We’re coming into the part of the novel where the threads begin to line up, synapses fire, Eureka moments begin, and by the end of the act we all sit back . . . still perplexed, but starting to catch on.
This is not a bad place for a little recap:
The “work” that Harrow performs on herself happens after Gideon and before Harrow. It involves Ianthe in some capacity, and in exchange for her pledge of Harrow’s loyalty above all others, even the Emperor, Ianthe let herself become “a Sewn Tongue,” meaning whatever Harrow did, Ianthe can’t reveal. The pre-”work” Harrow left herself a series of letters that cover various unlikely situations. Harrow’s role in all of this amounts to exercising her free will in the only real choice she’s ever had in her life.
Chapter 23 Skull header: Third House. Time: 4 months before the Emperor’s Murder. 2nd person.
Two months have passed. As Resurrection Beast Number Seven draws closer, things on the Mithraeum are growing tenser.
One night the door to Cytherea’s chapel is shut. Harrow opens it to find Ortus the First in a compromising position with the corpse. When she tells Ianthe, the two argue to the point where Harrow draws on Ianthe and Harrow envisions the way she’ll kill her before Ianthe gives up and goes to sleep.
- Ianthe’s sword hand is now “fat fingered” and “ham-handed.” She’s not using the arm and has given up trying.
- Heralds defy description, but “the worst bee” is not a bad approximation. And the sight of them drives Lyctors insane.
- John doesn’t fight: “Whenever they come I am bundled off to a sealed sanctum at the heart of the Mithraeum, so that their insanity can’t touch me” (p. 214).
- How many times has this happened before?
- The sealed sanctum is decompressed, for some unexplained reason. It can’t be to stop the Heralds, since they travel through space independently to attack the station.
- John says that “Ianthe the First is a continual surprise to me. If I was going to pass out a fourth epithet, I’d call her the Saint of Awe” (p. 215). A few things about this:
- The other Lyctors are named for their cavaliers’ qualities. Harrow doesn’t quite remember Naberius, but thinks that “awe” doesn’t fit him (and it doesn’t).
- “It was as though your brain had formed a scab over everything that had happened to you” (p. 215). Interesting way to put it.
- The fact that Ianthe continually surprises John means that she has a relationship with him that Harrow isn’t privy to. Something to keep in mind. Also, remember the complex power dynamics at play when Mercy plucked them off Erebos? No reason to suppose they’ve subsided.
- John wants Harrow to keep handling the rapier.
- When Harrow sees the closed chapel door, she’s afraid; she’s seen the corpse walk, and now the door is shut. Crux has given her good advice before: “You saw what you saw, Lady, and the only thing you control now is your reaction thereto” (p. 215). She opens the door and sees Ortus with Cytherea.
- “His palm supported the exhausted lily stem of her neck; the press of his fingers on that faded skin was so gentle that it left no mark. You, who had been so familiar with his hands in all their violent attitudes, had not thought them capable of that kind of gentleness” (p. 216). Very un-Ortuslike, indeed. As is:
- “the un-Ortuslike tenor of his voice when he said, calmly, back so vulnerably offered to you: ‘Close the door, and go away” (p. 216).
- Notice that Ortus doesn’t look at Harrow. Remember that eyes are important. Especially eye color is important (we’ll come back to this).
- When Harrow tells Ianthe, Ianthe is thrilled, saying “The classical vice. Oldest sin in the book” (p. 216) and wants to know just how compromising was the position, and was it all the way to the “love that cannot speak its name”? (Brief pause for the travails of Oscar Wilde in Reading Gaol, please. Bosie Douglas was the absolute worst.)
- Ianthe has been learning how to stop things from decaying.
- She’s also working out some “quite substantial mathematics.
- Both of these things make me wonder what she’s up to.
- Ianthe warns Harrow not to advertise that she’s insane.
- When Ianthe says, “God is a dickhead,” Harrow reacts: “You were astonished by the force of your immediate anger. You were amazed by its intensity” (p. 218).
- Small wonder. John is the only one who treats Harrow with any shred of kindness
- When Harrow draws the two-hander on Ianthe, she dismisses her (and the narrator says that her form isn’t quite right, but it’s a “good attempt”): “Don’t draw on me with that ridiculous thing. You don’t even know where you got it” (p. 218).
- “God gave it to me.”
- “And you’ve never asked yourself why?”
- “At those mere six words, your brain revolted.” She gets a massive nosebleed and asks Ianthe to tell her why.
- “’Can’t,’ [Ianthe] snapped. “You ensorcelled my jaw.” So that’s why Harrow had to check Ianthe’s jaw and tongue, to make sure she hadn’t replaced them, to make sure Ianthe couldn’t tell anyone about what Harrow had done.
Chapter 24 Skull header: Second House. Time: same. 2nd person.
Augustine’s patience with Ianthe and her relationship with her arm and her inability to use the rapier is wearing thin. Ortus attacks Harrow while she’s bathing, and she realizes he has the power to suck thanergy, rendering both her wards and her magic ineffective. He hits her jaw, knocking her teeth loose, and she turns the teeth into missiles that she shoots at his eyes (even compromised, Harrow is a badass). Ianthe finds her but offers no help. Realizing she’ll never be safe in her rooms, she decides that Ortus will have to die.
- Ianthe’s lack of confidence in her arm is “a psychological block, certainly, but one projected into the dead soul that stood to defend her body when the mind went voyaging” (p. 220).
- Harrow turns 18 and no one notices (which is terribly sad). Not even Harrow celebrates. “You recalled it as you always did: the memorial to the two hundred who died seizing, kicking, and choking as their neurotransmitters were poisoned into overdrive. You silently begged them to stay their hands, as you always did. You never asked for forgiveness. Then you slept. Most people would have iced a cake, or something” (p. 220).
- Whatever Harrow has forgotten, she remembers the 200. Also, note the narrator’s voice.
- Ortus’ name being a Ninth House-type name (a diminution of his father Mortus’ name) has always bothered Harrow but, with the discovery that Anastasia was not a mythical figure but a real person, she deduces that Ortus is a name that her ancestor introduced in honor of the Saint of Duty. “It was just a banal and uncomfortable coincidence, as though he’d carried the name of a dead childhood pet” (p. 221).
- Harrow is still a bone specialist, although she’s learned some tricks. When Ortus attacks her in the bath, “the blood fell away into powder as he stripped away the thanergy. He did not absorb it or try to turn it back onyou; he simply undid it, with the dismissive ease of upending a jug of water over a drain” (p. 224).
- “The Saint of Duty as a thanergy void. The Saint of Duty was the ultimate nemesis of a bone adept. You would never be able to sleep again” (p. 225).
- When Ianthe shows up to view the aftermath, Harrow is utterly vulnerable. If Ianthe showed any compassion, “You would crawl like a worm to whatever clinging scrap of solace she would give you . . . She would be your end, as surely as the hammer to the oxygen-sealant machine of your childhood. You would have reached for her with the mindless desire of an infectious disease. You would have whored yourself to her as necrosis to a wound” (p. 226)
- A pause to appreciate the imagery of the last two similes. They may be . . . unusual, but they tell us a great deal about both Harrow and the narrator (assuming they are not the same).
- The narrator concludes that it’s all “for the best” that Ianthe doesn’t help.
- Harrow thinks she smells her: sweat, musk, and vetiver. Vetiver is a fragrant grass that forms a common base for men’s (and increasingly women’s) perfumes and colognes. In other words, Ianthe is growing aggressively sexier.
- “In the back of your head you heard the Secundarius Bell pealing, pealing, extents beyond any Ninth sacred composition, and never called by any Tomb ringer” (p. 226).
- When the situation is dire, Harrow reverts mentally to her memories of the Ninth House.
- When she says aloud, “The Saint of Duty must die,” the Body answers, “Yes.”
Chapter 25 Skull header: Ninth House. Time: same. 2nd person.
Harrow confesses to John that she saw Ortus kissing Cytherea’s body. He doesn’t entirely believe her, but he doesn’t discount it, either. He suggests she needs diversion: read a book or make soup. She does both, all the while not sleeping (on account of Ortus being able to defeat her wards). Meanwhile, Augustine gives Ianthe a five-day deadline to fix her arm.
Harrow makes dinner for the rest of the Mithraeum, having added her own bone marrow to the broth. She explodes a skeleton out of Ortus’ body. John freezes time and interrogates Harrow about what she’s done and how long she’s been awake before he heals Ortus, restarts time and tells everyone to leave, but Mercy. Meanwhile, Ianthe is to take Harrow to bed. They see Augustine and Ortus in the corridor, smoking cigarettes, and Ortus salutes her.
- John tells Harrow that Ortus is the only Lyctor who never carried out “a myriad’s worth of inadvisable love affairs with one another, because it is a very long time to be alone” (p. 228).
- He says, “The closest thing to interest Ortus ever showed in anybody was in Pyrrha, and in the criminals he hunted . . . When he kicked that Edenite commander out an airlock, it was like seeing a man on his wedding day” (p. 228).
- Have we heard about an Edenite commander who got kicked out of an airlock?
- Harrow making soup: looking up recipes, spiffing up her measuring cups, picking out ingredients . . . and “for a long time, you locked yourself in the bathroom, to do what you had to do” (p. 230). What she had to do: harvest her bone marrow.
- The soup isn’t tasty, but it’s a Harrow triumph: “all the Lyctors ate with a distinct lack of relish.” Augustine calls it too thin, not knowing that Harrow added water at the end, and offers to “give you a list of my favourite meals so that you can get them interestingly wrong” (p. 231).
- Harrow noticed at previous meals that Ortus doesn’t like certain vegetables, so she adds them all. Ortus consumes mostly only the broth.
- “God had taken a spoonful, eaten it, then put down the spoon, then taken a discreet sip of water. He said nothing.”
- Augustine reminisces that Cassiopeia was a great cook, but often injured herself. Like the time she cut off half her finger and didn’t tell anyone until the meal was over. “That’s a lesson for you, Harrowhark: confess, first thing before we find a finger in the soup” (p. 231).
- This is funny, given the circumstances.
- Augustine asks what kind of meat she used, but she’s too busy using the last shreds of her attention span to construct the skeleton that explodes Ortus before she can answer. It’s the definition of a dramatic reveal. Also the stuff of horror.
- John says, “Then thousand years since I’ve eaten human being” (p. 232).
- There must be a story behind that statement (there is — we’ll get it in time).
- Harrow appeals to him as a supplicant. John asks when she last slept. She answers it’s been six days.
- John keeps Mercy behind, but Harrow hears John, “in far more ominous tones than you had ever heard him use: ‘Six days. No sleep. She still manages a full skeleton commencement from diluted marrow. What else have you failed to see, Mercymorn — ?”
- You were already at the door when her peevish response came: “But this is insane! She’s only nine years old!” (p. 234).
- Yes, Harrow’s age is something of a running joke.
- Remember Augustine: “John is never as sentimental as you think” (p. 168). Just tuck that in the back of your mind.
- “The Saint of Duty lifted his lit cigarette to you in an unmistakable salute” (p. 235).
Chapter 26 Skull header: fractured Eighth House. Time: indeterminate. 3rd person.
One day on the terrace Harrow sees Silas Octakiseron push Coronabeth Tridentarius off of Canaan House. She confronts him and, rather than defend himself against her, he throws himself after Corona.
- When Harrow sees Corona, she’s standing “still as a statue, and ready and waiting as a dog” (p. 236).
- Silas says to her, “And somewhere out there, may all the blood of your blood suffer even a fraction of what I have suffered” (p. 236). Notice that he doesn’t curse her, but the blood of her blood . . . who would be . . . who?
- This Silas is no kinder than the other one. He defames Harrow, calling her “cur of the night time, you fry of slavery, you have done what you have done, and you say to me, Defend yourself? How could I?” (p. 237).
- She answers, “I care that you just pushed one of the Tridentarii to her death.” “’Death?’ said Silas.
- “’Her filthiness is on her feet,’ he murmured. ‘She has not remembered her end.’” This comes from the book of Lamentations 1:9, in which conquered Jerusalem is compared to a woman made unclean by menstruation. He then asks her, “Is this how it happens?” and follows Coronabeth off the terrace. Harrow sees him swallowed by fog, and then i a break, “a sudden gush of watery blood” (p. 238). Most certainly this is not the waters around Canaan House, or at least the Canaan House we’ve seen before.
- “Is this how it happens, then?” (p. 237).
Chapter 27 Skull header: Third House. Time: Same. 2nd person.
Harrow wakes after a long sleep to find herself in Ianthe’s rooms, and Ianthe is practicing with her sword. Ianthe tells her to go back to sleep. She does, and wakes again to Ianthe trying to cut off her arm, and failing. Harrow cuts off the arm at the shoulder and uses Ianthe’s own bone to grow a new arm for her. The arm works. Ianthe leaves Harrow, saying she’ll be gone for 15 minutes, but it’s really 25. She returns exultant, because she’s now a full Lyctor. In payment, she promises to help Harrow kill Ortus.
- Harrow wakes from her long sleep clear-headed and renewed, while Ianthe is a complete mess.
- “Your mind was clear. Your thoughts were warm and tidy, as though they had been put through the sonic cleaner” (pp. 241-242).
- “She looked at you with terrified eyes, half-blue, part-brown, with fragments of lavender. Her mouth was an ugly twist, contemptuous of herself. You had seen that expression a million times in your mirror, but never on her” (p. 242).
- We haven’t seen Ianthe vulnerable since their first time in the River, and then she wasn’t the focus of the narrative.
- This is a sex scene. Yes, I know, there’s no sex. Still, read it again — it’s a sex scene. Thus far (including Nona), it’s the only sex scene in the books. And there’s no sex.
- Muir must take great pleasure in subverting readers’ expectations.
- Ianthe asks how Harrow knew enough about Lyctoral healing to build her a working — if skeletal — arm, and Harrow answers, “I lack entirely what you all have . . . and have had to work out a replacement. I watched, and compared. In the beginning I thought maybe I could implant the process in myself . . . but it’s not just a matter of nerves, even if those signal the reconstruction. I thought if I experienced enough pain, something might kick in to save me. It didn’t” (p. 244).
- To repeat: I thought if I experienced enough pain, something might kick in to save me. It didn’t. Nothing she does triggers the cavalier component of her Lyctorhood.
- “You saw no trace of idle Ianthe in the parry and the thrust. Instead you saw a cavalier who had known from the cradle what life intended for him, and had a rapier placed in his hands not long after” (p. 245).
- Ianthe’s skeleton arm is shocking, “But the expression on her face was that of undressed release. It was the expression of an awed child watching their raised skeleton totter forward for the first time without falling” (p. 245). “Undressed release” instead of naked relief. And the metaphor? Refreshing.
- “Her eyes were blue again, with those mountainous flecks of sea-parted brown, and for the first time you thought how much she resembled her twin” (p. 246). Ianthe is out of Coronabeth’s penumbra, indeed.
- Augustine offers to gild the skeletal arm, which Harrow thinks will be tacky.
- Undeniable mutual attraction: “Ianthe was suddenly beside you on the bed. She had dropped her rapier among the bedclothes and for the very first time brushed the dry distal tip of her new pointer finger against your cheek. You were vulnerable, but you did not pull away. She tapped you on the cheekbone, and once on the tip of your nose, and then lastly pressed her naked finger to your bottom lip.” Then she sidles closer and Harrow gets a look down her nightgown. “The Princess of Ida said, “I already know how I’m going to thank you” (p. 246).
- To continue: “you were bemused. You were tired, and you were embarrassed, and you were riding high from the satisfaction of doing one half-perfect thing — of having committed a low miracle of your own devising — of, for a handful of minutes, being Harrowhark Nonagesimus again, the greatest necromancer produced by your dark and sacred Drearburh” (p. 246-247).
- Harrow has been humiliated and mistreated; for the first time in her life, she doesn’t matter, and she’s experienced a shadow of the cruelty she visited on Gideon. But has she ever not been Harrowhark Nonagesimus? She certainly hasn’t been Harrowhark the First, not yet, not ever.
Chapter 28 Skull header: fractured Fifth House. Time: indeterminate. 3rd person.
Harrow wakes up in the middle of the Necromancer Sleepover in the quarters of the Second, it being the driest place in Canaan House. They’re down to the Fifth, the Seventh, the Ninth, and the Second cavalier. Abigail has stashed the Fourth House kids somewhere safer, which Harrow finds reasonable. It’s not only wet now, it’s cold. Everyone else in the main room is asleep. Magnus draws Harrow into the inner bedroom, where he and Abigail are making coffee, which to Harrow smells like chocolate and dust. When they talk about Silas Octakiseron hiding, Harrow tells them he’s dead, and tells them what she witnessed on the terrace. Abigail asks why she waited to tell them, she says she had to be sure, and the moment passes. Abigail then asks Harrow to read something to them, and hands her a piece of paper. Harrow tries to demur, but is trapped into reading:
I WILL REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU KISSED ME — YOU APOLOGISED — YOU SAID, I AM SORRY, DESTROY ME AS I AM, BUT I WANT TO KISS YOU BEFORE I AM KILLED, AND I SAID TO YOU WHY, AND YOU SAID, BECAUSE I HAVE ONLY ONCE MET SOMEONE SO UTTERLY WILLING TO BURN FOR WHAT THEY BELIEVED IN, AND I LOVED HIM ON SIGHT, AND THE FIRST TIME I DIED I ASKED OF HIM WHAT I NOW ASK OF YOU I KISSED YOU AND LATER I WOULD KISS HIM TOO BEFORE I UNDERSTOOD WHAT YOU WERE, AND ALL THREE OF US LIVED TO REGRET IT — BUT WHEN I AM IN HEAVEN I WILL REMEMBER YOUR MOUTH, AND WHEN YOU ROAST DOWN IN HELL I THINK YOU WILL REMEMBER MINE.
Harrow asks Abigail to read it back to her: “I still get an erotic charge from snakes, sorry to say” (p. 252-253).
Harrow admits that she’s insane, and she didn’t tell them about Silas because she wasn’t sure it really happened. Abigail treats her with great kindness and suggests that she may not be insane; she may be haunted.
- Great descriptions of the various characters — their physical and mental states.
- Abigail says the weather is awful and Harrow says that it could easily be worse. Magnus says, “That’s the stuff. We’ll make a Fifth of you yet, Reverend Daughter. Not that bad — can’t complain — it’ll be a damn sight worse in the River” (p. 250). That’s an interesting comment.
- Magnus and Abigail agree that Silas is awful. When Harrow tells them that both Silas and Coronabeth are dead, they assume it was the Sleeper, until Harrow corrects them. “Magnus and Abigail shared what seemed a very long glance. Magnus looked troubled, and his wife looked set, and strangely resigned” but Abigail is thinking about something else:
- “If she’s gone, then perhaps that means . . .” (p. 251)
- No idea who wrote the note about snakes, but they may refer to the pillars of the doors outside the Second’s quarters. It’s an open question about who wrote the other note. Harrow says, “It differs mildly, then.” Understatement.
- “I have always been mad, since I was a child. I hallucinate sounds. I see things that do not exist. Ortus has masked much of it, but as you have identified and exploited, my vulnerability only requires his removal” (p. 253).
- Imagine what it has taken to bring Harrow to this point, that she would confess her infirmity to another House. And you know what she expects from them: that they would use it as a lever for their own advantage. But instead, Abigail says, “You have kept that close to your chest . . . I would like to hear more sometime, if you are ever inclined to tell me . . . if all this time you only looked to your own frustrations . . .” (pp. 253-254). What Abigail is telling Harrow is that she doesn’t have to carry this burden alone. She treats her with genuine compassion, something Harrow has never known before.
Chapter 29 Skull header: Third House. Time: Same. 2nd person.
Harrow watches Augustine and Ianthe spar. She hopes that maybe Ianthe will release her from her “bondage,” but Ianthe answers, “As if.” After Augustine gilds the skeletal arm, Mercy asks Harrow how she did it, touches Harrow’s head, and tells her that she’s either a genius or an idiot. Ianthe is uninterested. She tells her that Augustine will help her kill Ortus by distracting John, giving Harrow the chance to strike him.
The next day, the two receive a formal invitation for dinner. Ianthe takes the opportunity to give Harrow a makeover, sewing a dress for her out of an enormous handkerchief. They arrive at Augustine’s room ten minutes before dinner. Harrow asks Augustine why he’s helping her murder Ortus, and he says that he has reasons of his own, and Ortus has caused him a lot of trouble. He’ll get Ortus to leave, then give them their queue, and he’ll keep John busy.
Mercymorn arrives, and it’s clear that Augustine has made separate arrangements with her that don’t involve either Harrow or Ianthe. In exchange for her help, he’ll swear not to reveal her private business to John, and tells her that the plan is Dios apate, minor. She slugs him, but eventually agrees and stomps out. Augustine escorts Harrow and Ianthe to dinner.
There is so much in this chapter that’s just fun, but I’m going to pare it down to essentials, or things you might not have picked up in reading:
- Harrow explains to Mercy why Ianthe’s arm is substantial: it’s “perpetually growing to fill a pre-realised skeletal map. It’s yet more proof that topological resonances can be manipulated” (p. 256).
- I have no idea what that means, but apparently it’s revolutionary in necromancy.
- Whereupon Mercy taps Harrow’s head and says “Ortus” three times. Harrow has a physical reaction (she probably didn’t say “Ortus”), and Mercy is genuinely amazed.
- “I live in the worst of all possible worlds” (p. 257). Refers either to Leibniz or Candide. Take your pick.
- Ianthe “was not particularly interested [in Mercy’s conversation with Harrow]. This was, you thought, your sister-saint’s downfall: she had pre-defined a set of things that merited her attention and consideration, and everything else she put aside” (p. 257).
- “The mockery you endured for needing her proximity was exquisitely painful, but humiliation was steadily becoming your existence whole and entire” (p. 257). She needs to sleep with Ianthe to protect herself from Ortus.
- The nude with the melon (Valency Trinit, Cyrus the First’s cavalier) is just extra.
- The first night, Harrow puts her sword between herself and Ianthe. This is a callback to “Tristan and Isolde,” and the episode in the Cave of Lovers where, after some sexytime, Tristan puts his sword between them within easy reach while they sleep. King Mark catches them but believes the presence of the sword on their bed signifies that they’ve been chaste.
- Ianthe confesses that she has plans that involve Harrow. “I always take the smartest option first … burn any bridges that need to be burned … “ (p. 258). The entire conversation is worth noting, ending with “You were more farsighted than I was … Me? I’ve never regretted anything, as a rule” (p. 261).
- Ianthe confesses that she has plans, and Harrow is part of her larger picture (p. 258).
- I wonder what she’s up to. Remember earlier the complex math and the practicing of preservation on apples.
- “Coronabeth and I spent three nights apart in all our lives, and he second time she cried so hard that she threw up … I hope she’s sleeping easy now” (p. 260).
- I wonder if Ianthe knows what’s happened to Coronabeth.
- “If Ianthe reached out to touch your arm, you were afraid you might not understand whose arm she was touching” (p. 261). Just in case you had discounted the dissociation theory.
- “Harry . . . have you never read a trashy novel in which the hero gets a life-affirming change of clothes and some makeup, and then goes to the party and everyone says things like, ‘By the Emperor’s bones! But you’re beautiful’” (p. 264). This is a common fanfiction trope, and the rest of this conversation is hilarious.
- Harrow’s eyes are entirely black, and her hair has grown in fast. “Terribly afraid that this was your lone symptom of Lyctor regeneration, you had not cut it since” (p. 266). Someday this will make you equal parts angry and outraged. Also, eye color is important.
- When Ianthe is finished and Harrow sees herself, she thinks she looks like her mother.
- “As an act of meaningless rebellion, you applied the sacramental skull of Priestess Crushed Beneath the New-Laid Rock, the least beautiful skull in the canon” (p. 266). Forget sword moves, these skull names are inspired.
- Remember when Mercy was reliving Cassiopeia’s death while in the shuttle and she mentioned all of her ceramics? At least some of them are in Augustine’s rooms. “There were vases of eggshell-thin ceramic on the table set before the vast plex window” (p. 267).
- Augustine says of the past, “when we dared congregate. We partied as though it were the days before the apocalypse . . . John laughed more then. Mostly at that madman Ulysses, and Cassiopeia, under the table because she’d had a single glass of wine” (p. 268). He says that Ortus had “bizarre obsessions” and has been a pain. “I once watched that man fight a city. The city didn’t win” (p. 268).
- “Just believe me when I say that when I want Ortus to go, he’ll be giddy-gone” (p. 268). This is the clearest indication you’ll ever receive that what Harrow hears and what everyone is saying are not the same thing. Try to insert another name in there and see if the joke works.
- Augustine swears not to reveal the “details of [Mercy’s], ahem, business . . . even though I think it will be the death of us” (p. 269). So Ianthe isn’t the only one who’s been working on extracurricular activities.
- “Dios apate, minor”: Greek for “the god distracted,” and refers to the episode in Book 14 of the Iliad wherein Hera seduces Zeus in order to give the Greeks a leg up in the Trojan War. That it’s “minor” implies strongly that there’s been a “major” at some point, especially given Mercymorn’s reaction, which Augustine says went better than he expected.
- Augustine warns Ianthe and Harrow not to get involved, no matter what happens. Ianthe “mouthed at you smugly: Quick! Sophisticated! Devious!” (p. 271).
Chapter 30 Skull header: Fourth House. Time: same. 2nd person.
Usually the reason for the skull header is clear. This one, not so much . . . unless it’s because of all the bones of Cohort heroes who witness the evening’s shenanigans.
Augustine’s devious plan is to get everyone roaringly drunk. Then he proposes toasts, and they drink to everyone, repeatedly. Ortus loses patience when Augustine toasts Pyrrha Dve, Ortus’ cavalier, and then Blood of Eden and their commander, Wake. Ortus leaves. The toasts continue and culminate in a drunken threesome. Harrow is horrified, and Ianthe pulls her out of the room. This was not the way she envisioned Lyctorhood would go.
- Harrow is uncomfortable. Remember Harrow in Gideon at Abigail and Magnus’ dinner party? This is worse. The only one who is just as unhappy is Ortus: “He had more than once shared a glance with you that you were very afraid was solidarity” (p. 273).
- Ianthe says “This is the greatest night of my life” (p. 274). Whatever Harrow wishes she could forget Ianthe is eager to hear.
- Lots of information about the past:
- Something happened involving Alfred and Cristabel. Augustine says, “She was a fanatic and an idiot . . . and he...was a man who regretted that he wasn’t” (p. 274) and says that Cristabel led him astray.
- “I have built an entire myriad on the idea that I could’ve made him come around, given five minutes” (p. 274). This sentiment will resonate. Also he didn’t get five minutes to stop whatever happened.
- Mercy asserts that Augustine still hates Cristabel “long before what she did” and he answers, “what’s done is done. They’re dead. The crime is punished. I don’t hate Cristabel” (pp. 279-280)
- Pyrrha Dve: “the woman I cultivated a smoking habit to impress — the cavalier, the legend, the stone-cold fox” (p. 275) and Ortus’ cavalier. Ortus is not pleased to hear her toasted.
- John calls her “an absolute bombshell” and then cracks a “yo mama” joke (p. 278).
- Nigella Shodash (Sixth House cav) was prettier than Pyrrha, they agree, but Augustine says “Try getting a look-in with Cassy around, though” (p. 279). So Cassiopeia was either jealous or protective.
- Blood of Eden: “I drink to the best of them, gone for absolute certain” (p. 275).
- Whenever someone says the best of them is gone, you should check.
- A quarter-century ago was a busy time . . .
- Blood of Eden learned about Resurrection Beasts, “which are classified to the upper echelons of the Cohort, mind, so that was an intelligence effort and a half...” (p. 276).
- Ortus: “They knew about them. They just didn’t know what they were.”
- Really? How did they find out about them, pray tell?
- “Even a dead Herald can drive a necromancer insane. They took that thing apart. They made it into knives. They made it into axes. They made it into armour. I mean, extremely frugal, but honestly — that commander had Herald bullets” (p. 276). Let’s recall the theorem about Chekhov’s gun.
- The BoE commander: “Mad as a cut snake, and three times as vicious. We nearly lost you to her a few times, didn’t we, Ortus?” (p. 276). Chekhov’s gun.
- “Should we drink to Commander Wake?”
- If alarm bells aren’t going off in your head by now, you haven’t been paying attention.
- Augustine wants to toast sisters “and the women we’ve left behind,” which John doesn’t appreciate.
- “It doesn’t hurt anymore — most of the time.” Who did John leave behind?
- A toast to John, which he won’t join: “I’m not be best man who ever lived, but I’m not quite that much of a narcissist” (p. 278).
- Ianthe to Harrow: “Let me introduce you to the special world of sisterhood — I will reveal everything you do, contradict you at every turn, and hold back your hair in the morning” (p. 277). Those are particularly revealing criteria for sisterhood.
- “Part of your brain temporarily calcified into atheism” (p. 278). This is certainly not what Harrow expected Lyctorhood to be. “For a moment, you wondered wildly if you had hit your head quite hard entering the shuttle out of Drearburh, and had hallucinated everything subsequent.”
Chapter 31 Skull header: Second House. Time: Same. 2nd person.
In the hallway, Ianthe tries to kiss Harrow, but Harrow turns away. As she heads for the training room, Harrow sobers herself up. She cracks the door and rolls in a bone bomb, which explodes and shreds the room. But Ortus isn’t there. The only other place she can remember seeing him was in Cytherea’s chapel.
He isn’t there, either. Neither is Cytherea. But there’s a blood trail, which Harrow follows through the station, into the engineering part of the station where there is, surprisingly, an incinerator. Ortus is inside, and in the control room Harrow sees Cytherea. The door closes and the incinerator starts. Harrow prises the door open and retrieves Ortus, who tells her how to protect herself against him.
While John (who may or may not believe Harrow’s testimony), Augustine and Mercy examine the incinerator, Harrow demands Ortus tell her what happened. He answers that he doesn’t remember, and that sometimes he forgets. No one can find Cytherea’s body.
While Harrow is setting blood wards outside her room, she hears Augustine and Mercy arguing over Alfred and Cristabel, and again Augustine tells Mercy to leave Cytherea’s body alone, and Mercy again insists she hasn’t touched her. Harrow goes to bed, and the Body says, “The water is risen. So is the sun. We will endure” (p. 294).
- Both Ianthe and Harrow are drunk when Ianthe tries to kiss her. The kiss lands on Harrow’s cheek “with unanticipated tenderness” (p. 283). Harrow says, “My affections lie buried in the Locked Tomb.”
- “’And let them lie,’ she said, laughingly, and not very kindly. ‘Somebody might even exhume them for you.’”
- The blood trail is minutes old, and she finds Ortus’ bloody spear. “Someone had stood behind the bier, their back to the wall; the spearhead had been thrust through their chest” (p. 286).
- Ortus was stabbed through with his own spear, from the front.
- Harrow doesn’t know why the station has an incinerator. To her knowledge, everything is recycled. We don’t know why, either.
- The door to the incinerator is closed. Harrow looks inside to see Ortus propped against the back wall. The incinerator starts up. Harrow looks up to see Cytherea at the controls: “The flesh was dead, but the hate in that face was alive and well and living” (p. 288). She flips the switch and shambles away.
- Harrow looks at Ortus, whose “eyes seemed very dark. There was no bloom of necromantic power, nor move to save himself . . . [he] stared at you with something very like helplessness.”
- Harrow thinks about what she might do with his ashes; she thinks about sleeping safely, and she thinks about nabbing the body to show John. But she does none of those things; instead she saves Ortus.
- She turns bone into “liquid ash a micrometre thick, a very—weeny—construct” (p. 289).
- Recall from Gideon when Harrow tells Dulcinea/Cytherea that the Ninth doesn’t do “weeny constructs”? Ha!
- The alarm goes off, alerting the distractors and distracted.
- Harrow protects Ortus and retrieves him from the fire: “you looked upon the limit of our power: and that limit still stretched so far out into the goddamn distance that it was out of your sight” (p. 290). She still doesn’t know how powerful she is.
- Ortus is a mess: “the wounds were closing, but slowly, far more slowly than you would have expected. His cyanosed lips bespoke terrible effort as his heart knit back together. He was a myriad-old Lyctor. You did not understand” (p. 290)
- Eye color, healing ability — these are tells.
- He tells her: “Fresh blood wards. Every night . . .Can’t bleed thalergy … not fresh thalergy. Thanergy, easy. Mixed with thalergy … much harder. No bone wards. Understand? Fresh blood wards. Each night. Can’t break those . . . You’ll be safe from us” (p. 291)
- Ortus touches her face, “the tips of his fingers to your temples and your cheeks, like a smothering, or a benediction. ‘I know you’re there,’ he rasped. ‘Kill me all you like. I would know you in the blindness of my eyes … in the deafness of my ears … as a shadow smudged against the wall, annihilated by light … stop. Not here. Not now. Let it go, love. I just want the truth … after all this time.’ Ortus dropped his hand and said, with intent: “Just tell me — back then — why you brought along the ba — “
- And they’re interrupted. When Harrow resumes talking to him, she asks what he meant: “but Ortus had opened his eyes now, with all their bizarre green sweetness” and the moment has passed.
- Harrow is alone with him, but for the moment, not afraid. She tries to question him about why he let himself be stabbed with his own spear, why he said what he did to her, and he doesn’t remember: “he looked at you, and he said in a voice that you had known since you were eight years old: ‘I sometimes — forget.’ It was the tone — clinical, enamelled, half-defensive, half-endangered — the tone of someone admitting a final frailty. It was familiar because you had used it yourself. Understand I am insane” (p. 292).
- God is displeased, but Harrow doesn’t seem to be the target. Cytherea’s body is missing.
- “The water is risen. So is the sun. We will endure” (p. 294).
- This is a reference to 2 Kings 3:22: “And they rose early in the morning, and the sun being now up, and shining upon the waters, the Moabites saw the waters over against them red, like blood . . .” and recounts the victory of King Jehoram of Israel over the Moabites. The Moabites think their enemy’s been slain because the water looks like blood, so they attack, but the Israelites counter-attack and rampage through the land of Moab.
As I said, threads are starting to draw together, and our roller-coaster has just reached the top of the big hill.
Also, for all her humiliations, trauma, and disempowerment, Harrow remains standing: chastened, certainly, and still the person who knows least about what’s happening, but still the Reverend Daughter, still formidable. And more. She set out to murder Ortus, but when all she would need to do was to stand back and let it happen, she put herself in danger to save him. That counts for something, doesn’t it?
Courtesy of Reading the End. Occasionally I will note a reference they don’t have.
Here is a list of things I suggested we pay attention to.
Gideon the ninth
- Who are Gideon’s parents?
- “Die in a fire, Nonagesimus.” (p. 47)
- 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)
- “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)
- Canaan House: “a House both long dead and unkillable ” (p. 66) — Why can God not return?
- Dulcinea: “The eyes narrowed with intent, and for a moment the face was all business. There was something swift and cool in the blueness of those eyes, some deep intelligence, some sheer shameless depth and breadth of looking…. ’Lipochrome… recessive” (pp. 105-106).
- Palamedes: “Either this entire building was scavenged from a garbage hopper, or I am being systematically lied to on a molecular level” (p. 132).
- “’Down there resides the sum of all necromantic transgression . . . The unperceivable howl of ten thousand million unfed ghosts who will hear each echoed footstep as defilement….” (p. 151).
- “Necromantic transgression.”
- Ten thousand million is ten billion.
- Harrow says, “I never liked that sword. I always felt like it was judging me.”
- Our first “ONE FLESH, ONE END,” on a book flyleaf, signed G&P. Who are G & P?
- The 10,000 year-old note that Gideon finds: “ut we all know the sad + trying realit / is that this will remain incomplete t / the last. He can’t fix my deficiencies her / ease give Gideon my congratulations, howev” (p. 210).
- “ Just hours before, she’d wrestled Harrow down in the dirt, and Harrow had scratched until she’d had half of Gideon’s face beneath her fingernails” (p. 333).
- Gideon asks Harrow what’s behind the door of the Tomb: “There’s a blood ward bypass on the doors which will only respond for the Necromancer Divine, but I knew there had to be an exploit...” (p. 357).
- The note, “CONFIRMED INDEPENDENTLY / HIGHLIGHTED BEST OPTION / ASK E.J.G. /YRS, ANASTASIA. / P.S. GIVE ME BACK MY CALIPERS / I NEED THEM” (p. 368).
- Teacher is a construct. A construct (a puppet) needs a puppeteer, but no one appears to be controlling him. Just what is Teacher? A prototype, but for what?
- Ianthe: “I studied what happened when the Lord our Kindly God took our dead and dying Houses and brought them back to life, all those years ago… what price he would have had to pay. What displacement, the soul of a planet? What happens when a planet dies?”
- Ianthe: “I’m interested in the place between death and life . . . the place between release and disappearance. The place over the river. The displacement . . . where the soul goes when we knock it about . . . where the things are that eat us” (p. 382).
- Eight steps: preserve the cavalier’s soul, analyze it, absorb it, fix it in place, incorporate it, consume the flesh, reconstruct the spirit/flesh relationship, get the juice flowing.
- God will talk about the Eight-fold word. This is it.
- Colum Asht is possessed by something with mouths for eyes, a long blue tongue.
- “’Gideon!’ he called out. ‘Tell Camilla —‘ He stopped. ‘Oh, never mind. She knows what to do” (p. 404).
- “Harrow said, with some difficulty: ‘I cannot conceive of a universe without you in it’” (p. 437).
- God: “There are things out there that even death cannot keep down. I have been fighting them since the Resurrection. I can’t fight them by myself’” (p. 441).
- God can’t go down Canaan House. Harrow asks him why not, since that seemed to be the whole of Cytherea’s plan. “The Emperor said, ‘I saved the world once — but not for me” (p. 443). He doesn’t answer her question.
Appendices of Gideon the Ninth
- Thanergenic planets: are powered by thanergy. Only the Nine Houses are thanergenic.
- Thanergy planets: are planets in the process of being killed by necromancy. Every part of the Empire outside the Nine Houses is made of thanergy planets, whose inhabitants are colonized, but aren’t citizens.
- From “A Sermon on Cavaliers and Necromancers”: “Sword marriages aren’t real.” Sword marriage: a necro/cav pair married to one other person.
The Mysterious study of Doctor sex
- Dulcinea writes a letter to “My dearest pals...” Either to Palamedes or to him and Camilla both.
- The Lyctoral letter: Darling girl,
Tomorrow you will become a Lyctor and finally go where I can’t follow. I want you to keep this letter when you are far away and think of me and want me and can’t have me, and know that no matter how far you travel, nor how long the years feel, the one thing that never stays entombed is
Particularly determined revenants can move through objects to get to a destination.
Harrow the Ninth
- The Mithraeum. The bovine skulls in Canaan House. Also Sprach Zarathustra.
- Harrow: “Beloved dead...let me live long enough to die at your feet.”
- Harrow hates the sword, and the sword hates her. Also, it’s her constant companion.
- John: “I mastered Death; I wish I’d done the smarter thing and mastered Time.”
- John won’t let Harrow kneel because, if she knew the whole truth, she might smack him in the face instead.
- From “The Little Mermaid”: the chance to live as a human, also the bit about sharing souls.
- There are 3 Resurrection Beasts left.
- “You are walking down a long passageway. You need to turn around.”
- Harrow has a physical reaction whenever she hears Ortus’ name.
- Harrow was the 311th direct descendent of the Tomb keeper, and the 87th Nona.
- THE EGGS YOU GAVE ME DIED….
- Something happened when Harrow was 3 that made destruction her constant companion.
- She began to practice necromancy at 3.
- John says there’s a hiccup with FTL travel in that it destroys something to do with time and distance.
- A “thin cry of violence” and five points of light in the shuttle.
- If the Sleeper wakes, no one will survive.
- From Harrow 1’s Rules for Living: don’t let the sword cut flesh.
- Revenants can move into objects that are meaningful to them, including the weapons that murdered them. They absorb strength with every kill they perform.
- The two first-established Houses (Second and Eighth) use soul siphoning in their necromancy. I wonder if that’s part of the early history of Lyctorhood and necromancy.
- Harrow did not complete the Lyctor process. She has the energy reserves, but not the cavalier’s skill and healing abilities.
- John has been fighting with Blood of Eden for 5,000 years. He’s been searching for another enemy for 10,000, but we don’t know who. And Harrow might know BOE by another name?
- They had a charismatic leader 25 years ago.
- “Someone they left to die.”
- The Body’s eyes have changed color to yellow. “She asked me not to tell you.”
- Augustine warns Mercymorn: “ — back to the bad old tricks of decades past.”
- “I am not trying to be cruel . . .but that is what got you into trouble nineteen years ago”
- Something about jerking Ianthe’s white and bloodless heart from her body and eating it.
- The Sleeper: “Breathing apparatus over the face — orange hazard suit — oxygen hood.”
- There’s a two-handed sword in the coffin.
- Anastasia got the Lyctor process wrong and bad things happened.
- Annabel Lee, A.L.
- HIM I’LL KILL QUICK...
- “The Sleeper, who sleepeth not. Perhaps a better name would have been … the Waker.”
- Dulcinea calls Palamedes her first strand and Camilla her second. I missed this last week, but the reference from the Book of Ecclesiastes 4:12: ““Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
- Water is starting to flood Canaan House
- Cytherea has gone from moving on her bier to walking the corridors of the Mithraeum. Or so Harrow thinks.
- House of the Emperor, his servants, and his Lyctors.
- Seat: Once Canaan House, now the Mithraeum.
- Skull: no adornment.
- Planet: Earth
- Colors: white and scarlet, martial. Home of the Cohort, God’s armies.
- Characteristics: discipline
- Necro: Judith Deuteros, age 22, (Judith beheaded Holofernes), cavalier: Marta Dyas, age 27, (Marta=martial).
- Lyctor: Ortus, saint of Duty; his cavalier: Pyrrha Dve.
- Canaan House trial: Projection and winnowing (the big bone construct). Pyrrha invented it.
- Specialty: Spirit magic, use of thanergy in battle. They siphon their enemies to strengthen their cavaliers.
- Skull: A Spartan-style helmet
- Planet: Mars
- Colors: Violet?
- Characteristics: wealth and flash
- Necro: Ianthe and Coronabeth Tridentarius, princesses of Ida, both age 21, cavalier: Naberius Tern, age 23.
- Lyctor: Cyrus; his cavalier: Valancy Trinit.
- Cyrus drew the sixth Resurrection beast into a black hole.
- Valency thinks that “one flesh, one end” sounds like instructions for a sex toy.
- Specialty: Spirit magic, “animaphilia” — lover of the soul
- Skull: Jewels in the eyeholes.
- Colors: Blue
- Characteristics: courage
- Necro: Isaac Tettares, Baron of Tisis, age 13, (Biblical Isaac foreshadows Christ’s sacrifice, Gideon Isaac foreshadows Gideon’s sacrifice), cavalier: Jeannemary Chateur, knight of Tisis, age 14 (ref to Jeanne d’Arc).
- Lyctor: Ulysses; his cavalier: Titania Tetra.
- Specialty: Spirit magic? It’s unclear, but Abigail Pent was training Isaac, so it’s logical.
- Skull: Wears a laurel wreath
- Planet: Saturn? (h/t RunawayRose)
- Notes: The Fourth supplies soldiers and necromancers to the Cohort. The Fourth has large families, since so many die in battle. The Fourth is first on the ground in war.
- Colors: nothing formal, but sensible brown works.
- Characteristics: Intelligence. Temporal power.
- Necro: Abigail Pent, age 37, Koniortos Court cavalier: Magnus Quinn, age 38. Husband and wife.
- Lyctor: Augustine, saint of Patience; his cavalier: Alfred Quinque.
- Alfred, with Christabel, coin the phrase “one flesh, one end.”
- Second disciple in the Resurrection.
- Specialty: Sprit magic, speaking to the dead. Abigail is a famed historian.
- Skull: Wears a decorated headband, possibly a crown of thorns (h/t Ahianne).
- Planet: Jupiter
- Notes: “Koniortos” = “dust” (h/t BMScott).
- Colors: gray
- Characteristics: scholarship, rare book librarian and conservatorship skills, medical expertise
- Necro: Palamedes Sextus, master warden, age 20, (Palamedes: genius Greek soldier in the Trojan War), cavalier: Camilla Hect, age 20. Second cousins.
- Lyctor: Cassiopeia; her cavalier: Nigella Shodash.
- Cassiopeia developed the magma metaphor to explain travel in the River.
- She led a Resurrection Beast into the River and was ripped apart by ghosts in seven minutes.
- Described by John as “brilliant and sensible and careful.” (HtN, p. 97). And a good cook.
- Specialty: Flesh magic, emphasis on science and magic.
- Skull: Clutches a scroll in its teeth.
- Planet: Mercury
- Notes: the Sixth House developed the process of cramming numerous souls into a body. Purpose and application still unclear.
- Colors: seafoam green
- Characteristics: love of beauty, especially the fleeting type. Fans of the beautiful death and heirs with hereditary cancer.
- Necro: Dulcinea Septimus, duchess of Rhodes, age 27; cavalier: Protesilaus Ebdoma, age 39 (Protesilaus: the first Greek to die in the Trojan war). Rhodes: island in the Aegean, site of the Colossus, visited by both Herod the Great and the Apostle Paul.
- Lyctor: Cytherea; her cavalier: Loveday
- Cytherea was one of the 2nd generation Lyctors.
- Loveday was fiercely protective of Cytherea, and the rest at Canaan House disliked her.
- Second generation of disciples, the last to arrive at Canaan House.
- Specialty: flesh magic, with emphasis on beauty.
- Skull: A rose in one eyehole.
- Planet: Venus
- Colors: White
- Characteristics: orthodox purity, dogmatism, “White Templars,” the “Forgiving House”
- Necro: Silas Octakiseron, age 16; cavalier: Colum Asht, age 32, 34, or 37.
- Lyctor: Mercymorn, saint of Joy; her cavalier: Cristabel Oct.
- With Alfred, Christabel coined the phrase “one flesh, one end.”
- First of the disciples after the Resurrection.
- Specialty: spirit magic, focus on soul siphoning. Also hypocrisy.
- Skull: Blindfolded, denoting blind loyalty.
- Colors: black
- Characteristics: devotion to the Locked Tomb.
- Necro: Harrowhark Nonagesimus, age 17; cavalier: Gideon Nav, age 19.
- Not-a-Lyctor: Anastasia; her cavalier: Samael Novenary.
- Specialty: bone magic.
- Skull: lacking a mandible.
- Planet: Pluto.
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