Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Hi book people! I have returned after a my-life-imploded-and-I-got-behind-on-reviews-and-then-got-intimidated-about-picking-it-back-up extended absence, here to talk about book 2 in my favorite series that I read in 2022. If you’re still reading these, thanks for sticking around. As per the usual for reviews written months after the fact, the below is cobbled together from brief notes I took when I finished reading the book and lasting impressions it left with me.


“Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.

Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?” – blurb from the publisher’s website.


If you liked Gideon the Ninth but are worried about the absence of Gideon like I was, proceed anyway. There is still lots of humor to be found, although it is usually of a different color than the jokes that populated Gideon. Harrow the Ninth also brings another mystery to the table, although this one is more of a “what is actually literally happening here” reality-twisting variety as opposed to the “who is responsible for all this and what’s their real motive” scenario that Gideon the Ninth explores. The pace in Harrow the Ninth is a bit slower, and sometimes the time-and-reality jumps make it hard to get your bearings, but I loved the book and highly recommend it. 

Cover art for Harrow the Ninth


This book really agitated my most reprehensible tendency as a reader, which is getting restless at how much I don’t know and peeking ahead to see if I can get more context to help me understand what’s going on. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad way to live your life or to read this book, but I think people that are comfortable not knowing things and can delight in slow, creeping revelation might have a better time of it than those of us who like to have as much information as possible at all times. It’s hard to tell what’s factually going on until very close to the end of the book, partially because there are a lot of little time hops and perspective shifts and partially because Harrow has lombotomized herself to make it easier to live without Gideon. I think the way that the author used the structure and perspective of the book to make the distress and confusion Harrow’s living in bubble up to the reader was brilliant, especially in retrospect, but I also got a bit impatient with it while reading the book.

The cast of characters in Harrow the Ninth is narrower than that of Gideon the Ninth, and I think it’s all the better for it. We end up with a smaller number of more thoroughly developed, fully fleshed-out people that are each kind of impossible to fully support or condemn. Augustine, Mercymorn, Ortus/Gideon, and Ianthe are all terrible but likable in their own ways and all of the little spats and incessant bickering helps the reader imagine what it would be like to live for a myriad with these people. The vastness of the Mithraeum highlights the absence of the slain lyctors and emphasizes the loneliness of the dwindling remainder. I loved the slow development of Ianthe and Harrow’s relationship, with its climax and consummation in Harrow’s recreation of Ianthe’s arm. Such a gruesome, intimate scene.

I was in the middle of reading this book when my ex-husband and I decided to get a divorce. There are a lot of really apt descriptions of agony in Harrow the Ninth, especially in reference to losing someone. Here are some excerpts that absolutely wrecked me:

“Harrow found out that she was not shocked, after all. She was consumed. She was the kindling for the arson taking place in her heart, her brain dry wadding for the flames, her soul so much incandescent gas. She could not do this. She absolutely and fundamentally could not do this.

[…] she found herself facedown on the mattress, sobbing as she had not sobbed since she was a child. Someone said ‘Everybody out. Go–‘ But this was more than she could take stock of. Harrow was too amazed by her body’s expanding capacity for despair. It was as though her feeling doubled even as she looked at it, unfolding, like falling down an endless flight of stairs. She dug her hands into the mattress and she cried for Gideon Nav.

She only stopped weeping when her body had physically exhausted itself. […] For a long time she pressed her face into the wet patch of mattress she had cried into, and smelled the old stuffing, and felt the grief that had multiplied into a universe.” (p. 380)

“Harrowhark, I gave you my whole life and you didn’t even want it.” (p. 391)

“Could she, who had once thought herself well-versed in absence, endure alone? The answer was so obviously no; she was not even ready to have the question put to her.

And yet–and yet–” (p. 461-2)

Woof. What a cathartic gut punch this book was, and what exquisitely painful timing. If you find yourself in need of levity after all that, thankfully the author provides us with many a ridiculous Gideon quip throughout the last act. Do yourself a favor if you haven’t already and read the entire book asap.

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