Spoilers for GtN and HtN
CW for discussions of death, murder and toxic relationships
Gideon the Ninth article
Harrow the Ninth is the galaxy-shattering sequel to Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth. It follows Harrowhark Nonagesimus, who has just risen to the position of Harrowhark the First, eighth hand to serve the Emperor. She has just achieved Lyctorhood, but at a horrible cost.
One of the best things that this book manages to achieve is using all three kinds of perspective. First, second and third person are all used at some point over the course of the book. The other strong point that this book holds is the use of incredibly complex relationship dynamics.
As I said earlier, Muir uses all three of the most common points of view, including second person. (Second person when the protagonist is referred to with the pronoun “you” as opposed to “I” or “she/he/they”). Second person is a very uncommon point of view to use, as it is difficult to pull off and tends to add a strange vibe to any piece of writing it is used in. Second person tends to put a lot of psychic distance between the reader and the protagonist, and creates the sense that your main character is being constantly followed.
This is why second person works so well in this book, because that’s exactly what’s happening. Harrow is so traumatised, she has fully dissociated and distanced herself from her experiences, as a means of survival. She has even gone to the point of giving herself a DIY lobotomy. And she is in fact being followed.
Harrow is haunted. She is being haunted by multiple figures from her past, the Body in the Locked Tomb, Abigail Pent, Gideon, and some very spooky character only referred to as the “Sleeper.” The use of second person makes this plot point really come through.
Every perspective usage in this book serves a plot purpose, as opposed to being just a stylistic choice. The constant switching of perspectives could easily have become confusing or unreadable, but it was used exceptionally well in this book and wasn’t too hard to read. It was a tad disorietning at first, but once I caught on, it was easy enough.
Harrow the Ninth is built around the most complicated of relationships. The characters in this book are all bound up by love, family, obligation, hatred or all of the above. Perhaps one of the most complicated and tragic relationships is that of the cavalier and necromancer.
The relationship between the necromancer and their cavalier is fraught with codependency. The oath they take to one another is literally “one flesh, one end”. It doesn’t matter how they feel about each other. It doesn’t matter if they are friends, family, lovers, or enemies, they are stuck together until the end. The process of attaining Lyctorhood further reinforces the themes of codependency even more apparent. In order to become a Lyctor, the necromancer must “eat” the soul of the cavalier, ultimately killing them. It doesn’t matter how the cavalier feels about it in the end, they have sworn the oath, and they must face their deaths.
The readiness with which Gideon sacrifices herself for Harrow speaks not only for the relationship of necromancer and cavalier, but that of Gideon and Harrow. Even though they have hated each other for the majority of their lives, they are the only people they can trust.
In this similar vein, Gideon and Harrow’s relationship is incredibly complex. Their relationship toes the line between romantic and platonic. They never kiss or say the words “I love you” out loud, but the love they have for one another is glaringly obvious and is enough to break the galaxy.
Personally, I enjoy the gray area that their relationship exists in. I appreciate that their love is so intense it defies labels, without being explicitly romantic or sexual. Many people in the fandom believe that Gideon and Harrow are going to end up together and I don’t disagree. In fact, I really hope they manage to get together, at least for a little bit. That being said, I adore the slow-burn thing that’s going on here.
On the subject of complex romantic relationships and codependency, we need to talk about Harrow and Ianthe’s relationship. It is one of the more messy and difficult relationships in the book. Neither of them are really “good people”, and they’re both incredibly damaged to boot. Harrow is traumatised and vulnerable, while Ianthe is also traumatised and really into projection. Thus ensues a compelling and insanely toxic relationship.
Ianthe is obviously into Harrow, to at least some degree. For a while, it is somewhat unclear whether Ianthe is looking for a genuine relationship, or a distraction (or both!). The two of them are lonely, desperate for attention, and out of any other options, as they are trapped on a spaceship with three other people and God. Even though Harrow has an intense hatred for Ianthe, she soon starts to trust, and even care for her. This is similar to how Harrow and Gideon’s relationship starts out, with the main difference being that Gideon isn't fully morally bankrupt.
Even though this relationship is horrifyingly unhealthy, it serves a purpose for these two characters. They help each other survive, yet they both seem fully invested in each other’s downfall. Ianthe may be a detestable bitch, but by God is she compelling.
Speaking of God, I would like to briefly mention the twisted relationship between the Emperor and his first two Lyctors. Ten thousand years have completely corroded their sense of relationships, or personhood. They’re stuck in this strange family/polycule dynamic. God turns out to be a bit of a scumbag, which considering the parental role he played for Harrow, was pretty devastating, but I also kind of saw it coming.
All in all, I think that Harrow the Ninth was an amazing sequel to an amazing debut, and I can’t wait to see where the series will progress.
is a young writer from Ottawa, Canada. When he isn’t in school, he enjoys reading, writing, crochet, and playing with his two cats. Their favourite genres are horror and fantasy, and they enjoy all things strange. You can find him on Instagram at @nate_fahmi.