In the myriadic year of our Lord — the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death! — Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.
Now that is an opening sentence! Mixing high and low styles, the serious and the comedic, the reverent and the profane, echoing both stentorian tones of “in the year of Our Lord...” and the startling ubiquity of skin mags — from the first Tamsyn Muir gives us the flavor of the journey we are about to take. A heady mix of mystery, horror, theology, psychology, comedy, and swordplay. I don’t know anyone who is lukewarm about The Locked Tomb books; either you love them, perplexing as they are, or you dislike them. There’s not a lot of middle ground.
So, here at the beginning, a few bits of business. We’ll read one act of Gideon the Ninth every week for the next five weeks, pause for a week and look back at all the reveals and their implications, and then move on the Harrow the Ninth. And then Nona the Ninth. Alecto the Ninth will not be published until later this year, but we’ll be ready for it. If it’s okay with you, we’ll keep the same plan and pace throughout, unless some random event intervenes to postpone us a week. Let me know if this pace is good for you, or whether it’s too fast or too slow.
First I’ll post a chapter summary, with backstory and details that I think are important (or at least interesting). In the comments, it would be great if you would do the same, and add lines that you think are particularly punchy.
After the story jump I’ll add preparatory references for the next act, which are just for your convenience. I’ll try not to repeat references, so you might well have to backtrack to earlier installments to look things up. That might be an inconvenience but, let’s face it, folks, these diaries are going to be really long as is. At the end, though, I’ll cull shorthand information about each of the houses and put it together for you in one place, for your reference, as we start Harrow.
One cool detail: at the head of every chapter there’s a skull icon from one of the Houses. It’ll give you an indication of that chapter’s focus. There is also a difference between the skull icon of the 9th House and the skull icon that denotes Gideon; Gideon wears aviators.
Gideon makes her 87th escape attempt from the Ninth House. She goes down 5 levels to visit her mother’s “nameless catacomb niche” out of sentiment, because of course her mother isn’t there (where is she?). Then up 22 levels to wait for her shuttle ride. She checks the landing field thoroughly, ignores both the usual call to prayer and the unusual muster call, and rebuffs both Marshall Crux (a horrible person and great comic relief) and Captain of the House Guard Aiglamene, who trained Gideon with the sword. Gideon refuses the latter with considerably more regret than the former. She continues to wait.
- Backstory: We learn that 19 years ago, Gideon’s brain-dead mother parachuted into the drill shaft of the 9th House, having diverted all life support into Gideon’s bio-container and saving her daughter at the cost of her own life. The ghost of her nameless mother was called back just long enough to scream Gideon! three times and flee. Gideon was put into the nursery with another 200 children between the ages of 0-19. Two years later, there were 3 children in the 9th House.
- Two things to point out about the backstory: 1) introduces the theme that children pay for/are made to suffer for the offenses of their parents; the effects of trauma and inherited trauma are major themes; 2) more obviously, what happened to the other children?
- Atmosphere is pumped into the 9th House, which is located inside a drill shaft inside a planet, and the “bright bead of Dominicus,” the star of this solar system, is distant and sheds very little light. Food is cold and tasteless. Animated skeletons (aka “constructs”) do manual labor, principally the cultivation of snow leeks, which are apparently a basic foodstuff.
- Spare a moment to appreciate how deftly this world is drawn, and how grim it is. Also, we know almost nothing about it or these people, but the tension is ratcheting up, and we really want to see Gideon escape.
Harrowhark arrives on the landing field. She offers Gideon a military commission and permission to leave if only she’ll attend the muster in Drearburh. Gideon refuses. Harrow challenges Gideon to a duel, and the terms are an apparent “can’t lose” for Gideon. So of course there’s a catch. Harrow raises skeletons from bone fragments she’s buried on the field and absolutely beats Gideon to a pulp, then kicks out one of her teeth. Crux drags her to the muster as the shuttle arrives.
- Harrow hates to lose.
- Harrow is the Reverend Daughter, leader of the House.
- This is not just a brutal fight, it’s also an explicitly cruel one.
- Harrow and Gideon really hate each other. They also have no one else but each other.
Gideon comes back to full consciousness in Drearburh, where the 9th House congregation has gathered. Harrow’s parents are dead. Harrow has been puppeting their bodies for the past 8 years and keeping their deaths a secret. Only Crux, Aiglamene, and Gideon know the truth. Harrow reads aloud the Emperor’s letter asking the House heir (Harrow) and cavalier (Ortus Nigenad) to the “temple of the First House” to try to achieve lyctorhood. Ortus’ mother Glaurica freaks out at losing her baby boy, who is a grown man, a pilgrim dies of a heart attack, an event considered a great good fortune, Ortus and Glaurica retire in disgrace, and the muster breaks up. Gideon prepares to leave only to find the shuttle has already gone, stolen by Ortus and Glaurica. Harrow, who engineered the theft, gloats over her victory.
- Backstory: “Gideon had been eleven when the Lord and Lady of the House of the Ninth had slipped into death in sudden, awful secret. It was such a huge bag of ass how it had happened: what she’d found, what she’d seen. She hadn’t been sad. If she’d been stuck being Harrow’s parents she would have done the same years ago.” (p. 38)
- The description of Drearburh screams cathedral!, does it not? A sad dank cathedral, to be sure, but a cathedral nonetheless.
- Glaurica married into the 9th House from the 8th, as Crux so gloatingly taunts.
- Theme of delusion, of people seeing what they want to see: do we really believe that no one else has noticed that the lord and lady of the House are dead?
- The 9th House prayer: “I pray the tomb is shut forever. I pray the rock is never rolled away. I pray that which was buried remains buried, insensate, in perpetual rest with closed eye and stilled brain. I pray it lives, I pray it sleeps….I pray for the needs of the Emperor All-Giving, the Undying King, his Virtues and his men. I pray for the Second House, the Third, the Fourth, the Fifth; the Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth. I pray for the Ninth House, and I pray for it to be fruitful. I pray for the soldiers and adepts far from home, and all those parts of the Empire that live in unrest and disquiet.” (p. 42) — This is the full prayer. We’ll see phrases of it recurring. What is sleeping behind that rock?
- ”Aiglamene ... would never touch her, and she would never give her a word that had no edges. But this was nearly tender for the captain of the guard, and Gideon would take it and run.” (p. 43) Tuck this in the back of your mind.
- Harrow: “I’m going. This is my chance for intercession.” — Intercession from whom and for what? (p. 44)
- Spare a thought for how utterly toxic this relationship is.
- “Gideon had never confronted a broken heart before. She had never gotten far enough to have her heart broken” (p. 45). What follows is a spot-on description of the first shock of heartbreak.
- “The girl’s expression was the same as it was on the day that Gideon had found her parents, dangling from the roof of their cell. It was blank and white and still. “Because I completely fucking hate you,” said Harrowhark, “no offence.” (p. 45) Backstory, power dynamics, and an indication of how completely cruel and enmeshed these two have lived their lives.
After letting Gideon grieve for a whole week, Harrow drags her to the catacombs to find a rapier and challenges her to serve as cavalier at Canaan House, since Ortus is gone. Aiglamene encourages her to accept as it’s the only way she’ll ever get away from the 9th House.
- Harrow is an insanely powerful necromancer; you can tell by the way she throws a bone chip through the keyhole of Gideon’s cell and it becomes an arm that unlocks the door. Gideon reacts as if it’s a grenade, and in essence it’s exactly that.
- Declarations in repetitions of three. Just notice them: “the only job I’d do for you would be if you wanted someone to hold the sword as you fell on it. The only job I’d do for you would be if you wanted your ass kicked so hard, the Locked Tomb opened and a parade came out to sing, ‘Lo! A destructed ass.’ The only job I’d do would be if you wanted me to spot you while you backflipped off the top tier into Drearburh.” (p. 47) Notice who uses this technique and when.
- “Die in a fire, Nonagesimus.” (p. 47) — Stick a pin in that (not that I know why, but it feels portentous).
- Aiglamene and Harrow negotiate Gideon’s future over Gideon’s head. She really is powerless.
- Aiglamene: “Things are changing. I used to think we were waiting for something...and now I think we’re just waiting to die.” (p. 55) — Stick a pin in this, too. For the record, I wonder how old Aiglamene really is, if she can call Gideon the best swordsman the House has ever produced, except maybe Mattias Nonius.
- Did you notice the “I studied the blade” meme? Did it make you smile?
Having received the Emperor’s second letter detailing arrangements at Canaan House, Harrow admits to Gideon that she needs to go because the 9th House is dying and, with Harrow as lyctor, she’ll be in a position to save it. The plan hinges on Harrow and Gideon passing as a standard necromancer/cavalier pair from a healthy House. Therefore, in order to win her freedom, Gideon will have to be a convincing cavalier and 9th House representative, and will have to do exactly what Harrow wants.
- What does Harrow hope to get out of lyctorhood? Why is she so secretive and insistent on the illusion that all is well in the 9th?
- “When I am a Lyctor everything will be different,” said Harrowhark. “I’ll be in a position to fix things without fear of reprisal. As it is, our leverage now is that nobody knows anything about anything” (p. 58) Reprisal? What does she fear? And whom?
- Notice the face paint: masks — who wears them, who needs them.
- “You’ll do what I say, or I’ll mix bone meal in with your breakfast and punch my way through your gut.” (p. 60) — make a note.
Aiglamene trains Gideon in the rapier, which is very different from her customary two-handed long sword, and in the duties of a cavalier. If this were a film, here’s where a Rocky-style training montage would go. Gideon is surprised to find herself emotional when it comes to leaving, partly because she’s saying goodbye to Aiglamene, but also because she’s fulfilling her dream of leaving the 9th. Harrow is emotional because the 9th is her home and she’s trying to save it.
- Harrow has already determined a competition is involved (absent any evidence, which tells us much about her). She’s not worried about the 2nd House or the 3rd. “It’s a greyer House I worry about….Anyone can learn to fight. Hardly anyone learns to think” (p. 62). — Whose House is gray?
- Aiglamene has the rapier of Ortus’ great-grandmother remade for Gideon, which may be important (or not), “Oh, this is boring,” Gideon had said in disappointment. “I wanted one with a skull puking another, smaller skull, and other skulls flying all around. But tasteful, you know?” (p. 63). Gideon is a great character but she has awful taste. And knows it.
- “On the final day the entire House of the Ninth filled the tier of the landing field, and they left room to spare” (p. 63). The 9th House really is on its last legs.
- Aiglamene salutes Gideon who, realizing she’ll never see her again, returns it “and was pleased when her teacher rolled her eyes.”
- Amy and Mel on the Locked Tomb Podcast note at this point in the novel that we know two things for sure: Harrow is 17, incredibly powerful, utterly alone, and unbelievably cruel; Gideon is 19, even more alone than Harrow, and completely powerless. It’s a good point.
The shuttle arrives at the 1st House, Canaan House, where everything is sunlight and water. Harrow veils her eyes to dim the light; Gideon produces sunglasses. They disembark and meet Teacher and two assistant priests, as well as the necromancers and cavaliers of the other Houses. Dulcinea of the 7th House faints on arrival and Gideon catches her, sparking a confrontation between Harrow and Protesilaus, Dulcinea’s cavalier. Note: I’m going to put off characterizations of the other necros/cavs until next week, when we start to see them in action. This many characters at once is overwhelming.
- Muir describes Canaan House as “a House both long dead and unkillable. A sleeping throne. Far away its king and emperor sat on his seat of office and waited, a sentinel protecting his home but never able to return to it” (p. 66) Why can he not come home?
- Gideon calls the planet gorgeous. “’It’s a grave,’” said Harrowhark” (p. 68). Stick a pin in that.
- “Lady Harrowhark Nonagesimus, the Reverend Daughter of the House of the Ninth, swept onto the docking ramp instead. Counting five full breaths to mark time, Gideon Nav, Cavalier of the Ninth House, came following behind, praying that her unfamiliar sword wouldn’t tangle in her robes” (p. 69). Harrow and Gideon make quite an entrance; you can almost see them, unknown and unknowable in black, as they sweep onto the deck. Appearance vs reality: Harrow needs everyone to believe that the 9th is powerful and all is well, when in reality it’s not just in decline — it’s all but dead and, for all her intelligence, Harrow is deeply provincial. (And we begin to realize that the responsibility for an entire planet is on Harrow’s shoulders.) It’s obvious from their reactions that none of the other Houses are accustomed to seeing people from the 9th House.
- Teacher: “He was like an old and twisted oak still covered with leaves.” (p. 71) He’s a delight, but there’s something about him….
- Two troublesome Houses. The 3rd House “will, of course, push the boundaries… And the House of the Seventh, well it’s well known….” (pp. 72-73) Teacher knows more than he’s telling. The question is: how much more?
- The Third brings three people, not two: “Only trouble at the end of the line,” [Teacher] said, “and a trouble confined to them” (p. 74). Why?
- The assistant priest to Dulcinea: “Oh, Lady,” he said sadly, “you should not have come” (p. 76). Again, why?
- Am I alone in noticing that Harrowhark is strangely possessive of Gideon? Her reaction to Dulcinea and Protesilaus is interesting. Is there a note of the personal in it (as in, “she’s mine!”), or is she merely playing her part in a classic necro/cav relationship?
The priests serve tea to the scions of the Houses in an atrium where the decay of the 1st House is on full display. One of the priests calls for prayer, and the other seven Houses join in the standard prayer to the Emperor, which Gideon has never even heard before, and after which Teacher asks the 9th House for their intercession. Then Teacher calls the cavaliers forward and gives each a key ring. Then he explains that a myriad ago, eight necromancers and their cavaliers came to Canaan House to become lyctors, and in the intervening 10,000 years, their numbers have thinned. The Emperor has called for new lyctors, and they have been called here to try. The only rule is that they not open a locked door without permission. Finally, a skeleton servant leads Harrow and Gideon to their quarters. Gideon falls asleep as the servants push the shuttle crafts off the landing deck into the sea.
- Spectacular descriptions of Canaan House. Just enjoy the gothic juxtaposition of elegance and rot.
- Spare a moment for Gideon, who has never had a hot drink and doesn’t know how to consume it. Life in the 9th House sucks.
- The common prayer: “Let the King Undying, ransomer of death, scourge of death, vindicator of death, look upon the Nine Houses and hear their thanks. Let the whole of everywhere entrust themselves to him. Let those across the river pledge beyond the tomb to the adept divine, the first among necromancers. Thanks be to the Ninefold Resurrection. Thanks be to the Lyctor divinely ordained. He is Emperor and he became God; he is God, and he became Emperor” (p. 81) So many things to notice!
- The Eight Houses worship the Emperor; the Ninth House worships the Tomb.
- First mention of “across the river.” Stick a pin in it.
- The Ninefold Resurrection: we don’t know what it is yet, but it sounds important.
- Echoes of “He was God, and became Man.” Not random.
- Teacher gives the assignment, and says that Lyctors were not born immortal, but were “given eternal life” (p. 83, my emphasis). “You will undergo trials, possibly dangerous ones. You will work hard, you will suffer. I must speak candidly — you may even die...But I see no reason not to hope that I may behold eight new Lyctors by the end of this, joined together with their cavaliers, heir to a joy and power that has sung through ten thousand years.” (84) He says that the necromancers and cavaliers need to work together. Yes. Eventually you will remember this passage.
- Other rules: no opening locked doors without permission, otherwise full run of the place. No outside communication until the trial is over.
- For a moment, Gideon imagines a Harry Potter setup: breakfast and study with priests, “and then Skeleton Analysis, and History of Some Blood, and Tomb Studies, and, like, lunchtime, and finally Double Bones with Doctor Skelebone” (p. 84). A great spoof of wizard school, a bubble swiftly punctured.
- The cavalier’s bed is located at the foot of the necromancer’s. Are all necro/cav relationships weird?
- To ensure their isolation, the shuttles are dropped into the sea.
Descriptions taken from Muir’s appendices and Dramatis Personae. My comments in brackets.
The Second House: The Emperor’s Strength, House of the Crimson Shield, the Centurion’s House
Judith Deuteros (DEW-ter-oss): Necromancer, Rank of Captain in the Cohort.
Note: Famously beheaded Holofernes. Book of Deuteronomy is a very didactic text.
Marta Dyas (DIE-ass – I’m sorry, I couldn’t come up with anything better): Cavalier, Rank of Lieutenant in the Cohort.
Note: Marta, martial, war. The Second House names are serious business.
The Third House: Mouth of the Emperor, the Procession, House of the Shining Dead
Coronabeth Tridentarius (Cor-OWN-a-beth Try-den-TAR-ee-us): Necromancer, Crown Princess of Ida
Note: “Corona” as in the halo.
Ianthe Tridentarius (E-AHN-thay): Necromancer, Princess of Ida
Naberius Tern (Na-BEER-e-us): Cavalier
Note: Naberius is one of the demon princes of Hell. Will this mean anything significant later on?? (No.)
The Fourth House: Hope of the Emperor, the Emperor’s Sword
Isaac Tettares (Tett-AR-ez): Necromancer, Baron of Tisis
Note: “Isaac” in Christian theology foreshadows Jesus’ death by taking the wood for his own sacrifice up a mountain.
Jeannemary Chatur (JOHN-mair-ee Cha-TOUR): Cavalier, Knight of Tisis
Note: “Jeannemary” is a Biblical car crash, but Jeanne here is meant to be reminiscent of Jeanne d’Arc.
The Fifth House: Heart of the Emperor, Watchers over the River
Abigail Pent: Necromancer, Lady of Koniortos Court
Magnus Quinn: Cavalier, Seneschal of Koniortos Court
[Note: Abigail and Magnus are unusual in Necromancer/Cavalier relationships in that they’re also married. To each other.]
The Sixth House: The Emperor’s Reason, the Master Wardens
Palamedes Sextus (Pal-AM-a-dees SEX-tus): Necromancer, Master Warden of the Library
Note: There was a very brief space of time where Palamedes was Diomedes, Athena’s favourite goodboy in the Iliad, but that would not have facilitated Gideon’s stupidest joke in the book. [In Greek mythology, Palamedes was a Greek commander in the Trojan War who invented counting, currency, dice, jokes, etc. He exposed Odysseus as a fraud who was faking insanity. Also a superior strategist and military commander. Among other things.]
Camilla Hect (HEKT). To rhyme with “wrecked”: Cavalier, Warden’s Hand of the Library
Note: Camilla’s name was picked to go with Palamedes’ – their names resonate with the “am” fragment in a way that other necromancer-cavalier pairs who love each other very much do in the book: Palamedes and Camilla, Abigail and Magnus.
The Seventh House: Joy of the Emperor, the Rose Unblown
Dulcinea Septimus (Dul-sin-AY-a SEPT-i-mus): Necromancer, Duchess of Rhodes
Note: “Dulcinea” is the famously illusory persona assigned to the prostitute Aldonza in Don Quixote: a case of a woman you want to exist, but who really doesn’t. In this essay I will [Yes, this is the whole entry.]
Protesilaus Ebdoma (Prot-eh-sil-OW-us EBB-do-mah): Cavalier, Knight of Rhodes
Note: Protesilaus is the first hero to die at Troy. [Ebdoma: Greek, refers to the number seven.]
The Eighth House: Keepers of the Tome, the Forgiving House
Silas Octakiseron (Ock-ta-KISS-er-on): Necromancer, Master Templar of the White Glass
Colum Asht (COL-um): Cavalier, Templar of the White Glass
Note: “Colum” is referent to “Columba”: Colum and his three [sic – I think there are three total] brothers all have sacrificial-animal names – Colum (dove), Ram (sheep), and Capris (goat). Unfortunately I couldn’t get over how one of the poor Asht brothers has the name of a type of leggings and this didn’t get into the book, which just goes to show that the Asht boys even got meta-misused. Sorry, guys. I should’ve named him Aiglos.
No memes that I noticed or have been able to find. If you’ve got any, chime in.
Okay, we’ve begun. We have our protagonists and our setup. The elements are all in place. There’s no lack of conflict — between Gideon and Harrow, and between Harrow and the other Houses. And now we get to see what happens.
If this is your first read of Gideon, how are you getting on with it? If it’s a reread, what’s different?
Next week, Act 2. Meanwhile, see you in comments!
Introduction to The Locked Tomb
READERS & BOOK LOVERS SERIES SCHEDULE
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