I had to take my time with this review so it wouldn’t devolve into a jumble of screeching and excited gurgles. But trust me when I say that this book is like riding a roller coaster while tripping. But, you know, in the most masterful way possible. Muir is easily, and quickly, becoming one of my favorite authors; not only can she craft such a gothic and macabre, gory and intensely beautiful world, but she successfully uses ALL THREE types of POV’s in this book in order to build the most amazing mystery and the best pay out for said mystery that I’ve read in a long, long time. Which makes writing a review for this book so, so hard… I don’t want to say anything for fear it mat spoil something, which would ruin everything. But let’s give it a try, shall we?
Harrow the Ninth follows Harrowhark almost immediately following the events of Gideon the Ninth. There is no real recap for you, so it can be a little difficult at first to center yourself in what’s going on with Harrow and where she finds herself, and what she’s supposed to be doing. But from that first page, which starts with “The night before the emperor’s murder” you're tense with anticipation. You’re immediately plunged into a mystery where you know some event is going to happen, but you don’t know why, you kind of know when, but you’re not even really sure who the emperor is at this point beyond the person who called Harrowhark to become a Lyctor in the first place. The book jumps in timeline so one chapter could be a day before this supposed murder, the next set of chapters is six months before, then we’re back to three weeks… It can get a little jumbled, which when coupled with the fact that so much of the book is written in 2nd person, can make things really disorienting, which is by design and so expertly done. There are so many mysteries going on in this story between who is after the emperor, who is after Harrow (and why), and even who the narrator of this story is, that it really does demand your full attention. And you should absolutely give it that, plus some.
I know speed reading is the "in" thing, and having a massive reading goal for the month, or even the week, to sprint through but this book is written to be savored. It is written in a way where you have to pay attention and you have to take your time, and trust me, you’ll want to. Not just for the mystery aspects or the fact that the writing can be dense at times (Muir loves using obscure vocabulary, lemme tell you), but Muir’s sentences are just beautiful. Hilarious at times, and packed with a gothic, visceral beauty that you miss if you try to go too fast, to speed to the end to find out wtf is going on. I felt that way about this book early on; the start was slow and I wasn’t used to the 2nd person narrative, the writing and imagery can be hard to understand at times, but then something happens and you’re just IN the story and come the final section of the book… I could not put it down! The payoff on all the mysteries made my heart so, so happy that it hurt. So never fear, even though there will now be 4 books in this series, Harrow’s book delivers on all the promises it makes and answers pretty much every question it presents. I say almost because obviously some are still a bit mysterious, but that’s what the next book is for and I cannot wait!
I really need more people to read this book, nay, this series! But I know a lot of people will want to put Harrow aside because 2nd person POV’s feel so unnatural sometimes. I get that, I felt the same. But the reward this book gives you for paying attention, for sticking around, for being swept up in the chaos in Harrow’s mind… Let’s just say this book now lives rent free in my head for the rest of my days. So, yeah, it gets all the stars from me! I already can’t wait to do my reread (via audiobook this time) just so I can see all the hints and breadcrumb trails better, because the small stuff I glossed over turned out to be a big plot point later on. Who knows, maybe I’ll be better prepared to not like a certain character that I feel very conflicted about still kinda enjoying come the end of the book…
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