This is one of those times I wish I’d read more reviews before jumping into a book because I certainly wasn’t expecting Harrow the Ninth to be such a challenging read.
In this second instalment of The Locked Tomb trilogy, Muir has made some divisive and ambitious creative choices. Every other chapter is written in second-person with an unknown narrator, the main character is possibly delusional, and there are frequent flashbacks that directly contradict the events of Gideon the Ninth.
The story kicks off where Gideon ended, with the Necrolord Prime asking Harrow to help him in his war against a mysterious enemy. Instead of preparing her for battle, Harrow’s teachers dismiss her as a lost cause as she questions her sanity and is convinced someone is trying to kill her.
I wrote a five-star review of Gideon the Ninth a couple of months ago because, despite the significant hype, I was surprised by how much fun I had reading it. The early chapters were a little jarring with the lack of scene-setting, but the story soon finds its feet, becoming what is essentially a game of Cluedo: Halloween Edition. This is an entirely unexpected direction given the sheer scope and uniqueness of Muir’s concept: a far-future, undead planetary system fuelled by necromancy. There are tiny little hints of a wider sci-fi setting, but these are left unused in the main story.
The concluding chapters of Gideon were all fast-paced action, and I was expecting Harrow to pick up from there, showing off the full scope of the necromantic empire and maintaining this new energy. Instead, Harrow follows a similar format to the first book, but my confusion lasted a lot longer and, perhaps because I am a rather impatient reader, the payoff wasn’t quite worth it this time.
I never fell into a rhythm with the story, due to a number of key questions that came up in the first pages that aren’t answered until over 70% of the way through the book. Leaving narrative breadcrumbs is great, but leave too many and you have a mess, not a trail.
I can reassure you that the final chapters are epic, with some mind-blowing ideas and impressive storytelling, and all loose ends tied up fairly neatly. I will still be reading the final instalment of the series, but perhaps with a more open mind.
There are also many fun things to discover throughout Harrow, notably the most messed up take on FTL travel since Event Horizon.
Muir is a fantastic writer with a unique style, completely unafraid to go into new territory. I fully understand why many people will love this book, but for me, it felt like a test of endurance before getting to the juicy bits.
If you’re happy to wade into the insanity and trust Muir to pull you out just as you’re about to drown, then absolutely give this book a go. Harrow has a lot of parallels with The Stars are Legion, so Hurley fans in particular should check out this series.