First Impressions of Harrow The Ninth

Harrowhark

Harrow the Ninth is the second book in The Locked Tomb Series. Yes, it used to be The Locked Tomb Trilogy, but now there is going to be more. So, that’s good news! I’m a fan of Gideon the Ninth and have been excited to read Harrow the Ninth. 

I still am. I’m probably going to give Harrow the Ninth five stars.

However, I have to admit that having chapters seemingly alternate between third and second person narration was something I wasn’t expecting. I’d gone in blind. No reviews. No samples. I had no idea. My only expectation was more of that Gideon the Ninth goodness. Which is there, just in second person. Alternatingly.

It isn’t that the perspectives – and points in time – alternate between chapters, it’s that second person exists at all. Especially after it did not exist in Gideon the Ninth. My brain was fighting the idea that I was taking on the role of Harrowhark. Who is a character that I’d thoroughly witnessed in the third person. My brain was fighting the idea that I was the narrator witnessing Harrow’s Lyctorial challenges.

For the first fifty pages, there was a sense of relief when I turn to a third person chapter. I knew simple reading bliss would follow. When I hit a new chapter I’d do a quick scan of the page for the use of the word “you.” If I saw it outside of quotes my heart would sink just little. Seriously, just a little. My brain would whir up and start trying to figure out if I’m Harrow or the narrator. 

Eventually, I just relaxed.

Second person narration was a challenge I had to overcome. I have my spoiler free suspicions as to why there is second person narration. I also acknowledge that Tamsyn Muir is smarter than me. Even if I’m wrong as to why, I’m sure Muir has very good reasons for writing parts of Harrow the Ninth in second person.

Should You Look Up Words You Don’t Know While Reading?

Books

An essay on Book Riot begged a question, Should You Look Up Words You Don’t Know While Reading?  It was a question that I thought didn’t even need to be asked. Granted it was not even 7:00 A.M. and I hadn’t had my full ration of coffee. 

Why wouldn’t you look up a word you don’t understand? As the essay goes on to point out, you could make an assumption based on the context. Even if you assume wrong, not knowing a single word would not send the entire text collapsing down around the reader in fire and ash. 

These are fine choices for the participation award crowd. However I ask, what if the reader assumes wrong. What if the narrator is unreliable or the character waivers or has their, well character, challenged. This unknown word could be the glimpse behind the curtain to a much deeper and rewarding read. 

Well as it turns out, some Smarty Pants types have done some research and relayed some data that the essay cites. The data shows that people don’t retain new words for very long. Very long being about thirty seconds. Granted, this seems to be based on looking up words while reading. Maybe running into a story and a lot more words splits our processing and soaking up new words power.

When I read Gideon the Ninth, I had to look up a bunch of words. Too many to recall. In my review I mention two words, “prolix” and “soto voce.” I remember the latter clearly, but the former is a bit murky. In fact it’s downright ethereal. Too be honest I looked it up and I was entirely wrong. I think I even used it in conversation once. I felt like a knob after doing so. 

Where was I? Right. It’s beneficial to know that we don’t retain new words for very long. Especially when we’re distracted right after learning the new word. Beneficial because it means we can do something about it and that I’m not stupid. We’re all stupid! Good news for me, bad news for us. I’m still going to continue to look up words while reading, but will try to note, review, and solidify them in the relatively near future.

Gideon the Ninth: Lesbian Necromancers In Space!

You can read my spoiler free review here or over on goodreads.

Gideon the Ninth is really good book. So good that I had to write about it with a bit more depth, while still striving to remain spoiler free. It’s the first book in The Locked Tomb Trilogy. If that name doesn’t give it away, it’s a fantasy series. Yes, even though there are more than a few sci-fi, horror, mystery, and urban fantasy elements sprinkled around the book, it is a fantasy series. Gideon the Ninth includes goodness from so many genres taking inspiration and components and mixing them together in a skilled manner to create an intriguing tale.

In some ways the universe of Gideon the Ninth reminds me of Dune’s. There are a bunch of houses, with their own roles and cultures, in control of their respective planets. An absent yet fear imbuing emperor is in charge of them all. Characters have mouthy greek inspired names like Atreides, Nonagesimus, and Tridentarius. One can’t ignore the – perhaps coincidental – similarities of the names Harkonnen and Harrowhark. There’s a mixture of space age technology and the tried and true staples like swords and daggers. Society with all it’s idiosyncrasies and traditions has existed for millennia. Though this particular society seems worse for wear and little threadbare. 

Waning society fantasy setting aside, there’s a murder mystery to be had as a motley group of unruly and humorous characters that aren’t the quite the typical fantasy crowd work to become Lyctor. Which is fancy talk for bad bad necromantic side kick to the emperor. While several characters are off beat, they aren’t from completely out of left field either. Readers are only given deeper access to a few of the characters, having them become a focal point in the story.  There’s a high degree of skill in writing and enough time was given to make all the necessary characters feel at least somewhat rounded. With many appearing as fully formed characters. Which is a feat given that the story is less that five hundred pages, in a fantasy setting, and has almost twenty pertinent characters. 

On top of the characters there is also the world building. No, it isn’t as much as some larger fantasy novels and by the end a fair portion of the world is still enshrouded in mystery. That’s what I found so intriguing. By the time I finished, I didn’t understand how the world fully worked. I’m not even sure how far reaching the universe is. Space is the perfect setting for a tale about necromancers. The near infinite cold void is nothing if not an apt metaphor for death itself. I’m fine with having mystery as it gives me something to ponder on.

I found the writing to be strong. Like a several other readers, I found the first part was a bit of a slog. There were many words I had to look up and the reader is getting hit with some world specific lingo that can be a bit unwieldy in the way it was introduced. Though I can appreciate the effort of avoiding exposition. To be honest, I almost gave up. Having to search for a word every few pages was starting to take a toll on my self-esteem. I’m wasn’t too proud, I just thought I wasn’t smart enough. 

After the first act, the writing loosens up considerably. There’s an anachronistic humor to the characters that becomes apparent. Aviators and elements of leathery gothy punkness squeak into the story. The character’s lexicon is not much different than our own current culture’s lexicon. Which in a way was refreshing. Cussing just occurs with no world specific proxy words. Hell is hell and an eff bomb is set to kill. All of this gives Gideon the Ninth an urban fantasy feel. 

Lastly is the predominant horror element. It’s every where as it should be in a story about death and space. Canaan House is a destitute and derelict place staffed with skeletons that even the necromancers find off-putting. A since of greatness and extinguished life adorn the halls and rooms. Winding concourses are dimly lit and blocked by locked doors. There are things in the dark places. Also, once the spaceships are pushed over the edge of the landing strip, there is no escape.

All of the elements mix together to give Gideon the Ninth a refreshingly new take on a few played out fantasy tropes. Why it’s taken humanity so long to get to a book about necromancers in space, let alone lesbian necromancers in space, is anyone’s guess. 

I almost forgot about the lesbian piece! That alone could serve as an indicator for how integral it is to the story. Do not get me wrong, it does factor into the plot. What it isn’t though is the plot. Gideon the Ninth is a amalgamation of a lot of genres, but it isn’t a “coming out” or “mostly about being a lesbian” story. What’s interesting is that the word “lesbian” doesn’t even appear in the book. Perhaps it doesn’t even exist, because what’s even more intriguing and inspiring is that it isn’t a big deal in this world. There are a couple of characters that are lesbian and it’s just accepted. No other characters mumble or glare about it. In fact, they’re beyond acceptance. It’s normal! Just the way it is, nothing to see here other than representation. What if our own world was the same way, for like, all LGBTQIA2S+? Representation. Acceptance. Empathy. 

If any of this sounds intriguing in the slightest, Gideon the Ninth should probably be picked up. I found it great and it resonated with me in such a way that I know I will reread it sooner than later. I cannot wait to read the rest of the series. In fact, I’ve had to actively distract and reroute myself away from neighborhood bookstores in an effort to not purchase Harrow the Ninth. Though the only reason for doing so is out of consideration for my current TBR pile. 

Gideon the Ninth

Gideon the Ninth is a fantastic read! I picked it up on a bit of whim. I’d heard about it a couple of times, but after reading about some fandom merch on Book Riot, I had to pick it up. “Lesbian necromancers in space,” is how it was pitched to me, somewhere. No that doesn’t match the blurb on the cover, but I like it. 

Gideon the Ninth has an amalgamation or anachronism occurring in both the universe and the writing that was, different. I’m not sure where Gideon got her aviators, but they work. I found they served a purpose of letting the reader understand that this isn’t a typical SFF story. All the things fans like are there, but the presentation is different. The writing isn’t as restricted feeling as the genre can be quite serious. Characters and narrators alike say things that are humorous and – for lack of a better word in a world of death – fresh

I started out reading on Libby and was glad I did as Muir used a bunch of words that I did not know. I’m used to running into the occasional word I have to look up. At the beginning of Gideon the Ninth I lost count of how many words I had to look up, but I do know that “prolix” and “soto voce” were two of them. There were plenty more and for a few thirty pages I thought that I wasn’t intelligent enough for this book. I stuck with it though and am really glad I did. 

The whole house and planet system was reminiscent of Dune. However, there is a feeling that civilization has been through a decline of somesort. Desolate and decaying, the life of necromancers mirrors the concept of death that occupies their lives. 

The story is fast paced and gripping. I found myself sneaking off to read when I probably should have been doing more responsible things. Anyway if you like your SFF with a bit of dry dark humor, pick it up.