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The blending of horror and sci-fi shouldn't be surprising--after all, sci-fi has brought us innovative disasters and monsters galore--and Ms. Muir does an excellent job of marrying the genres in this off-world saga, a 4-volume series dealing with divinity and necromancy. This novel incorporates magic, nuns, warriors, mobile skeletons, myriad bones, the resurrected, and the possessed in a culture of decay, swordplay, and dark magic. The action begins dismally as Gideon--a lowly denizen of House Nine and an aspiring warrior--chafes against the strictures of her cruel mistress, Harrowhark. Their precarious relationship fractures further when they travel to House One to compete against paired rivals from other houses for a prestigious title. Eventually, they come to understand the reasons for their lifelong antipathy, but it may be too late to ensure their survival. The plot simmers with intrigue, dread, murder, creepy architecture, mysterious keys, abandoned labs, romantic longing, and dangers mortal and supernatural. My chief gripe is the author's failure to name characters during periods of bustling action, instead referring to participants as the "adept" or "cavalier" of House Three, for example. Another gripe is Gideon's penchant for point-of-view anachronisms: as a lifetime resident of House Nine--which is isolated and famished--she alludes to butter (where are the cows?) and deploys metaphors familiar to us but not, one would suspect, to those stranded on a dark, barren planet. Overall, I found the story intriguing. It is clever and unusual, and I highly recommend it to sci-fi and horror fans.
TBH it’s hard for me these days to pick up a book and finish it. But the story, started in the free chapters posted online, caught me with its unrelenting humor, the fascinating necromancer world presented and painted very aptly, and above all, the characters that inhabited it, funny and intriguing and sometimes frustrating. I was hooked -I kept reading until the end.
There were just a couple things I didn't like. WARNING for (kinda) SPOILERS:
I usually dislike (hate, even) books and series where beloved characters are killed off, and this one managed an impressive body count without making me want to fling the book off into a wall (too much) (not recommended since I got the Kindle edition anyway). Still, it gives me pain and only makes me cringe imagining what else will happen in the next books.
Also, the transition to childhood rivals who completely hate each other to -- what hapens at the end, doesn't feel entirely natural, it's a bit jarring how much it changed, it just doesn't feel excellently pulled off.
Despite all that... the best reviews I leave always say the same thing: it made me cry. This made me cry like a baby. This book hurt me, but it also amused me and amazed me and made me wonder a lot of things about the plot. Some things happened that completely floored me, some others I expected, and I enjoyed and felt all of it. I haven’t been this enthusiastic about a book series in a long time. I can’t wait for Harrow the Ninth.
I might even, if I ever have the chance of getting a copy signed, buy the actual physical books.
I didn't read the tagline on the book saying lesbian necromancer's in space until I was half way in. I would happily have started just for necromancer's or space and was delighted to have both. I didn't really like Gideon, but the book doesn't need you too. It delivers mystery and gives enough answers to keep you engaged. It dives into the world without being pretentious and just bulls forward. It's violent and bloody and macabre. It feels modern. It feels big.
Beautifully described environments, original world-building and clever plotting are only let down by somewhat cheesy and underwhelming dialog / internal monologue on the part of the protagonist. I won't spoil anything, but suffice it to say that if you enjoy gothic space opera, this is an incredibly fun read.
This book is oddly readable for something so incomprehensible and with so many characters to (not be able to) keep track of. But Gideon Nav and Harrowhawk are so much fun that I didn’t much care how this universe worked.
- You may love or hate the dialogue -- Gideon talks like a millennial and the novel is set in some far off impossible place so you'd be expecting folks to be speaking that bygone-ese you hear in fantasy novels, a stilted too-formal approximation of Shakespeare rendered in prose. It's exceptionally playful, and there was a minute in the beginning where I thought I might not want to continue on with the book as I was worried the dialogue would eventually grate or veer into an almost unintentional satire. Fortunately it was a passing feeling, and Muir has an excellent sense for story pacing and dialogue in service of the plot. There are plenty of puns and modern-day colloquialisms, if that is your sort of thing. I would call it less funny than that it doesn't take it's dialogue as deathly serious as other fantasy/sci-fi novels. - There is a will-they won't they dynamic between leads Harrow, the Ninth House necromancer, and Gideon, her cavalier or sworn sword, but there is nothing overly sexual about this novel despite the lesbian lead. It's a hallmark of how far the genre has come in a short 50 years to normalize this type of main character, to have her sexuality only be a minor facet of her character. It's refreshing to have come so far. - There are times where I struggled with the action being depicted, lost in who was doing what. The first time I really noticed it was when Gideon was fighting a large skeletal construct at the behest of her necromancer, Harrow. I got the gist of the action and sort of made up my own pacing, as you could tell the scene would end with the construct deconstructed. The action scenes are balletic, Gideon wielding a rapier in defense while Harrow conjures, and this is difficult to depict narratively. - It really is a great example of world-building. There is so much detail under the surface of this world, and the way your understanding of it unfolded with the narrative was a real joy. Great science fiction and fantasy series are as much about their worlds as they are their characters or their plots -- if the world is interesting enough, you could pace some automatons getting coffee and you'd have a compelling read. - This novel is chock-full of references to the Bible, classic literature, history, or countless other topics. Everything was chosen with purpose and double meaning. I'd recommend reading the "A Little Explanation of the Naming System" at the end before Act 2 for pronunciation help. I didn't, and I wasn't even close. Hermy-one, anyone? - I will certainly be reading the rest of this series, as Muir lays out enough thread to tease a very compelling tetralogy (it's up to 4 books now with Alecto being announced as the penultimate book after Harrow the Ninth and before Nina the Ninth, which tickles me with a through-line of the Grecian furies being subtext). - Most of the novel takes place in the falling-apart Canaan House (not sure what the importance of Canaan is in the name other than as an ethnic group that crops up from time to time in the Bible), but this very much feels like a Gothic Novel trope, harkening back to Northanger Abbey or Fall of the House of Usher. It's a cross between Clue and an escape house.
After reading, I really could not find any lesbian necromancers in this book. Maybe an affection towards two girls, but nothing hinting Lesbian. I’d call this book a Necromantic murder mystery story, “Murder at the First House”! Why call the sequel “Harrow the Ninth”. Didn’t the Emperor just declare her Harrowhark the First(spoilers). Tamsyn’s writing style, at times is confusing, had to reread certain part, it felt like I were reading one character but yet when I finished it was another character(though I could have drifted off into a reading fog, Brian shutdown and was just reading words). I’m thankful to have read this by Kindle, tap on a word and get the definition. Besides all that, the book was enjoyable, I look forward to the misnamed second book. This could be a good series going through all the houses first, second, third… Ninth
Having heard so much about this book from friends, I'm happy to say the hype was worth it!
Things I enjoyed: - A fun narrative voice! My favorite thing about it had to be the extremely quirky narrative voice. It's snarky and sarcastic, which is a perfect way to describe Gideon, herself. She was my favorite in this book!
-A very cool setting. As an artist, I absolutely loved the unique aesthetic of a Dark Fantasy world wrapped in a Sci-Fi. There are creepy blind skull nuns, ancient decrepit palaces, and necrolords, but also spaceships and space travel.
Things I didn't enjoy as much: - Lots of characters to keep up with! Keep that dramatis personae handy - Not a fan of how certain relationships develop and hoping the sequel will clarify the late-story developments and what they mean for the central characters of the first book, as they didn't feel adequately explore in this book for this reader
I liked this story best when it was focused on the smaller character interactions, unique mysticism, and creepy setting & mystery. Now that the sequel seems to be veering more into the larger world plot, I'm wondering if I'll enjoy it as much without certain aspects, but I might be surprised. Onwards to the sequel I go because this first entry was intriguing and quirky enough to keep me going!
While I liked the main character, Gideon, and the background was the right amount of creepy, with some cool sword fights and necromantic magic, the plot takes a while to get interesting, and less confusing. Set in a universe made of nine different houses, each serving the Emperor's First House with their different style and manner of magic. The Ninth House where Gideon has spent her life as the Reverend Daughter's, Harrowhark, verbal punching bag, lives amongst skeleton servants and ancient nuns. Harrowhark, heir to the Ninth, is a bone witch and Gideon is, well, not, and for some reason, the entitled Harrowhark feels it gives her full rein on how horrid she is toward Gideon.
Then the Ninth receives an invite from the Emperor. I had to read the his missive three times before I semi-understood he was inviting Harrowhark and her cavalier to the palace where they would engage in some sort of battle...tournament...duel to the death so they may become an immortal Lyctor (not in the dictionary). Unfortunately sensing imminent death, the Ninth's cavalier bolts leaving Harrowhark no choice but to bring Gideon in his stead, but first she must put down her kickass dual-handed sword and learn the art of a rapier, a totally different style. And it also means she has to be Harrowhark's sideman.
Well they arrive Emperor's Palace and meet the heirs and cavaliers of each house and thank god there is a list of Houses and their representatives in the front of the book to reference. Frequently. Some memorable, others not so much. The Palace itself is a character with it's rat maze of hidden rooms, secret courtyards and ancient laboratories, all covered with layers of dust and ancient mold. Each team is given a ring and shown to their quarters and then...nothing happens. For days. There is no explanation as to how to play the game or what they are even supposed to accomplish. I was able to put the book down and walk away too many times during this part.
Then the book turns into a game of Clue. A season of Survivor. All with sword play, duals to the shame, alliances, and weird monsters. It's this part with the interesting magic, the intrigue, the literal back-stabbing, when the book really picks up.
Confusion aside (still don't get the thanergenic energy science), I did enjoy this book for it's mystery, the creepy palace and Gideon-her sarcastic sense of humor helped me get past how much I disliked Harrowhark. Now, on the topic of Harrowhark-mild spoiler ahead-I see her name in the title of the second book. Do I want to spend an entire book with Harrowhark? I do. I do but with the option to throw it across the room yelling expletives.
3.5 stars for slow start and Harrowhark's existence.