While at Vox we like to maintain a scientific distance from much of today’s culture, I make an exception for Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb series. Listen, I’m a simple soul: you send me a book with the logline “lesbian necromancers in space”, I’m not not will get excited. I’m a fan, that’s what I say. I put them in our book club.
From 2019 Gideon the ninth and continue with the 2020s Harrow the ninth, the Locked Tomb series has become part space opera, part gender deconstruction, and part searing exploration of grief. It’s a rich and luxurious set of books about the tense power dynamics of intimate relationships, how childhood traumas reshape our brains, and, well, lesbian necromancers in space. With skeleton monsters!
The Locked Tomb series was originally meant to be a trilogy, but a few months ago Muir and his publisher Tor announced that it would be a quartet instead, and that there would be a new volume in reserve for fans. It’s called Nona the ninthwhich will be released on September 13, and we at Vox have the exclusive cover reveal.
To find out more about what awaits us with Nona, I spoke with Tamsyn Muir via email. Our conversation, which you can read in full below, covered NonaIts surprisingly relaxing vibe, what it’s like to turn your trilogy into a mid-game quartet, and why Nona lives in a different genre from Gideon and Harrow.
We also got the biggest spoiler of all. See that dog laying nicely on the blanket behind Nona? Muir assures us that the dog lives! But we won’t know until September if the rest of our favorites are as lucky.
Until a few months ago, the plan was for the Locked Tomb series to be in three volumes, with the third volume to be called Alecton the ninth. It is now planned to be four volumes, with the third being titled Nona the ninth. What happened? Where is Nona from? Will we meet Alecto again?
Nona was born from the first planned act of Alecto. I always intended to leave the whole first act to him – it seemed appropriate – but there came a time when my editor asked me how Alecto was going, and I admitted that I thought it was going to be a long book. My editor asked me how long. I said, well, the first act is 140k [words]and there’s like four acts and I’m only into act two.
After my editor stood up, he said he thought it might not be “physically possible” to publish a book over 300,000 books. He kept saying cowardly bullshit like “it becomes impossible to print and read”. He made me turn over Act I and said, “You’re on drugs. It’s quite a book. Let’s just post this. I resisted very hard for a while because I felt like it was part of Alecto and shouldn’t be separated, but obviously he won and was right to win.
Spoiler: You still meet Alecto, briefly.
What was it like restructuring the trilogy into a quartet? Did you have to make any major structural changes?
No, thank God! To be honest, I should have seen it coming because Act I of Alecto necessary to cover a parcel of plot, and it was just that it had the value of a plot novel.
The Locked Tomb has always been a story told serially, although my desire is for each book to follow roughly the structure of a book as well. It’s not just a sequel to The old curio shop. It’s a book that takes place over less than a week, although it also takes place over 100,000 years, so it may have the effect of making Alecto feel more equal.
I’m interested in how this new volume affects the flow of the series. Gideon ends with a Harrow POV epilogue, which takes us straight into Harrow the ninth. And Harrow ends in turn with an epilogue from the point of view of a mysterious character whose identity we still do not know. I had harbored a pet theory that she was Alecto and that she followed the pattern set by Harrow in the first book. Is this mysterious figure at the center of volume three? Has the addition of a third volume disrupted the flow of epilogues?
Oh, I love pet theories. It’s embarrassing, but I didn’t realize I was doing the amazing thing of “the last chapter presents the point of view of the next book” but that was exactly what I was doing. Who is our mystery character? All I can tell you is that she is, in fact, Nona.
Nona starts from the point where the readers were dropped in Harrow — more or less (some things happened while you blink). It might be useful to read the additional story Not yet sent, which I wrote as bonus content for Harrow, to get some extra context – it’s not required but it introduces some names that will appear in Nona. Then Alecto where will start Nona go. It’s not really a total divergence.
I do end up writing total divergence when I was writing Nona, in 2020, because I wanted to make sure my clockwork made sense – I wanted to make sure that if you liquidated Gideon and Harrow and put them on a road slightly different the laws of the universe would always flow accordingly. (I quit writing because when your editor asks how you are and you’re like “I quit writing 30k to prove a timeline” he’s legally allowed to shoot you with a crossbow. )
Nona looks pretty cool on this cover compared to how Gideon and Harrow look on their respective covers. There are only a few skeletons and they don’t look too threatening. Does that suggest we should expect a different vibe in this book than we’ve had in previous volumes?
Nona is the only girl on one of these covers having a good time. I’ve seen all these covers. Ranked by who is apparently having the best time: Nona, Gideon, Alecto, Harrow. What I love about the cover (outside of everything) is that it makes it clear to you that Nona resides in a different genre than the rest of the book. Nona lives in a genre where the background is, “How do you deal with the most embarrassing family in the world—AND school?!” How do you cope when the biggest jerk in the universe… turns out to be your secret crush’s outside cousin?!? !”
Everyone in the book lives in a docudrama where you get a message at the start saying, “Warning: disturbing scenes will follow.”
I want to point out that there is a beautiful dog on the cover, and that dog is the most important dog in the universe. I realize that saying this compromises my artistic integrity because a central unspoken question in the book is, “Is anything wrong with this dog?” But I lost my dog in December, and I just want to say that nothing is fundamentally wrong with the dog.
What can you tell us about what we should expect from Nona and Nona the ninth?
Obviously, no grim descriptions of awful poop that happens to dogs. Oh fuck, I realized a dog dies in the book, but we never meet him. Like he’s been long dead by the time you get to know him, and that’s fine.
I liked the idea that this story inhabits a kind of Full front snuggle kind of Nona’s POV, although I also think she inhabits the kind that I think was so wonderfully portrayed by Melinda Taub in the immortal The Wikipedia entry for Guam, told as a YA novel.
As well, Nona talks about a friend you know getting super, super drunk at the club, and you’re sitting with him in the local McDonald’s at midnight as he tells you a bunch of incredibly intimate details about something you got yourself always asked, and you’re torn between wishing you weren’t at that McDonald’s and cheering him on, because you know he’s going to really, really regret telling you all that when he’s sober.
The last time we spokeanything you say about Alecto was, “Ianthe will be awful.” Ianthe will reach new heights by being absolutely horrible. Will this always be the case in Nona? If not, where can I address my official complaint?
When I said I was thinking of a superbly shitty thing Ianthe does in Alecto, just the dumbest, meanest thing I ask her to do, and although she’s still bad at Nona – spoiler: you can hang out with Ianthe in Nona – I’d say his meanness, while dark, is within the parameters expected of Ianthe.
Actually, now I think about it, she’s the direct cause of a lot of nonsense, but she’s hanging out with someone who’s really bad for her, and she’s in trouble. If you don’t think she’s bad enough in Nona I allow you to imagine him hitting the dog.