Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (The Locked Tomb #3)
Her city is under siege.
The zombies are coming back.
And all Nona wants is a birthday party.
In many ways, Nona is like other people. She lives with her family, has a job at her local school, and loves walks on the beach and meeting new dogs. But Nona's not like other people. Six months ago she woke up in a stranger's body, and she's afraid she might have to give it back.
The whole city is falling to pieces. A monstrous blue sphere hangs on the horizon, ready to tear the planet apart. Blood of Eden forces have surrounded the last Cohort facility and wait for the Emperor Undying to come calling. Their leaders want Nona to be the weapon that will save them from the Nine Houses. Nona would prefer to live an ordinary life with the people she loves, with Pyrrha and Camilla and Palamedes, but she also knows that nothing lasts forever.
And each night, Nona dreams of a woman with a skull-painted face...
PUBLISHER: Tor Books
LENGTH: 480 pages
GENRE: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Main Character(s), Gay/Achillean Minor Character(s), Genderqueer/Nonbinary Secondary Character(s), Trans Possible Secondary Character(s). The whole book is very queer in a way that defies my usual queer rep summary. Being a Lyctor is sometimes like being trans, except in the ways that's it's unambiguously more like being plural.
NONA THE NINTH deals with a necromantic version of plurality in a way whose groundwork was laid in GIDEON THE NINTH and HARROW THE NINTH. Much as "one flesh, one end" is undeniably queer, Camila and Palamedes display a version of plurality, which is necromantic in its origins, but familiar to me in its general shape. I’m a singlet, not a plural system, but several important people in my life are plural, and so much of how Nona interacts with Camilla and Palamedes echoes my interactions with those people in my own life. There’s a line in the second half of the book that makes it clear that at least some of the characters know about plurality, even if what’s happening with them is a specific magical version which canonically involves souls. In some ways plurality is more canonical to the text than any particular style of queerness (except perhaps for sapphic attraction), though this book (and the whole series) is undeniably and wonderfully queer.
The worldbuilding gets more of a chance to breathe this time around. GIDEON THE NINTH was a murder mystery until other things started being much more important. HARROW THE NINTH is a fever dream of confusion which suddenly snaps into coherence at the 90% mark. NONA THE NINTH is a breath, pausing for a story which has a clear framework, a lovable protagonist, and a sense of rhythm and pattern to her days. This calm amidst the storm is ripped open by a descent into war and the deterioration of her body as the day approaches when the Locked Tomb will open. I like the interludes as John tells the story of how this started. These sections helped with pacing and framing, as well as bringing the extremely welcome event of someone actually explaining what the fuck is going on for once.
As the third book in the series, NONA THE NINTH continues several things begun in earlier books, specifically, but not only, the fates of a great many characters such as Camila and Palamedes. There's so much in each book that it's very difficult to know which details will be picked up later and which ones have been completely handled in their first treatment, but this does eventually give some answers about things first raised in earlier books. There’s an entirely new storyline related to Nona, her relative newness, and everyone she cares about at home and the school. She’s just so happy in a way that incorporates strangeness and allows for a joking grotesquerie, effortlessly finding beauty in weirdness. It also leaves a huge thing for later, promising that the Locked Tomb will be opened, even counting down to that promised day before leaving the aftermath of its opening to be handled in the next book, ALECTO THE NINTH.
There are many fewer memes than the previous books, but the few that are in there are expertly chosen to devastating effect. There's one near the very end (that I refuse to spoil) which threads the needs between fantastically illustrating the meaning of the surrounding text and needing to be imperceptible to anyone not already in the know. I applaud the execution of it, even if by its nature it's frustrating that this is what the author decided to include. Masterfully done, I tip my cap.
As was the case for HARROW THE NINTH, if someone tried to read this as their introduction to the series, it would likely make sense almost all the way through... and then the ending would be strange and sideways because it relies on several things established in previous books as well as bringing many returning characters who have been more thoroughly introduced elsewhere. Also, the way that the John interludes are explaining how things came to be like this would be a bit strange without the grounding provided in GTN and HTN.
I think this is my favorite book in the whole series, and I'm looking forward to what ALECTO THE NINTH brings.
Graphic/Explicit CW for eating disorder, gore, blood, violence, body horror, murder, death.
Moderate CW for cursing, kidnapping, confinement, vomit, medical content, chronic illness, terminal illness, fire/fire injury, injury detail, self harm, suicidal thoughts, suicide, gun violence, police brutality, war, animal death, genocide, parental death.
Minor CW for ableist language, panic attacks, misgendering, alcohol, drug use, infertility, cancer, excrement, sexual harassment, car accident, domestic abuse, suicide attempt, torture.