, Harrow with a stab wound, passed out. Harrow’s hallucinations grow more vivid. Finally they break and she speaks to the ghost, revenant of Abigail Pent. She knew she was absorbing Gideon’s soul, so she disconnected her ability to do so by disconnecting all her awareness (I.e. memories) of Gideon. Abigail tells her there is another soul inside her, one that is haunting her. An angry soul.
Gideon is inside Harrow’s body while Harrow’s soul is stuck in the river with her army, the ghosts of the other houses killed at Cannan house. Ortus is there and Harrow realizes that the way she patched over Gideon’s name in her head with Ortus was imperfect - that Ortus the first’s name is also Gideon. They plan to exorcise the Sleeper.
Meanwhile Gideon fights off hell wasps in Harrow’s body which is now regenerating in full lyctoral form. She finds Mercymorn who was the one to stab her through the gut, a mercy she said. Then Mercy realizes Gideon is there inside Harrow and rambles about “the mission failed, you’re 19 years too late” and stabs Gideon/Harrow through the heart. But Cytherea with brown eyes saves her.
Abigail Pent summons Noneus the Ninth to protect Harrow from the sleeper. He kills the sleeper, but she is still alive on the real plain. Abigail tells Harrow she had to go back, the bubble will fall apart soon. Harrow knows she will kill Gideon if she goes back, and Abigail tells her this all happened because she could not let go of her Cav. She realizes she must face the grief. And just fuck that, you know? We went through this whole book seeing little glimpses and knowing Harrpw was an absolute genius and if anyone could figure out how to get Gideon back it was her and now this?!
Gideon and Ianthe are hiding because John has the sleeper aka Cytherea’s body possessed by Commander Wake of the Blood of Eden. Augustine and Mercymorn were working together for Wake. They got John’s semen and got it to Wake for her to carry his child to the tomb and kill it, because the only way it could be opened was with his DNA. That’s right, Gideon is god’s child. Gideon aka Ortus the first walks in and shoots Wake inside Cytherea, expelling her ghost. He says #7 (the planet revenant they’re currently supposed to be fighting) “got away.” That Gideon th ought Wake’s baby was his, which is why he didn’t say anything about it when he was sent to hunt and kill Wake.
Not ancient Gideon is John aka god’s child and has AL’s golden eyes, his cav’s eyes. A.L., Alecto, or Annabell Lee. He had resurrected her but she came back wrong like a monster. His Lyctors made him kill her and he put her in a tomb. Except the Lyctors never knew AL was his Cav. He has black eyes, which used to be AL’s eyes. And yet AL was still alive. None of the cavs had to die and John let them all think they did, that it was necessary. Mercymorn blows him to atoms. He pulls himself back together and kills her. He asks everyone to reswear to him and Augustine drops the entire ship in the hell river. He and John are sucked out. Gideon grabs Gideon. But it turns out the necro Gideon died and it’s just his Cav inside, Pyrrha, who was literally hiding inside Gideon without his knowledge as a damn spy for Wake and also was having an affair with her in Gideon’s body.
They are sucked out and try to escape. Ianthe, always the last one to make a good damn decision, saves god instead of Augustine, damn her, and at the last when Gideon dies, her last sight is the dead chic in the locked tomb, Harrow’s necromance, doing chest compressions. Harrow climbs into the coffin in the locked tomb, hugs Gideon’s sword and a titty mag, and goes to sleep.
Epilogue: She is in a city. In hiding. There is someone to teach her, someone to look after her. “Have you worked out who I am?”
“Not yet,” said Camilla.