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Book Review: "Harrow the Ninth"

Noah Stepanov

Posted on December 13, 2020 01:54

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A review of "Harrow the Ninth"

"Harrow the Ninth" is the sequel to Tamsyn Muir's debut novel, "Gideon the Ninth," and as the first book followed the titular Gideon, this one follows her necromancer, Harrow, after the events of the first book.

I'm not even sure where to begin.

The first book was very much set in the genre of murder(s) mystery. It adhered to plenty of tropes from that genre, albeit they were nuanced and engaging, and the structure was pretty straight-forward. "Harrow the Ninth" at first seems less focused on keeping in line with the tropes of any specific genre, or sub-genre, and its plot-structure could be equated to the vertigo one might experience inside of a rolling car crash.

I absolutely love it. No, really, this book is amazing.

"Harrow the Ninth" is in fact a mystery, but rather than that mystery being immediately fed to the reader as a plot thread, it’s presented in the very structure of the book itself. From page one, and for some time afterward, I kept thinking to myself: "What the hell is the point of this?" Because this book, as I said, is written from the point of view of Harrow — two different points of view, presented as two different timeframes. One, in the present, is written in second-person, and the other, taking place during the events of the first book, is written in third-person.

The book is very aware from the beginning that it makes no sense given what has happened prior to it, and I have to admit here, it made me look like a total idiot. Every single thing that I saw and remembered as "wrong" or "awkward" had a purpose in the end. Every seemingly strange stylistic choice was more than just a stylistic choice. The information it gives to the reader isn't splintered or careless, it's deliberate, and more than that, it's expecting you to think that it's not. It wants you to be confused, not just by the structure, but the plot itself.

That, I understand, might not sound like an endorsement. To be honest, "Harrow the Ninth" is a weird book, albeit weird in a way I love, but still weird. If the idea of a plot that is at times deliberately misleading or even frustrating puts you off, that's understandable, and I don't know if I can say: "power through, it's worth it," because that just might not be true for everyone. The "ah-ha!" moments are spectacular, but the investment to get to them may be more than a reader bargained for if they came in expecting a book like "Gideon the Ninth."

Muir demonstrated a fantastic grasp of conventional mystery in her first book, and in her second she seems determined to upend those conventions. I think she did so marvelously, and if you're even a little bit curious, you should give it a shot.

Noah Stepanov

Posted on December 13, 2020 01:54

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