- The Good: Lesbian warrior necromancers
- The Bad: Irreverent humor; confusing structure and POV
- The Literary: Second and third person used interchangeably
Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, answers the Emperor’s call, arriving at the Emperor’s space station Mithraeum ready to train to fight in an unwinnable war. Under three unfriendly teachers, Harrow trains to become an angel of undeath, but it seems someone is also out to kill her.
The previous book in the series, Gideon the Ninth, features a snarky protagonist who eventually falls in love with Harrow. Together with the macabre backdrop, I think the likability of the first installment lies in the enemies-turned-lovers relationship. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past how mean and co-dependent Gideon and Harrow are to each other, nor the “contemporary” humor that uses slang or pop memes for cheap laughs. The irreverent tone just doesn’t work with the gothic horror.
I didn’t expect to pick up the sequel, but just like this first book in the series, Harrow the Ninth was nominated for a Hugo Award, so read it I did. I expected the mishmash of scifi/fantasy/romance/horror, but what I didn’t expect was to be so confused for most of the novel. The first half of the book is in second person with an ominously portentous tone, and it’s deliberately unclear who is speaking. Add in shifting timelines, and the narrative feels confusing and obtuse for no reason. The confusion might be worth it if it paid off, but it doesn’t.
I thought the sequel might be a character story about Harrow navigating grief over Gideon’s death (sorry, spoiler alert for book 1). Instead, Harrow doesn’t remember Gideon, and when she eventually does there is only a very quick coming to terms. At least Harrow is serious and sad. Every other character is constantly joking around, to the point that I don’t really distinguish between them. And the humor is the same as the first novel, which again, isn’t for me.
Despite my low review, lots of people love the genre-defying Locked Tomb series, and it could be for you! Check out Gideon the Ninth, winner of the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and stay tuned for this awards seasons’ results.