Book reviews / Science Fiction

Book review: Harrow the Ninth

If I were to choose a phrase that described this novel, it would be ‘a hot mess’. Which is a bit unfortunate as I thought despite being challenging, the first novel in the series Gideon the Ninth, was weird but still entirely coherent. I suppose Harrow is coherent, but the ending comes like a slap to the face, rather than taking with you on an exciting rush to the finish.

The book’s plot is roughly that Harrow, the now Lyctor, has problems. For one, she seems to exist in a parallel reality where Gideon was not her cavalier. Most of the book is Lyctor training and preparing for the assault of a resurrection beast (what’s created when a planet is ‘killed’ so it can be necromantic. Yes, those are words that make sense when describing this book.)

So she’s hanging out with the Augustine, Mercy and Ortus, all previous Lyctor’s and the King Undying, as well as Ianth from the first novel. Basically they treat her as largely defective because of her aforementioned problems (avoiding spoilers). The story oscillates between what is happening on the station and this entirely different narrative of what happened in Canaan house in the first book. There is also like loads of random other things happening: seeing the Body of the girl in the Tomb, a cadaver that doesn’t’ seem to be dead, one of the Lyctor’s trying to kill her for no reason.

This takes up about 4/5ths of the book. Then the end is just a rush of what the actual fuck. There are *so many* different concepts that have to rammed in at the end, and I just don’t think the majority of the are worth it. There’s a lot of Lyctor power plays, which while alluded to during the course of the book, aren’t really given enough space to breathe and just seem rushed and unearned. Then the multitude of epiphanies about what Harrow does are happening at the same time. Hence, the hot mess.

There is a way to bring everything to a crescendo, like in other novels and the prequel to this one, but this was just being pummelled over and over again, without any time to breath and without really knowing why.

I think the other problem is that I just didn’t get a sense of the world as much as I did the first book. It largely takes place on a space station, with more necromantic stuff (like the River and Hell and stuff like that). But it felt…flat? I dunno, maybe I missed something (though I read it in two goes, despite being longer than the first novel). I just didn’t connect with it as much as I did the first, maybe that’s because Gideon was just such an interesting character.

I still sort of like it, and will definitely read the third, but I hope there is some sort of bringing together all these different elements. Otherwise, I think there could have been a judicious edit of so many of the weird subplots (that also haven’t really felt paid off). Harrow was still very interesting to read, and I liked her as a character – her standoffishness, her wit, and also all the weird necromancy stuff. I just wish she had been treated better by the ending.

The one thing I did kind of like was the bit about revenants and creating bubbles within the River, where some weird shit happens. But it’s interesting weird shit, so I went with it.

Anyway, I would make sure you’re paying attention when you read it, otherwise you’ll not understand a fucking thing about the last 75 pages or so.

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