Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, published by TorDotCom, is the third book in The Locked Tomb series. Following the events of the second book, Harrow the Ninth, Nona comes as a complete surprise. I was overjoyed with excitement to hear that the next book (scheduled to have been Alecto the Ninth) will actually be the fourth book and I welcomed Nona with open arms. I’m happy to have done so because Nona is full of love.
The events of Harrow the Ninth involve Harrow, quite literally, not knowing herself (live, laugh, lobotomy – because Harrow giving herself a lobotomy just to keep Gideon Nav alive is still one of the most romantic things I’ve ever read) as she tried to evade certain death at the hands of her fellow Lyctors. Whereas, Nona the Ninth introduces us to someone who looks like Harrow but isn’t and who is six-months-old, but in the body of a nineteen-year-old. If Harrow the Ninth was a Rubik’s Cube that Tamsyn Muir handed readers to solve, Nona the Ninth is like an Etch-A-Sketch that she’s finishing and she can’t wait to show you in the best possible way.
We, as readers, experience Nona as she lives with Camilla, Palamedes (in the body of Camilla), and Pyrra (in the body of her dead Cavalier, Gideon the First). It’s a war-torn city. Our protagonists wake up and analyze Nona’s dreams and try to feed her eggs, even though she absolutely hates eggs. She is almost an exactly foil of Harrowhark Nonagesimus. It’s an absolute chad move to have two novels, back-to-back, that have our main characters not be themselves with absolutely no clue as to what’s going on, but it’s never difficult to follow or even upsetting to read. I may miss both Harrow and Gideon, but Nona is a ray of sunshine.
Nona is a teacher’s aide at her local school where she has friends with the most amazing names. Hot Sauce is the too-cool-for-school leader of her friend group; Beautiful Ruby, born in the Morning; Honesty; and Kevin are all part of this tight-knit, group of badass and feral children. Nona is an absolute sweetheart who just wants to love her friends and family to the fullest, impress Hot Sauce, and walk the teacher’s six-legged dog named Noodle.
It sounds absurd that this story about space necromancers fighting to become Lyctors to ascend their God, takes this detour to hone in on what appears to be a slice-of-life dystopian war story. Muir’s writing is slow and methodical. The confusion, questions, and anxiety any reader may have about where the story is going all clicks into place in one of the best-paced stories I’ve ever read. As new characters and new places are thrown at you, very quickly, Tamsyn is set on telling this overarching story that begins to piece itself together her way and it’s glorious.
With chapters sprinkled throughout the narrative about John’s (referred to as Teacher, God, Creator, Emperor Undying etc.) rise to power, the creation of the Nine Houses, and the ballistic backstory of how late-late-late-stage capitalism paved its way for the creation of bone magic, Nona the Ninth is by far one of the most rewarding books to read.
Through Nona, we get to experience characters we know and love through her love for them. After two books of screaming at characters to just kiss already or to declare their undying love for one another, it’s a breath of fresh air to know that Palademes kisses Nona’s hand, to hand off that kiss to Camilla. It’s heart wrenching to see Prrya so full of her love for her family, she begrudgingly protects them to her fullest capabilities. Even though Cam and Pal think it’s ridiculous, they are more than happy to take Nona to the beach and throw her a birthday party. Nona is filled with child-like wonder, purity, and is so anti-goth you wonder how it’s even possible that she’s inside of Harrow’s body and begs the question, What in God’s name is going on?
Muir guides you and never plainly reveals the answers to us. Nona the Ninth is going to be a novel that will continuously give to you with each reread. However, I cannot say for certain that everyone will love it. It’s very well-paced and shifts from a whimsical dystopian war slice-of-life to epic, sci-fi, scheming, action. This mish-mash of genres is a testament to Muir’s unparalleled talent to cultivate loveable characters and envision fiction that is so bizarrely beautiful and hilariously perplexing. What I’ve described thus far isn’t even the half of it when it comes to Nona the Ninth. There’s a shiny, scary blue-orb that is (probably) evil that hangs in the sky that Nona talks to, soul merging (and swapping), gender euphoria to anyone who has ever wished to be so close to another person they become one sentient entity (when this happens it will make you absolutely sob because I did!), 4-D chess political scheming, and lots of ass jokes.
This novel is not the book that most people envisioned after reading the jigsaw puzzle that was Harrow the Ninth. I can say with certainty though, this is a book you need. It’s still gothic, dramatic, funny, and absurd. Once I hit about 30% through, I finished it in one sitting because Muir has plotted something so personal, well-crafted, and emotionally driven through Nona that it feels like you’ve found a new best friend. People may put her and her book in the shadow of Gideon and Harrow, but if you’re willing to experience Nona the Ninth as a weirdly intimate hug from someone you just met, you’ll be surprised how much you need her.
Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is available now at your local independent bookstore or anywhere fine books are sold.