ARC Review: NONA THE NINTH (The Locked Tomb #3) by Tamsyn Muir (2022)

Genre: Adult Science Fantasy
Year Release: September 13th, 2022
Buy Links: Bookshop | Unabridged Books | Audiobook

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Read an eARC from NetGalley
Content warning: gore, references to main character deaths, dissociation, vomiting, gun violence, medical experimentation

The third entry of The Locked Tomb trilogy stars a character born literally six months before the beginning of the book, the eponymous Nona. Innocent and bursting with good will and curiosity, she’s a teacher’s aid at a school in a city on the verge of war against “zombies.” A birthday party gets ruined as a certain tomb is about to opened, and it’s a race against time and necromancy to figure out who, exactly, Nona is.

An entry into the quartet most interested in telling a story than stringing together memes and tropes, Nona by far is my favorite, because of the focus on characterization and literal ticking clock pacing. And the dog does not die (you’re welcome).

While Gideon the Ninth felt particularly invested in memes and Harrow being an exercise in the dissociation and disorientation that occurs as a result of trauma, Nona is the most straight forward as far as the plot and set-up go. Despite the uncertainty around Nona’s identity, it’s really easy to follow the plot beats and new character introductions. Nona herself is so endearing, and Muir immediately had me invested in the innocence and bluntness with which she navigates the world. The children in her school are absolute nightmares in the most authentically child-like way. The teens continue to be awful, both interpersonally and larger-scale plot things. The cast is dynamic with their own mini arcs addressing their needs from wanting to survive, wanting swear, and wanting to wreak as much chaos as possible (looking at you, Honesty).

The coolest thing on a sentence-level is how Muir manages to make her characters recognizable to the reader despite being complete strangers to the protagonist. It’s a combination of specific character details, from physical descriptions to nods to past events to present-day quirks in communication and trauma processing. It’s especially effective when characters are switching between entities occupying the same body. The way Muir balances unique characterization and cool necromancy shenanigans is so much fun, and adds much needed levity to the emotional trauma to come. I found myself feeling clever identifying the who’s who of the Dramatis Personae, and I think that’s intentional for the reading experience.

Moreover, there is so much fuckery when it comes to gender within these pages. Gender is a fluid thing among the necromancers and their cavaliers. Characters we knew as boys are in girl bodies, girls are in boy bodies, and there is one later reveal in which something new is created entirely. But it’s never treated as a plot device or a plot driver, and that’s really refreshing to me. The characters exist as they are, regardless their physical forms.

When I finished the final page, I immediately needed to know what’s next. You bet I’m bouncing in my seat for any news regarding the final entry, Alecto.

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