|Jacket art by Tommy Arnold|
Design by Jamie Stafford-Hill
tor.com, 4 August 2020
Available as: HB, 507pp, e, audio
Source: online audio subscription (read by Moira Quirk)
ISBN (HB) 9781250313225
Harrow the Ninth is essentially Gideon the Ninth but dialled up several notches more (how is that possible?) with even more moving parts and a LOT more bones. It must have been exhausting to write.
Having survived the spooky, far future "And Then There Were None" of Canaan House, and finally achieved Lyctorhood, Harrowhark Nonegesimus finds herself in a remote space station, the refuge of the Emperor and his Saints, accompanied by some of said Saints, a motley lot. They are supposed to be training for the ultimate showdown with a Resurrection Beast and its Heralds, and there is much discussion of tactics - but Harrow is more concerned that somebody is (or somebodies are) trying to kill her. Again.
The story plays out over several months leading up to... well an event that I won't name for spoiler reasons although it is well foreshadowed. Muir plays evil games with her timeline, popping back and forward months, weeks, hours, always anchoring things on that event, but only coming to describe it very late in the book.
She also includes side-trips back to Canaan House, where an alternate version of the events in Gideon the Ninth seems to be playing out, a darker version (really!) with a slightly different cast of characters. That's related to events in Harrow's present(s), of course, but it also gives an opportunity to reacquaint oneself with the rich cast of characters from the earlier book. We also meet the rest of the Lyctors (that motley crowd) in the "now". They really are a beguiling, infuriating, varied lot, having survived ten thousand years as servants of their Emperor and acquired ten thousand years' of grudges and regrets.
It's clear that there is a great deal going on here - plots and politics, personal agendas, romance and long-nurtured rivalries. It all goes back to the roots of the Emperor's necromancy but also casts light on more recent events - some of those flashbacks are to Gideon's and Harrow's early lives and we learn a great deal about them. I didn't follow everything that happened - perhaps the decision to listen to the book, rather than reading it, and over several weeks, made this harder, although it brought compensations: the vivacity with which the narrator, Moira Quirk, reads the story, creating dozens of different personas for the various characters and actually morphing from one to another when certain things take place. (Without spoiling things, I will say that precisely who some of these voices are at particular points is important, and sometimes unexpected).
Overall, a treat for fans of necromancy (and who isn't?) though this is not a book to read - or listen to - unless you have read the first part of the trilogy. Not only will you be at sea but you'll miss various riffs on the first book and some things which are absolutely revelatory here will lose their power if you read them out of order.
For more information about Harrow the Ninth, see the publisher's website here.