Harrow the Ninth

I have been reading one book for the entire summer. I just… what even is this? And it did not help that I found Harrow the Ninth extremely difficult to read. If I had not come off the high of Gideon, I might have just quit a few chapters in. But then again, it’s the act of reading the first book that made this one so distasteful to me. It’s hard to explain without spoilers.

I mean, everything about this book is hard to explain without spoilers. In the first book, the necromantic flowers of the Nine Houses, and the cavaliers who defend them, are called to the God-Emperor’s home to become the new round of Lyctors, his hands who help him, I don’t know, run the empire or something? This has not happened in 10,000 years, so it’s kind of a big deal. But then they start <spoiler>ing.

This book picks up with the newly graduated(?) Lyctors, learning what it is exactly that the Emperor needs them for, and how to deal with their new jobs as well as the endless aeons of immortality that await them. Simple as far as it goes, except… yeah, legitimately anything I said by way of explanation would be a spoiler of the book’s central conceit. I compared the prior book to Rendezvous with Rama, and I stand by that. Half the joy of both books so far is in the act of discovery under an almost entirely alien set of circumstances; well, “joy” for the reader, I’m not sure that word plausibly applies for the characters, but still, the similarity is real.

Still though, I simply must get this off my chest, and so the rest goes under the spoiler-cut line. But I’ll say this one other thing: half the book is written in second-person. This is awkward and difficult to get used to, far moreso than I’d ever have guessed. A good friend, lost to me for seven years, used to joke about making a second-person shooter video game, and while the untenability of that is obvious… second-person narration is nearly as off-putting. The only difference between this and the game concept is, you can eventually get used to it in print. Or maybe I’m wrong, and you could eventually get used to having to turn around constantly to affect whatever is coming up behind you, or to walking backwards through the places you’re meant to go. I guess the mind can acclimate to anything, given sufficient time and cause.

Oh, actual last thing: I sort of think that saying whether I liked the book or not would still count as a spoiler, for reasons that would probably be obvious to you if you loved the first book and were only a few chapters into this one. But I will say that I have every intention of reading the next book.

People talk about unreliable narrators. Vlad Taltos is a really good example. He tells you what he wants to tell you, and when. He’s not necessarily ashamed of many things he’s done, and yet sometimes, he just isn’t forthcoming. There are others, though none are leaping to mind at this moment. The best unreliable narrators are the ones who are lying to themselves, I think? The thing is, Harrowhark Nonagesimus leaves them all in the dust.

I have never been in a situation where I was being gaslit. I know this, because it’s no longer true. The first two thirds or more of this book are classically trying to convince the reader that they’re crazy and don’t particularly know any of the things they know. I literally went and looked in the prior book more than once to check my memory about specific events, because this book had my head spinning so hard. (And it’s a library book, so that was a lot more effort than you might imagine.)

In the end, I was satisfied that the books hang together remarkably well, and I wish I had the time to read them both again, as I think this would be rewarding. Plus maybe some of my few outstanding questions would be answered already in the current narrative, without having to wait for book four. (Don’t ask.) But that will not be happening, and all I can say is I’m glad I did like that first book so much. Because the second book was such a gleeful, authorial middle-finger waving in the breeze, mindfuck that I’m not sure a lesser Book One would have earned enough goodwill for me to power through. It really did feel like going crazy, and not in a good way.

And yet, ultimately, I still like it quite a lot, and expect to like the series as a whole. But damn will it be hard to ever recommend to anyone.

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