Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

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After the events in Canaan House, Harrow is finally raised to Lyctorhood and takes her place among her fellow Lyctors. However, she finds herself struggling with her new position. Her transformation was imperfect, and she doesn’t have all the powers the other Lyctors have. Her memory is woozy, she doesn’t remember Gideon at all, and she has a set of envelopes she’s written before losing her memory, with instructions for several hypothetical scenarios. Meanwhile, the Lyctors prepare for the arrival of a Resurrection Beast hell-bent on killing the Emperor.

Last year, I listened to the audiobook of Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. In my review, I stated that I wasn’t sure if the audiobook (though wonderfully narrated by Moira Quirk) had been the right choice for me, as Gideon the Ninth frequently left me extremely confused. I decided to buy the physical book of Harrow the Ninth for this very reason, and I’m glad I did. Being able to go back a couple of sentences whenever I didn’t understand what was going on was really helpful, because…

This book was still confusing, and not just because I couldn’t keep up with the audiobook (so I’m sure I would have struggled similarly with Gideon, had I read a physical copy of that). It’s the type of story where something has changed before the book starts (in this case, Harrow forgetting Gideon) and the reader is left to put together the puzzle as they read. I’m not great at puzzles, so this type of story structure usually doesn’t really work for me. And truly: it shouldn’t have worked. But there’s something about Muir’s writing that makes me happy to sit through pages and pages of confusion and enjoy it too.

Thankfully, there are fewer characters in Harrow the Ninth than in Gideon the Ninth. Unfortunately, I had just as difficult a time trying to keep them apart. This was partly because they all have like 3 names and if you put a gun to my head I wouldn’t be able to tell you who the saint of Duty was, or why the emperor gets referred to in 5 different ways. I had this problem in Gideon and it’s still kind of annoying and unnecessary, especially considering the relatively small cast of characters. It’s almost as if Muir is intentionally trying to confuse the reader. What doesn’t help is that Muir’s style is very snappy and quirky, sometimes at the expense of characterisation. Every character talks quite similarly, which makes them blur together.

Harrow the Ninth is written in part in second person, which – again – shouldn’t work but somehow it does. Like in Gideon, I really enjoyed the way this book was written. It’s extremely funny. Muir even sprinkles some memes throughout the book, which worked for me, but which I can imagine enraging other readers. I can imagine some people reacting very poorly to it.

Even after finishing it, I’m still not 100% sure I understood everything that happened in the story. Like, I just didn’t fully get it. But that’s okay! Despite there being a lot of aspects of this book that didn’t work for me, the overall charm of Muir’s setting and characters is so strong that Harrow the Ninth gets a solid four stars from me. I think these books would be particularly fun to reread after finishing the series, because I’m sure there’s so much that I missed on my first readthrough.

I even immediately went back to the store to find book three. Unfortunately, they only had an expensive hardcover, so back to the audiobooks I go!

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