Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #2) by Tamsyn Muir

Pages: 510

Genre: fantasy, sci-fi, queer characters

Synopsis

She answered the Emperor’s call. She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only friend. In victory, her world has turned to ash.

After rocking the cosmos with her deathly debut, Tamsyn Muir continues the story of the penumbral Ninth House in Harrow the Ninth, a mind-twisting puzzle box of mystery, murder, magic, and mayhem. Nothing is as it seems in the halls of the Emperor, and the fate of the galaxy rests on one woman’s shoulders.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.

Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?

My thoughts

Rating out of five: two stars

This might be the first book in a series where I missed a bit of repetition about the world-building and where the first book left off. Because it’s a complete shift in writing style and vibe of the plot. To the point where I was both googling and reaching out to friends about whether this book was worth continuing to read. And while they thought so, because «it would be explained eventually», I would rather have stopped when I look back. What interested me most about this book was why I didn’t like it, despite trying my best.

It has a second person POV for large parts of it. I started reading it on a kindle, switched to audiobook on advice from friends, but could not stand the character voices the voice actor made. (I’m sure they’re great, it’s just a personal preference.) So I finally read most of the book in physical format and at the end the narrative choices made sense. But that doesn’t mean it was worth it. Short format, either within a novel or on its own, you can experiment a lot with narrative styles. But because of the supposedly expansive sci-fi/fantasy world, with planets and gods, the plot gets kind of muddled with the narration. It’s both an unreliable narrator, a lot of characters, multiple plans the protagonist knows little about and basically an amnesia storyline (even if magically induced). When someone dies, it’s hard to care, in what is supposed to feel like a whole big mystery. It has such good ratings, but if a younger me read this book I would just go «I’m sure it’s great and I just don’t quite get it», when in reality this is a book with a great idea of how to tell a story, but a mostly bad execution.

Some parts here and there the writing really work, but then it loses focus again in the (un)balance of getting the reader information about both the expansive storyline and the character storyline so that they could be tied together. It’s the type of book that could need more than 500 pages to explain the world, but where 500 pages is way too long already for the exhaustive narrative styles. Mainly, I think it could’ve been fixed by having Harrow not be such a big protagonist as she was.

I’m kind of tempted trying the third book, Nona the Ninth, just because of the big switch from the first to second book and the small chance the next is something else again. But I definitely lost a lot of faith in the series.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente | Review

Genre: sci-fi & humor

Pages: 350

First off I finally got a kindle cover! It’s slytherin green!

Synopsis

Turns out, humans aren’t the only sentient creature in the universe and they’ve come to realize that. The people of other planets are questioning if the humans are even sentient. They’re going to have to prove it, through a contest. After a war that nearly tore the galaxy apart the other planets went together and created an intergalactic song contest, because song is what the universe is made of obviously. The “new” planets is obligated to join. But if they lose they have proven they’re not worth keeping around, so they will be eliminated completely, the species along with the planet. Humans doesn’t even get to choose their contestants, it’s the one hit then forgotten band Absolute Zeroes who has been chosen to represent Earth among these murderous aliens, musical geniuses or divas.

My thoughts

Rating four out of five:

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I was confused about was going on most of the time, could not keep the aliens or even human characters apart, thought one of the main characters was a man instead of a woman for most of the book (turns out it wasn’t the bromance i thought) and have to admit that the writing is an aquired taste, perhaps for the crazy and adventorous. But I was blown away by this book and how entertaining it was, a type of book that I’ve been looking for a long time. It’s all over the place and funny, with some morals here and there if you’re looking closely and parts to analyze. Everything seems just thrown in, and I love the style. It did certainly become better after the first twentyfive percent so hang in there if you’re confused. 

First tip when reading this book: do not try to understand everything on the first read through! You will use forever, the writing won’t flow and you’ll be frustrated. Just let go and enjoy the ride, especially if english isn’t your first language and so many weird words than usual, in so many strange settings throw you off. Which leads to tip number two: read this book in your first language, if possible. It will be difficult to follow anyway, from someone who has read almost exclusively english books the last seven years.

This book was marketed as this crazy, colorful, intergalactic Eurovision song contest with the name of Metagalactic Grand Prix. If you’ve ever seen eurovision and enjoyed it, this book might be for you, especially if it’s the drama, costumes and stage show that is entertaining. Because that’s what some of the aliens live for, which is so funny. Some just kill each other or others, which is why they got the contest, to “unite” aka keep an eye on each other. Politics is wonderful in these kinds of things. There were so many times I wondered if the author Valente was drawing parallells to reality and social commentary, but I could not stop reading every time, so I guess I’ll have to go back and reflect a bit more. I like her writing from other books, which was what drew me to this one, but I could not imagine the creativity and originality I would find.

On the other side there’s another marketing thing I think went wrong for this book; comparing it so obviously to “the hitchhiker’s galaxy”. Valente says herself that it wouldn’t have been made without it in a way I loved: “Without Hitchhiker’s Guide, this book would simply disappear in a puff of logic. Good lord, without Hitchhiker’s Guide, I would disappear in a puff of logic.” But it sets an expectation for a format she doesn’t have, which I think mainly is the reason for bad or average ratings I’ve seen. You need to go into this book willing to be confused and entertained.

For some of this book I feel like the hilarious, sarcastic cat who found herself on a spaceship, away from earth:

“Thus, for her, the voyage passed by like a training montage in a hastily made feel-bad film, in bits and flits and pieces the feline found it far too much work to understand or care about.”

The humor in this book is definitely my cup of tea … of coffee? “But you’ve just never had better coffee than the fair-trade organic late-harvest darkest of dark roasts at a Voorpret espresso bar. And you don’t nuke that sort of thing from orbit. It’s just so hard to find a good cappuccino when you’re traveling.”  The humor is dark, and often packaged in pretty words or situations. I love when the song contest is on and the contestants are plotting against each other.

The feeling this book gave me: being a confused tiny creature laughing out loud at how the book reflects so many parts of life and irony in the darkest things, how the erratic writing style match my brain a lot (but might be even more extra)

 


Here’s some parts I love, I mean watch out for spoilers,but if these won’t get you to read the book, it might not be for you:

“Mainly because the original Flus had broken off from the collective consciousness ages back, conquered everything he could get his blades on, and replaced the local gene pool with his own personal microbrew, so not only were they a hive mind, but they were all clones as well, and Muntun was, in point of fact, Planet Hitler, 100 percent populated with telepathically linked, genetically identical, sociopathic knifeasaurus dictators.” 

“Oh, I had a fantastic time talking to the depressive socialist moonbeam. After fifteen minutes, I actually asked it to kill me, but I was informed that would be nonunion work. Then Capo tried to eat it, which did not go well. Did you know my new best friend is trying to put four wee moonshines through university on a tradesman’s wage? It’s a daily struggle.”
 
“Life is beautiful and life is stupid. As long as you keep that in mind, and never give more weight to one than the other, the history of the galaxy, the history of a planet, the history of a person is a simple tune with lyrics flashed on-screen and a helpful, friendly bouncing disco ball of glittering, occasionally peaceful light to help you follow along. Cue the music. Cue the dancers. Cue tomorrow.”

My Favourite Podcasts: Space, robots, chronic illness

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Here’s the general, two-dudes-talking type of podcasts I like. Here’s a list of book podcasts. And finally, here’s a list of science and productivity podcasts. Yes, there’s a lot of podcasts.

 

Hackable?

  • Find out just how easy it is to be hacked and how it’s done. Usually faturing a hacker scene from a popular movie or tv series to debunk how close or far from reality they are.

 

Sickboy

  • Hosts are Brian Stever, Jeremie Saunders and Taylor Macgillivary. Jeremie has cystic fibrosis.
  • Chronic illness and humor combined, the three guys interviews people with all kinds of illnesses and injuries. The people, both hosts and interviewees, are really what makes this podcast hearthwarming, educational and often very funny. They’ve shown that even the episodes with deadly illnesses can have humour, without taking away from communicating the gravity of the people’s struggles and trouble. I’m chronically ill, mainly with crohn’s and a lung problem, and this is what I’ve been looking for without completely knowing so. Illness is tough, and talking about it means it gets heavy at times, but I think all people should know a bit more about diseases and in which ways it affects people’s lives.
  • All episodes features fascinating people and I’m nowhere near having listened to them all. I would definitely recommend checking out the 1st episode about Jeremie’s cystic fibrosis, nr. 9 with ptsd, nr. 112 with multiple sclerosis (ms), nr 107 with zika virus and nr 75 with juvenile rheumatoroid arthritis. But they’re all pretty great.

Liftoff

  • Space news and history (that part I skip) that you don’t have to be a rocket-scientist to understand. Very calming voices, so at the very least it’s good to fall asleep to, but I’m pretty into space and find it exciting.

My Favourite Murder

  • I’ve listened to a few murder podcasts out there, this is the definite winner and the only one I still follow. Every once in a while something different, like a cult story, is thrown into the mix.
  • Hosted by two lovely ladies, who needs all the credit for the amazing woman-empowering perspectives they give, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark.

Nancy

  • Stories and conversations about queer experiences today. Contains episodes that made me both laugh and cry. Talks about lgbt issues with interviews and history.

Roboism

  • Savannah Million and Alex Cox from Do By Friday/Cards Against Humanity team
  • Talks about robots! All the new, weird robots!