The third installment of a necromantic science-fantasy series continues working at puzzles of identity and the meaning of loyalty.
Previously (Gideon the Ninth, 2019; Harrow the Ninth, 2020), sullen but brilliant necromancer Harrowhark consumed the soul of Gideon, her foulmouthed cavalier, to become a Lyctor, a semi-immortal officer in the Emperor Undying’s court. In a desperate attempt to preserve Gideon’s identity, Harrow deliberately erased the other woman from her memories, leaving herself confused to the point of delusion, unable to access her full powers, and vulnerable to enemies both within and without the Emperor’s court. This novel introduces Nona, a sweet but extraordinarily naïve young woman who appears to be in Harrowhark’s body but with Gideon’s golden eyes, lacking both necromantic abilities and any memories prior to six months ago. Nona’s been happy despite her precarious living situation in a war-torn city threatened by the necromantic Houses and their foe, the Blood of Eden. Unfortunately, what fragile peace she has cannot last, and everything depends on recovering Nona’s memories and returning to Harrowhark’s home in the Ninth House, there to finally release the deadly threat lurking in the Locked Tomb. But who is Nona, really: Harrowhark, Gideon, a blend of both young women…or someone else entirely? (The reader will figure it out long before the characters do.) Meanwhile, the Emperor and Harrowhark meet in dreams, where he recounts events of 10,000 years ago, when, as a newly fledged necromancer, his conflict with the corrupt trillionaires who planned to escape the dying Earth and leave the remaining billions to perish led to nuclear apocalypse. It’s pretty gutsy of Muir to write two books in a row about amnesiac characters, particularly when it may very well be the same character experiencing a different form of amnesia in each. This work initially reads like a strange interlude from the series, devoted to Nona’s odd but essentially quotidian routine in the midst of war, riot, and general chaos. But the story gradually gathers speed, and it’s all in service to a deeper plot. It is unfortunate that the demands of that plot mean we’ve gotten a considerably smaller dose of Gideon’s defiantly crude, riotously flouncy behavior in the two books subsequent to the one which bears her name.
A deceptively quiet beginning rockets to a thrilling finish, preparing us for the next volume’s undoubtedly explosive finale.