I find myself in a difficult position when it comes to picking a score for today’s book. Nona The Ninth, the third book in The Locked Tomb series by Tamsyn Muir, has a complicated existence. On the one hand, Muir is one of the most talented authors around right now. Her incredible prose and outstanding imagination make everything she touches wholly unique. On the other hand, Nona The Ninth reads like a blatant cash grab that uses its saccharin-sweet story to distract from the fact that there feels like there is about 50 pages of content in this 400+ page book.
With every new entry, the plot of this series becomes harder to explain. We started at lesbian necromancers in an escape room, jumped to a god walking back a self-lobotomy, and now we are watching a young girl in a dystopian security state do some dog walking. I am not being obtuse; this series is really, really confusing. But, up until Nona I would have argued that it was worth it. For those counting, the third installment represents the third time the reader has to completely pick up the game pieces that Muir has flipped off the table, and what was cute and quirky the first time has rapidly become exhausting.
Nona The Ninth reads like Muir had a really clever idea of using a child’s mind to take a new perspective on the issues of books one and two, but couldn’t figure out how to fit it into the planned third book. So it feels stretched and stretched, to make it an entire book unto itself and the result is a confusing mess. Harrow The Ninth was one of the most confusing books I have read in the last few years, but its difficulties reaped massive rewards when I sat down and worked through it. Nona The Ninth is an order of magnitude more confusing that the second book, and when I clawed and scraped my way to what I think was actually happening (I am still not sure) I was rewarded with some overused science fiction tropes as a reward that left a bad taste in my mouth. From a content perspective, this entire book felt like a skippable side story to me. To top it all off, this book felt designed for invisible superfans. It felt like it was made less accessible to allow for an in-crowd of “people who got it.” There is definitely a market for books that are this obtuse, but I am not in it.
Yet, Muir is truly an incredible writer. While it was distracting to watch her take off full sprint in a random direction and have to book it to catch up, her writing is still marvelous despite it all. Her use of metaphor, her general quality of prose, and her ability to capture emotion and tender moments are all wonderful. I have a lot of fun and emotional resonance with her writing when I am in the flow, I just wish it didn’t feel like she got bored with her story before I did myself. Muir could write about almost anything and make it compelling, but this ability is massively hamstrung when that anything sits in the middle of a high-stakes series with a very established plot and a number of expectations.
Nona The Ninth is a large mixed bag that has some of the strengths of its predecessors but very clearly fails to live up to the high bar set by Gideon and Harrow. I am still very interested in Alecto The Ninth, the final book in the series, but it is hard to fully recommend Nona with a straight face unless you are a Muir superfan. I guess I will have to come back and see how I feel after the finale.
Rating: Nona The Ninth – 5.0/10
An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.