Honest truth: I almost don’t want to write this, because in general I don’t like to write reviews of books I didn’t like. I have now read Tamsyn Muir’s debut, Gideon the Ninth, twice, and … well, it is a book that has some flaws. There are at least twice as many characters as there need to be, for starters, and each of them has at least three or four different ways they’re referred to throughout the text, so the book can be a nightmare to keep everyone straight. And I only realized at the sixty-fifth page of Harrow that the title character in this book, who was a major character in the first one, was named Harrowhark and not Harrowhawk. It took two complete readings of Gideon and a chunk of Harrow for me to get that.
So: I am not the world’s most careful reader, y’all. it’s a fact. I don’t love that about myself, but it’s still true. And I have said many, many times in this space that I prefer my narratives nice and straightforward.
Harrow the Ninth features the following:
- An unreliable narrator who spends a lot of time hallucinating and is never clear on whether anything she’s experiencing is real
- A bunch of other characters who lie all the Goddamned time
- An unclear, time-jumpy, back-and-forth timeline
- Multiple competing notions of reality
- The main character being both dead and alive at the same time
- Multiple other characters being both dead and alive at the same time
- Perhaps 70% of the text in second-person, with a first-person narrator of those second-person sections, except the person who seems to be the narrator of those sections explicitly denies doing so late in the book
- Wholesale rewriting of the events in the first book
I could not give you a plot summary of Harrow the Ninth if my Goddamned life depended on it. I finished all 510 damn pages of it and I have no idea what happened in it. Why did I do that? Because my main praise of Gideon the Ninth remains true– that Tamsyn Muir can write a hell of a sentence, and there were bits on nearly every page that I would just sit and admire for a moment before moving on. It’s just that they don’t stitch together into anything that, at least for me, was even remotely coherent or understandable. One gripe from the first book, that there were too many poorly-distinguished characters and that between the too many characters they had at least three times as many different names, is not the case here. The cast is much smaller. But the worldbuilding is still an utter mess. I have no idea at all what a regular person’s life might be like in this world, or really even if there are any regular people. One of the characters is actually God? But, like, I don’t know who he’s God to, other than maybe these five or six other people in the book? Why are God’s main servants necromancers? Why does the House system exist in the first place? Are there people out there who aren’t part of a House at all?
No fuckin’ clue.
There’s some shit with giant monsters and what I think is a metaphor for the underworld; I have no fucking idea what the deal is. Everybody’s ten thousand years old. At one point there’s a minor side character with an Eminem reference in his name.
The punch line to all of this is that I went and looked at reviews of this book on Goodreads after I finished it, and everyone seems to more or less agree with everything I just said, except that a whole lot of them seem to have considered all of this a positive, and … I just can’t. The really ridiculous thing is that this is a trilogy and Book 3 is still forthcoming and I am probably going to buy it. I can’t tell you for the life of me if Gideon or Harrow are even alive at the end of this book but I don’t want to miss the final book in the trilogy.
It doesn’t make any damn sense, I know, but that doesn’t stop it from being true.
At any rate, I decided to call that three stars, because I can’t take this book and reduce it to a star rating. Right now I just want to find someone else who also read it and just go somewhere and stare at each other for an hour.