Chapter 46 Skull header: Eighth House. Time: The night before the Emperor’s murder. 1st/2nd person.
Gideon has gotten over mentally yelling at Harrow for not absorbing her soul and has started apologizing for potential damages and embarrassments to her body. She suffers three mortal wounds and heals from all of them. And a Herald bites off her thumb. It instantly grows back.
After she kills all the Heralds in her rooms, she removes Harrow’s exoskeleton and follows the sound of screaming all the way to Mercymorn, who is finishing off her lot of Heralds — Mercymorn, who sees Gideon and starts to put things together. Actually she spills all the secrets to a thoroughly confused Gideon before she runs her through and prepares to spear her through the brain. At the last instant, a shot rings out (I’ve always wanted to write a phrase this cliché, so thank you, Tamsyn Muir, for the opportunity). Mercy falls in a screaming heap, and Gideon comes face to face with Cytherea, who looks at her, lowers the gun, and says, “Goodbye.”
- Gideon has faith that Harrow will return, and tries to take care of her body. It doesn’t work too well. Three mortal blows, all survived, and one thumb bitten off.
- “Again, let me say: sorry. It was not my thumb to let them bite off. I admit completely that this was my bad, but these motherfuckers had a hunger that only thumbs could satisfy” (p. 405). It’s a meme from “Llamas with Hats.” A really bad meme.
- Amputations don’t regenerate for Lyctors, but this one does for Gideon. Go figure. Lyctors don’t regenerate, but God does.
- At the end, “You didn’t have your original thumb and I’d touched your intestines, which is usually what, fourth date, but you were fine” (p. 406).
- Mercymorn: Lemon-mouth Prime.
- First of all, “Lemon-mouth Prime” is a reference to Lemongrab, an over-the-top character from Adventure Time (h/t Amy from the Locked Tomb Podcast, who made the ID).
- “I have never seen anyone so totally shocked by misery. It wasn’t just fear: it was this huge, grief-stricken panic, a welter of unhappy terror. It was the face of someone who had just seen their one true love drop-kicked into a meat grinder and come out the other end as a pile of sausages. ‘So now you come to me, First,’ she said raggedly. ‘Now you come … at the end of everything” (p. 408).
- Why does she think it’s the end of everything?
- “First” is A.L., aka Annabel Lee aka Alecto. John called her “First.”
- After a moment, she realizes that Gideon is not Alecto in Harrow’s body. Why would she think she’s Alecto?
- “That freak would have gone for me already … she never could act human” (p. 408).
- Mercy lets it slip that she stabbed Harrow and left her to die.
- “But you’re the soul — the soul of the cavalier that she stuffed in the back of her brain! What happened to your eyes?” (p. 408).
- “When they showed me your corpse I didn’t think to check the eyes. Stupid, Mercy. I thought I knew what you were, though I didn’t want to believe it . . . I am talking about the failure of the Ninth House operation” (p. 409).
- Mercy has seen Gideon’s body. Gideon’s dead body. Which means she saw it after Gideon was removed from Canaan House. Someone has Gideon’s corpse, and it’s the someone Mercy has been dealing with: Blood of Eden.
- She thinks Wake had gotten carelessly pregnant, but realizes now that she was wrong.
- “I made her the dolls — they were perfect.” Remember “the eggs you gave me all died and you lied to me”? Mercy made the ova and supplied them to Wake. The next part of the second letter: “so I did the implantation myself you self-serving zombie.” Mercy realizes the truth of that when she says, “and then she must have played silly buggers with — the emission . . . Of course it killed her” (p. 409).
- Pro tip: it didn’t kill her. Running out of oxygen killed her.
- Next part of the second letter reads: “you still sent him after me and I would have had him if I hadn’t been compromised and he took pity on me! he took pity on me! he saw me and he took pity on me and for that I’ll make you both suffer until you no longer understand the meaning of that goddamned word.” And the next part of Mercy’s soliloquy: “That moron knew Gideon was on her tail!”
- Gideon did indeed catch up with her and “took pity” on her. He didn’t kick her out the airlock; she went out in a haz suit with the baby in a protective container. She could have saved herself, but it would have meant the baby’s death, so she diverted the last oxygen to the container.
- When Gideon (our Gideon, in Harrow’s body — this is getting complicated) hears her own name, she has a physical reaction: “Something in your head when spang . . . It sounded strangely gloopy at first, unreal, as though we were underwater. But then the pain went away” (p. 409). And Harrow’s lobotomy is undone. Healed.
- So now we know a lot more about Gideon Nav’s birth, except that we don’t know about who supplied the “emission,” at least not yet. Of course we know: it’s John’s.
- The “Ninth House operation.” Wake parachuting into the Ninth House was part of a plan. And the plan was to open the Tomb. In Chapter 51 we find out why.
- “Now I have to take the River all the way home and fight my way through Anastasia’s horrid tomb cult just because the commander always thought she was so smart . . . .” (p. 409). Mercy plans to kill Gideon, take her blood, and open the Tomb. But then she realizes she doesn’t need to:
- “I need to think. Why are those eyes now in your face? Unless … Lipochrome. Recessive” (p. ). Lipochrome = yellow.
- She kills the last Herald by touching it.
Time for an editorial explication break: If you remember your elementary biology, for a recessive trait to emerge, both parents have to carry the recessive gene. We haven’t gotten a description of Wake’s eyes (yet, I don’t think). But we’ve seen the Body’s eyes turn “death mask gold.”
John’s eyes are black — now. And Alecto was his bodyguard. But what if she wasn’t his bodyguard. And she wasn’t human — we have that from several sources already. What if Alecto was John’s cavalier? Since cavaliers give their eye color to their necromancer, this would mean that Alecto’s eyes were black, and John’s eyes were . . . gold.
It would also mean (confirmed in Chap. 51) that John had figured out perfect Lyctorhood, a process that preserves both necromancer and cavalier, and that he deliberately led his disciples astray, making them murder their cavaliers. Cristabel didn’t have to die. This is what Mercy figures out, and her reaction is “her voice caught in a great, shuddery sob. She paced backward and forward. At one point, she threw her head back as though she were going to yell aloud, and that weird-hued hair shivered over her back. But she said nothing, just stood in the pit of the light” (p. 410). All of her guilt and grief over the past crashes down on her.
Now back to our regularly scheduled content.
- “He lied to us … and you are all the proof I needed. I don’t have to breach anything. I don’t have to go back . . . Cytherea would have known as soon as she looked at you” (p. 410).
- And indeed she did. Cytherea toyed with Gideon all the way through Canaan House.
- “Now I will clean up my mistakes. Cristabel always said I was tidy.” Last week in comments I wrote to strawbale that Mercy tries to kill Harrow/Gideon to hide the evidence, and I still think so. It’s one thing to tell God “I caught you lying,” and quite another to present God with evidence that you’ve been conspiring with the devil behind his back, and doing so for years. When the big reveal comes, it’s evident that Mercy and Augustine had a plan with two parts: part 1 and part 2, and part 2 involved saving everyone in the Nine Houses, with the help of Blood of Eden.
- Cytherea’s corpse shoots Mercy with a Herald bullet. Mercy is out of commission for now. We have no idea how Wake got either the bullet or the gun, where she got them, or why they’re on the Mithraeum.
- “Sorry. Maybe I should’ve gone for her. Like, I can imagine what you’d say. All I can say is that it was complicated back in Canaan House, and sometimes a cute older girl shows you a lot of attention, because she’s bored or whatever, and you sort of have the maybe-flirting maybe-not thing going on, right, and then it turns out she’s an ancient warrior who’s killed all your friends and she’s coming for you, and then you both die and she turns up ages later in the broiling heat on a sacred space station and like, it’s complicated. Just saying that it happens all the time” (p. 413). Our Gideon has a real gift for succinct summary.
Chapter 47 Skull header: Fifth House, fractured. Time: none noted. 3rd person.
Down the the facility, the Scoobies make a ring around the Sleeper’s coffin and draw limits and set wards. All around them are icicles and viscera, but no snow. On the old whiteboard, Wake has left one final message. Harrow tells Ortus she thought the messages were part of her insanity, and Ortus says he thinks she was never insane, but that trauma leaves traces on the mind that don’t ever fade.
Harrow gets a nice moment with each of the ghosts, a sort of wrapping up of their story lines. Dulcinea tells her that each of them can enforce just a little of their own rules in the bubble. She tells her about her and Protesilaus’ deaths — she regrets his and calls him “fantastically, dorkily noble” (p. 417).
Abigail asks Harrow about the signifiers the Sleeper bears and whether she recognizes any of them. And there is one: Gideon’s sword. Abigail pours a libation and calls the ghost. She says the ghost is linked to a physical object; they can expel it from Harrow’s soul, but it’ll still be present in the waking world. She calls the ghost, the coffin springs open, and it’s empty.
The Sleeper enters from a side passage and starts shooting. Ortus pulls Harrow behind a monument and Protesilaus steps up to fight her. She shoots him. The Sleeper gives her demands: she wants Harrow’s soul and counts down from ten. As the others try to engage him in an epic action sequence, one by one she shoots them. Protesilaus figures out that the Sleeper can’t really kill them, but she can disable them — her will is stronger than theirs, so her rules prevail, even to snatching guns out of thin air. She tells Harrow she wants her body to “finish it” but doesn’t explain further. Counting down to one, the Sleeper’s gun pointed at Harrow, Ortus clears his throat.
- END OF THE LINE. FALLING. OXYGEN CAN’T LAST THE DISTANCE AND WON’T REDIRECT POWER FROM THE PAYLOAD. INSTEAD I WILL MAKE YOU WATCH EVERY MOMENT AS I GET THE LAST PRIVILEGE YOU CANNOT ENJOY YOU BYGONE SON OF A BITCH. I HOPE YOU’RE BOTH AS SORRY AS I AM (p. 415). Wake’s final message, to her lovers Gideon and Pyrrha. Her last privilege: she gets to die.
- In speaking about trauma and its effects, Ortus says, “It is strange — years and years after his death, I so often heard the sound … the way he pushed at the handle, the way he manipulated the haft … of my father standing outside the door of my cell” (p. 415). Harrow thinks that he looks like a statue as he thinks. “Sometimes I imagined him coming back to life so that I might watch him die myself. The fantasy was a relief” (p. 415).
- This is all we get of Ortus’ backstory, but it’s enough to tell us that Mortus abused him. Ortus has embraced his identity as a coward “because it was easier” and used his mother as a shield, worshiped Mattias Nonius as a hero nonpareil — could it all have sprung from what he endured at his father’s hands? If so, even just the confession here in the bubble is the beginning of healing for him.
- Dulcinea told Cytherea “a lot of hot bullshit,” hoping that Palamedes or Camilla would have figured out that she was an imposter. Harrow admits she has no hold of loyalty on her or her cavalier, and doesn’t know why they’re with her.
- Dulcinea tells her that Protesilaus is there because he can’t help himself, it’s his nature.
- “I stayed on their farm right after my pneumonia because they thought the sitting temperature would be better for me, and if I ever see another rose I shall scream” (p. 417). If this sounds familiar, it is — think back to Dr. Sex and the letter Dulcinea wrote to “my dear pals.”
- Harrow remembered that Palamedes Sextus had made a war of his whole life in order to prosecute his desire to marry this woman. ‘The only thing that ever stopped me being exactly who I wanted,’ she said, ‘was the worry that I would soon be dead … and now I am dead, Reverend Daughter, and I am sick of roses, and I am horny for revenge” (p. 417). I’m really glad we got to meet this Dulcinea.
- Harrow tells Abigail that the sword is Gideon’s and that she hated it. “It just felt strange — rancorous. I cannot deny that I often assumed its edge would be the last thing I saw” (p. 418).
- We love Abigail, don’t we? “It takes a great deal of ego to be a psychopomp. Thank you for letting me be yours” (p. 418). The spirit calling scene is everything we need it to be, as is the fight.
Chapter 48 Skull header: Third House. Time: same. 2nd person.
Gideon goes off in search of Cytherea’s corpse but finds Ianthe instead. Hilarity ensues as the two trade insults. Ianthe tells Gideon they need to talk, but before they can they run into Augustine, who recognizes Gideon in Harrow’s body and makes the reaches the same conclusion Mercy had. He runs away. Ianthe takes Gideon to her quarters and gives her one of Harrow’s letters. It holds her sunglasses and the message “One flesh, one end.”
Ianthe makes a comment about “Harry,” and Gideon unloads on her. Ianthe says she’ll take Gideon to God; it’s Gideon’s only chance to fix this. Gideon doesn’t have a better idea, and thinks it may bring Harrow back.
- “The smile on that thin white face was real. ‘Harry, you’re — ‘ I moved closer and totally fucking ruined her day. ‘Alive, bitch,’ I said.
- Gideon really dislikes Ianthe: “She had long since ascended to the rank of double douchebag” (p. 429).
- And she holds a grudge: “But when I saw that tall hot glass of skank and heard her diffident, Oh, you — like she’d never faked to your fucking face like she couldn’t see a corpse that was obviously there — like she’d never messed you up or messed around with you, like she’d never seen you vulnerable and smacked her pallid mummified lips . . .” (p. 429).
- All of which is understandable, but let’s establish this here: Gideon makes a critical mistake. She’s furious, she’s hurt, she’s been stuck in the back of Harrow’s mind, able to watch but unable to do anything — so close that it’s heartbreaking, so helpless that it’s doubly heartbreaking — and she loses it. In Ianthe’s room she reveals that Harrow is in love with the girl in the Tomb. Gideon tells Ianthe that Harrow opened the Tomb.
- Ianthe misdirects Gideon’s attention, but there’s no doubt that she caught the point, and is going to fold it into her own, larger plan.
- The mutual insults are undeniably funny — each is so over the other that Gideon proposes to her.
- Augustine: “He looked at my eyes in your face in the same way the other Lyctor had, and any colour in his own drained straight away . . . I have never seen anyone look at anything the way those Lyctors looked at us. Mercymorn looked at us like we were the picture in the dictionary next to unhappiness. Augustine looked at us like we were the last thing he’d ever see” (p. 432). What’s that line from The Tempest: “Hell is empty and all the devils are here”? For some reason it comes to mind.
- Ass jokes. Gideon loves them. Pay attention to the ass jokes. They figure in Nona.
- In Ianthe’s room: “I was almost too stressed and distracted to appreciate that awe-inspiring painting of the bangin’ cavalier holding a melon, with her necromancer friend standing on a plinth while the wind blew leaves to hide his junk. That was art. Completely worth dying for, just to see for myself” (p. 433).
- Harrow, looking at these same paintings, thought it was like spending too much time with someone who laughs at his own puns.
- And of such differences is art criticism made.
- It’s sheer indulgence that I included this quotation: it’s one of my favorites.
- Ianthe gives Gideon the letter, and “Time softened as I held it.” She knows Harrow so well that she knows she wrote it in a hurry, and it reminds her of the letters Harrow sent her in the past, “calling me names or bossing me around. You’d touched that letter, and I — you know it was killing me twice that you weren’t there, right? You must know it was destroying me to be there in your body, trying to keep your thumbs on, and I couldn’t even hear your damn voice?” (p. 433).
- She puts on the glasses and reads, ONE FLESH, ONE END. “Which did not make me happy, Harrow. It did not fill my heart with soft and sentimental yearning. You set me up. You set all of it up. I gave you one damn job. And instead you rolled a rock over me and turned your back. I spent all that time drowning and surfacing in you, over and over and over, and all because in the end you could not bear to do the one thing I asked you to do . . . I wanted you to live and not die you imaginary-girlfriend-having asshole! Fuck one flesh, one end, Harrow. I already gave my flesh to you, and I already gave you my end. I gave you my sword. I gave you myself. I did it while knowing I’d do it all again, without hesitation, because all I ever wanted you to do was eat me” (p. 434).
- And, being Gideon, she has to follow it with a joke: “Which is, coincidentally, what your mother said to me last night.” Which proves that yo mama jokes are eternal. God cracked one; Gideon cracks another.
- Okay, down to business: note the “you rolled a rock over me.” It comes back later.
- Ianthe tells Gideon that love isn’t sacrificial but acquisitive. “I have loved plenty — true love is acquisitive. You keep anything … strands of hair … an envelope they might’ve licked . . . Love is a revenant, Gideon Nav, and it accumulates love-stuff to itself, because it is homeless otherwise” (p. 434).
- “She gave her heart to a corpse when she was ten years old . . . She’s in love with the refrigerated museum piece in the Locked Tomb. You should’ve seen the look she had on when she told me about this ice-lolly bimbo. I knew the moment I saw it” (p. 435). Oops.
- “Always your sword, my umbral sovereign; in life, in death, in anything beyond life or death that they want to throw at thee and me. I died knowing you’d hate me for dying; but Nonagesimus, you hating me has always meant more than anyone else in this hot and stupid universe loving me. At least I’d had your full attention” (p. 436).
Chapter 49 Skull header: Ninth House, fractured. Time: concurrent. 3rd person.
Ortus begins to recite from his poem The Nigenad, which is a play on The Iliad by Homer with shades of The Dunciad by Pope (this is not at all Ortus’ intention, but a reader’s intuition). Abigail protests, “Nigenad, you think too much of me!” but Ortus says, “Never, lady!” and continues to recite — loudly. (This was the bit of a plan that Harrow walked in on in Chapter 35, when Ortus confers with Abigail about calling someone back with the link to his rapier — it was Matthias Nonius’.) and the part of The Noniad is the battle with a Lyctor that Harrow and he have been arguing over, Harrow thinking it could never have happened and Ortus insisting that it must have).
Harrow throws up a bone wall, which Wake breaks through. She shoots Ortus, who tries to continue before he collapses. Harrow pushes Wake back and calls up a row of skeletons, and continues the poem. In the background, she hears Abigail chanting, Wake charges forward, aims again at Harrow, and . . . the candles blaze up blue flame. Time stops. The gun discharges, a shadow coalesces before Harrow, and she hears the bell of Drearburh. Matthias Nonius has arrived.
The battle between the two is epic, as Wake’s rules in the bubble give way to Nonius’. It’s active, it’s bloody, it’s exciting — it’s everything. And eventually, Nonius wins, Wake dies, and all the tubes and gunk from her imposed vision fall apart. Nonius takes off her mask and Harrow recognizes her as the woman whose picture was in the Camilla’s shuttle.
With Wake’s death, the bubble starts to deform and the group has to break up. Nonius, Protesilaus, Ortus and Marta Dyas depart to help fight the Resurrection Beast. Abigail and Magnus gently tell Harrow that she has to return to her body or be lost to the River. Magnus counsels her to live for Gideon; Abigail tells her that staying as a revenant in the River will make her go insane or worse, and will leave her Lyctor’s body empty for something else to occupy. They leave, and Dulcinea remains naughtily behind, because she has something to tell her.
This is a beautiful chapter chock full of great lines that will take all week to review, if I were to give in to the impulse. I’ll try not to (barring an occasional lapse), but instead will point out the bits you might have missed.
- When Ortus goes down, Harrow steps up. “She did not know why Ortus had to go mad now, but when the Ninth House advanced, its Reverend Daughter would advance with it” (p. 440).
- Harrow will never be of the First House. Always the Ninth.
- Matthias Nonius is named for the hero monk in Brian Jacques’ Redwall. (Muir has confirmed this. He’s the only character named in homage.) He’s dressed plainly, looks average and nondescript, carries himself like a monk, and moves like a dancer.
- “The House of the Fifth always skinned itself over with such airs of civilisation, with so many manners and niceties, but they were spirit-talkers, and speakers to the dead. And the dead were savage” (p. 442).
- The Sleeper calls Nonius “just a ghost like the rest of them” who doesn’t “get special rules.” “’In life I was only a man,” the ghost agreed. ‘But the Ninth House granted me honour, and made me, unworthy, its servant. I speak with the voice of the Tomb, and my strength is the strength of the Black Gate — why am I talking in meter?’” (p. 443). He is indeed talking in enneameter, a line of nine feet (we went over this a while ago). He’s not just Matthias Nonius, the greatest cavalier the Ninth House ever produced — he’s Ortus’ version of Matthias Nonius; he fights according to the rules Ortus wrote for him.
- Watching the fight, Ortus “was transported; not to some kind of ancestral state of primaeval ghost worship, but to a wide-eyed heaven only he understood. She had never seen Ortus look triumphant . . . “If I die my final death here,’ he said, ‘I will die knowing the only happiness that I have ever known.’ ‘Oh, shut up and move,’ she said desperately. If all her cavaliers were this excited for death, she was definitely the problem” (p. 444).
- This fight is like nothing Harrow has ever seen: “These were two people who had spent their lives doing nothing but fighting, now freed from the shackles of flesh and time, focusing their entire selves on the business of murdering each other” (p. 445).
- She realizes that the Sleeper “must have had few, if any equals . . . she fought like she wanted to kill you and she hoped it would hurt” (p. 446).
- Nonius’s ghost had emerged from the fog of legend looking more like a meek priest than a warrior. But with the sword in his hand . . . he was a poem” (p. 446). Literally. He is a poem. He’s a real ghost, but he’s also Ortus’ creation: “Just as the force of the Sleeper’s hatred had translated into unreasonable strength against Harrow’s necromancy . . . now the force of Nonius’s devotion to the Ninth, refracted through the prism of Ortus’s accursed poem, was overwriting the Sleeper’s rules” (p. 448).
- This becomes a battle of wills between the two, Wake’s passion for revenge versus Nonius’ passion for his House. When Nonius loses his sword, he becomes even more deadly and, after asking her to yield, he kills her.
- After the fight there’s a lot of praise and extravagant compliments, which are all earned and adorable. Harrow tells Nonius that she hopes his bones lie in the Anastasian, and he tells her “My bones fell far from home . . . Never, I think, will a wanderer happen upon where they now lie, far though he travel” (p. 452). This is here for a reason. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not random.
- Abigail tells Ortus that they created a revenant link to call Nonius through Ortus’ sheer passion. “As Ortus looked at the ghost he had spent his whole life worshipping,” he calls himself unworthy. Nonius answers, “Clearly that cannot be true . . . If the Fifth speaks aright — if your art was the anchor that rendered me whole here, and gave me a body and blade for the battle — your art, not my strength, was the ultimate source of our victory” (p. 453).
- I note this here because, really, how often does the dorky poet win the battle?
- Nonius asks to be dismissed to fight the Resurrection Beast alongside Gideon 1, “A terrible conviction seized Harrowhark’s heart.” Not only does she remember that Number Seven is there, “a king among monsters in the River, [but also] perhaps worse, the realisation that she had lost a cherished and decade-long fight. ‘You mean a Lyctor,’ said Harrow. ‘You actually fought a Lyctor” (p. 455).
- The decade-long battle has been with Ortus, and Ortus has won.
- She also realizes that Ianthe, Augustine and Mercymorn are not in the fight with Number Seven.
- Ortus and Protesilaus resolve their hero-poet rivalry and declare they’ll fight together.
- Marta announces she’s going, too. “Cohort rules . . . Chickenshits don’t get beer” (p. 457).
- Magnus says he's never heard of that rule.
- Matthias says he has.
- “In her mind’s eye” rising out of those turbid waters before the Saint of Duty with his spear and his sword, something looming behind him, bigger than the eye could comprehend. Bluer than death; unimaginable, advancing to greet four dead swordsmen and the Lyctor” (p. 458).
- It’s over. The bubble’s collapsing and they all risk annihilation. Abigail explains to Harrow that, being the host soul, she has only two options: go into the River, where she’ll go slowly insane, or return to her body. That’s it.
- “Spirits always wish to return to their bodies, and pine without them” (p. 459).
- Returning to her body will displace Gideon.
- “It had bewildered her, back at Canaan House, how the whole of her always seemed to come back to Gideon. For one brief and beautiful space of time, she had welcomed it: that microcosm of eternity between forgiveness and the slow, uncomprehending agony of the fall . . . One idiot with a sword and an asymmetrical smile had proved to be Harrow’s end” (p. 459).
- Magnus, who thus far hasn’t been good for anything, provides the last piece: “This whole thing happened because you wouldn’t face up to Gideon dying” (p. 459).
- He doesn’t accuse her of running away from her death, but she’s refusing to accept it because she can’t bear to let her go.
- Ianthe just told Gideon that love is acquisitive; Magnus says something similar: “You’re keeping her things like a lover keeping old notes, but with her death, the stuff that made her Gideon was destroyed . . . You’re not waiting for her resurrection; you’ve made yourself her mausoleum” (p. 460).
- He tells her how he kept a corner of one of Abigail’s dance cards when she broke up with him, because it had been hers. “This is your ripped-up corner of card . . . You’re a smart girl, Harrowhark. You might turn some of that brain to the toughest lesson: that of grief” (p. 460).
- “’If it were me,’ Magnus said, ‘I’d go home, and live, and live for her’” (p. 460). Tough lessons
- Harrow comprehends Magnus and Abigail finally in terms of the loss to the world that happened with their “useless” deaths. “As though the universe could withstand more holes; as though the fabric of the universe had not become a series of lacework cut-outs linked by the thin, snappable joins of those who remained. Could the pattern sustain itself, with such absences? Could she, who had once thought herself well-versed in absence, endure alone?” (p. 461)
- This has to be one of the loveliest descriptions of the desolation of grief I’ve ever read — a life defined by what it’s lost.
- Harrow tells Magnus and Abigail, who won’t leave her, that she’ll go back. Moreover, she’ll see them again in time. Abigail agrees.
- But Dulcinea gets the last word.
Chapter 50 Skull header: Second House. Time: Thirty minutes before the Emperor’s murder. 1st/2nd person.
On the Mithraeum, Gideon really doesn’t want to meet God. As they reach his quarters, the door is open. Ianthe and Gideon duck behind the door to listen in while John interrogates Wake in Cytherea’s body. They’re interrupted when Augustine and Mercymorn come in and Mercy tells John that “it’s over.” They urge him to confess and he interrupts them to introduce them to Wake. She says they’ve met. Wake has been refusing to cooperate, but she’s happy to tell John about their involvement in her plan. It devolves into an argument among the three of them when John stops them all and Wake tells him she was going to break into the Tomb by killing her baby. Gideon 1 comes in, sees Ianthe and Gideon 2 in Harrow’s body, takes her sunglasses and puts them on. Then he walks into the room and shoots Wake in the head.
Chaos ensues. Augustine is worried about Number Seven, but Gideon 1 is not forthcoming. Mercy wants to continue accusing John. John wants to know if Gideon 1 knew that Wake was pregnant when he dropped her out the airlock and he says he thought the baby was his, which entirely grosses out Augustine and Mercy. Mercy tells John that they knew the baby was his, because they had collected his “genetic material” during dios apate, major. John supposes that both Wake and the baby died on the way down. Mercy says no.
At that moment, Gideon (our Gideon) has had enough. She pushes into the room and says, “I’m not fucking dead” (p. 475)
Here’s where all the shoes drop. You know most of this, so . . . moving briskly:
- Gideon thinks that seeing God means she’s being written out of the story, since that’s what happens in the comic books: “Space was being cleared for a new character” (p. 464). Keep this in mind.
- Wake’s full name: Awake Remembrance of These Valiant Dead Kia Hua Ko To Pai Snap Back to Reality Oops There Goes Gravity.
- Blood of Eden names contain three components, three phrases, that trace back through cultural and familial histories. Often they’ve lost their original meanings, but retain a cultural memory. Wake calls them “dead words — a human chain reaching back ten thousand years” (p. 465).
- “Awake Remembrance of These Valiant Dead” — from Shakespeare’s Henry V.
- “Kia Hua Ko To Pai” — a line from the Maori version of New Zealand’s national anthem. It roughly means, “Let goodness flow forth.”
- “Snap Back to Reality Oops There Goes Gravity” — a line from “Lose Yourself” by Eminem.
- After all this time, John still knows her name.
- She has enough power of will to make John say her full name
- John caught her (no one brought her to him) and now says she’s “trying to commit suicide by cop . . . you’re acting like your mission’s over and you want me to take you out of the equation” (p. 466). He wants to know what the mission is.
- Why did she choose the Ninth House? “You skipped the dummy target in the atmosphere” (p. 466). That would presumably be the prison, since nothing else is there. So the prison is a decoy, meant to hide the location of the real House.
- Wake disdains necromancy and yet she’s been using it this whole time.
- John narrows it down to 2 questions: how did she get to the Mithraeum and why choose the Ninth House.
- Mercy and Augustine come in to tell him they know everything.
- “Confess, and be the man I want you to be, rather than the man you apparently are” (p. 468).
- John’s response is so patently insincere: “am I in trouble?”
- When that doesn’t work, he tries mocking humor: “meet Commander Wake Me Up Inside, sincerest apologies if I got that wrong.” It’s from Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life,” and is particularly well-chosen, given what’s going on in the bubble right now.
- Wake tells John that Augustine and Mercy worked for her.
- Mercy accuses Wake of not holding up her side of the deal.
- Augustine says that if this is Wake, then Gideon is “unfit for any job.” They had counted on her not surviving.
- Wake realizes the Lyctors betrayed her by not telling her how close Gideon had been to her.
- “If you were on schedule it wouldn’t have mattered. You failed to kill him the first time — you were a whole day behind with the delivery — oh, and now I know why” (p. 469). Why? Because Wake was pregnant. Remember, she induced labor. Now we know why — she was on a schedule.
- Mercy accuses her of fucking up the plan. Wake answers that “the dummy ones died” and they had never told her how to grow the babies.
- “If I’d known then what I know now, I would have just shelled the place!” (p. 469)
- Mercy realizes that Wake never meant to evacuate the Nine Houses.
- The plan the three cooked up meant, on the one side, the end of necromancy, and on the other, saving the people of the Nine Houses.
- Each side thinks it was betrayed by the other.
- Classic mystery reveal: the bad guys spill the beans in front of the detective by accusing each other.
- When Wake tells John she went to the Ninth House to break into the Tomb, Gideon feels an omen like a physical reaction. She says that she had the baby. “The dummies dies. The ova died. Only the sample was still active” (p. 470). John’s sperm lived for 12 weeks before Wake inseminated herself. “You sent me out there to kill a baby and open those doors. Whose baby didn’t matter on my end . . . I used to call it Bomb” (p. 471).
- That baby is listening to this entire awful dehumanizing confession. As if Gideon weren’t traumatized enough.
- John says, “I wish Harrowhark were here; it would do her good to know there are more people in the world with an imagination like her parents’” (p. 471).
- Somehow, I don’t think that compounding evil on evil is an antidote for trauma.
- Enter Pyrrha Dve (last name pronounced D’vay), after lifting the sunglasses from Gideon.
- “The woman I was pretty sure was actually my mother — wearing the body of a woman I’d had a crush on, who in turn had been wearing the identity of a woman she’d murdered, until I fell on a spike so that my boss could kill her — craned her head around” (pp. 471-472).
- This is a damn fine summary, actually.
- Wake smiles, recognizing them, and knowing that they’ll kill her. “It was a smile that said, You came back for me?” (p. 472)
- From now on, I’ll refer to Gideon/Pyrrha as Pyrrha, pronoun they. It’s Pyrrha’s consciousness in Gideon’s body, which is classically genderqueer, and they feels more appropriate.
- Pyrrha delivers Wake — John planned to keep her around for a long time to extract intelligence. Pyrrha cut it short.
- John still doesn’t get it. He doesn’t realize the insemination was done with his sperm.
- “Cassiopeia told me a very interesting thing about blood wards, once. She always said that they should really be called cell wards because they work off thalergetic enzymes … which can be spoofed with a substantial thanergy burst and the blood of a close relative. A parent. A child” (p. 474).
- Finally, we know how Harrow broke into the Tomb: the day she fought with Gideon was the day she went off to kill herself by opening the Tomb, with Gideon’s blood and skin under her fingernails. It was pure accident.
- Dios apate, major. Mercy is a specialist in human anatomy, and was able to extract John’s sperm without him ejaculating (no, don’t ask me how, I don’t know and don’t want to know). “You were so damned careful, John. No vulnerabilities, no lapses” (p. 474).
- John: So . . . the baby died with her? Mercy: Nope.
- “’I’m not fucking dead,’ I said, which wasn’t even true, and I was choking up; everything I’d ever done, everything I’d ever been through, and I was choking up” (p. 475).
- Poor Gideon.
- Response: “Hi, Not Fucking Dead . . . I’m Dad” (p. 475). The greatest dad joke of all time.
Chapter 51 Skull header: Eighth House, Time: same. 1st/2nd person.
Gideon remembers growing up unloved and unregarded in the Ninth House, tormented by Harrow, and dreaming that her parents wanted her and how none of it amounted to anything more than suffering.
Mercy tells John that she knows Gideon has Alecto’s eyes. John tries to deflect. Augustine tells him that he follows power signatures, and knows that there’s no exchange of energy between the Nine Houses and John — it’s a one way transmission. Everything comes from John, and John’s power never drains away. Alecto wasn’t John’s bodyguard; she was his cavalier.
Which means that perfect Lyctorhood — a process of sharing souls that doesn’t kill the cavalier — exists. John did it with Alecto before anyone else tried. They didn’t need to kill their cavaliers to become Lyctors, but John led them to believe it was necessary. Anastasia got it right, but John intervened and killed Samael. Even now, he lies about it.
John asks what he has to do to be forgiven. Augustine tells him to stop his mission — after 10,000 years, no one needs to be punished. We know John won’t do it. Mercy says that she’ll forgive him if he tells her truly that he loved Cristabel and never wanted to hurt her. John tells her and apologizes and declares his love for her. She forgives him, and then she slides her hands inside him and discorporates him.
- Gideon’s memories really must be read to catch their entire poignance. ‘Nuff said.
- “Here’s the long-lost baby I was looking for, everyone will stop treating her like shit henceforth, also I am going to murder everyone in here for what they have done and Crux goes first” (p. 476). Stick a pin in that.
- “I told you that my mother had probably loved me a lot more than yours loved you. You clawed my face so bad that my blood ran down your hands; my face was under your fucking fingernails. When I let you go you couldn’t even stand, you just crawled away and threw up. Were you ten, Harrow? Was I eleven?” (p. 477).
- You remember how the fuck-off great-aunts always used to say, Suffer and learn? If they were right, Nonagesimus, how much more can we take until you and me achieve omniscience?” (p. 477).
- Mercymorn: “John, you are trying to start a fight with me to get out of the fight I am trying to have with you, which is a painfully domestic tactic” (p. 478). Nice callback to Chapter 6, page 87, when the situation is reversed.
- “You told us the truth about Annabel — about Alecto — because she knew the truth about it too, and you never could control her. Even after two centuries, I’m not sure she ever managed to lie” (p. 478).
- “She was a monster the moment you resurrected her, and you went and made her worse!”
- Pyrrha/Gideon says that they didn’t hate Alecto. Mercy tells them to shut up. (p. 479).
- After everything that John and Alecto went through, they understood why he didn’t want to kill her. “We said she was too dangerous . . . We knew the Beasts were coming, and we knew they were partly coming for her” (p. 479). Question is — why?
- “’You came to us and we asked, Is she dead?’ said Mercy. “And you said, As dead as I can make her” (p. 479).
- “What is God afraid of?”
- “I never wanted to believe it when [Mercy] said, What if he didn’t really put down A.L.? And then — What if he couldn’t put down A.L.?” (p. 480).
- “Alecto was your cavalier.”
- At first they thought Harrow was Alecto, because of her eyes. Augustine says, “So why else would Harrowhark’s eyes change? For the same reason our eyes changed. The completion of the Eightfold Word. She had attained actual Lyctorhood.” … Mercy: “There was no possible way Alecto’s genetic code — to the extent she even had one, which by the way I am not convinced she ever did — could have ended up in a baby in the Ninth House … but there very much was a way that your genetic code could have, because Augustine and I worked extremely hard to put it there” (pp. 480-481).
- Gideon: “I’d figured out that the eye-change is what happens when two people become one. It’s not what happens when two people swap places . . . There was no way a cavalier could end up with a necromancer’s eyes. Unless the cavalier failed to die” (p. 481).
- Mercy: “You lied to us, John . . . There is a perfect Lyctorhood … a perfect Lyctor process that preserves the cavalier, and you let us think there wasn’t . . . You watched us kill our cavaliers in cold blood, and none of them had to die. You had already done it yourself” (p. 481).
- Anastasia did it correctly, until John intervened. She spent the rest of her life blaming herself for her failures. Remember the ripped note Gideon finds in the Second’s rooms, “He can’t fix my deficiencies….” It’s from Anastasia to Pyrrha.
- I have to ask: why did John let them get it wrong? He doesn’t give a reason.
- Would the Lyctors have become as powerful as John became? I doubt it.
- They believe the Resurrection Beasts are after them because they absorbed their cavaliers’ souls (the “necromantic sin”). Now that seems . . . unlikely?
- John tells her, “There is no such thing as forgiveness, Mercy. There’s only bloody truth, and blessed ignorance” (p. 482).
- John asks what he can do to make this right. Augustine says, “Stop your mission, John. Give up on the thing I know you’ve been looking for since the very beginning. Stop expanding. Stop assembling this bewildering cartography, this invasion force. I’ve puzzled over it for five thousand years, and I don’t believe I truly understand it now. But let it go. Let them go. Nobody has to be punished anymore for what happened to humanity” (p. 483).
- John has been after some goal since the beginning: to punish someone for “what happened to humanity.” To that end, he’s been pushing out his Empire, assembling his invasion force.
- It’s not Blood of Eden: it’s been going on much longer than that.
- When Mercy tells John she’ll forgive him, Augustine looks at her and slides down to sit with his back against the wall. He knows what’s going to happen. He doesn’t intervene.
- “It is finished” (p. 485).
- This is what was written on the whiteboard in the Lyctor laboratory in Canaan House.
- It’s also the words Jesus speaks during the crucifixion (John 19: 30). What is finished? Well, in theological terms, all the prophecies of the Patriarchs have been fulfilled, and Jesus now can die.
Chapter 52 Skull header: Fifth House. Time: same. 1st/2nd person.
Following the death of God, Dominicus will collapse into a black hole. The Nine Houses will die. It’s too late to save anyone. Mercy says that they had always planned a mass evacuation of the Houses, but she saw the opportunity to kill John and took it. Now she says she can die. Augustine tells her no — there are survivors on the Cohort ships to be rounded up, people to be saved, peace to be made with Blood of Eden, and a new start to be made before the two of them can die.
God comes back and immediately blows Mercy’s heart out. He reveals that he’s not afraid of the Resurrection Beasts, declares it’s time to clean house, and demands each of the survivors swear their loyalty. Pyrrha and Ianthe swear immediately. Gideon gets a pass. John begs Augustine to swear. He says no, and immediately drops the Mithraeum deep into the River.
John and Augustine are pulled out through a broken window. Ianthe dives after. Pyrrha wrestles Gideon into a corridor and they move up, away from the water, through the rings. Neither are Lyctors, and neither will survive. Through the plex window, by the light of some part of the Mithraeum, they see Augustine and John wrestling in the water as the current pulls them deeper. Gideon wants to swim for it; Pyrrha tells her that the pressure this deep will kill them both. Pyrrha tells Gideon that they were like Harrow/Gideon, and that Gideon 1 is dead.
The station is being pulled toward the bottom of the River, where a stoma has opened. They watch as tongues extend out, pulling the Mithraeum toward itself. Gideon breaks a window and the two are pulled out into the River, and they watch the end of the fight between John and Augustine. Ianthe intervenes to save John and let Augustine disappear into the stoma.
In her dying consciousness, Gideon has a vision of the Body coming to her. She hears and feels people starting chest compressions.
- Mercy: “We don’t know how long it takes to undo the Resurrection. Millions of people … all those millions of our people … No, I had to do it” (p. 486).
- “Those grey librarians will be the first to know about it [on Mercury] — then the Seventh and Rhodes, [on Venus] . . .”
- Augustine: “As you chose to stain your hands so mine could be clean, you’re going to have to put up with the fact that you picked the wrong man to enter into a suicide pact with. I hate ‘em. Cristabel might have undone all my good work with Alfred, but here comes the reckoning” (p. 487).
- Thus we infer that Cristabel and Alfred, who started the “one flesh, one end” idea, had a suicide pact to force Mercy and Augustine to become Lyctors. Cristabel instigated it and Augustine blamed her ever after for his brother’s death.
- “We’re going to round up the ships — everyone who’s left — sue for peace as best we can — get the Edenites on side.”
- “And then we’ll find a place to fulfill the old promise … Somewhere out there exists a home not paid for with blood; it won’t be for us, but it will be for those who have been spared. Babies always get born. Houses always get built. And flowers will die on necromancy’s grave” (p. 487).
- We’ve hated Mercy and Augustine throughout this book. And only now we learn their motivations: to undo the evil that John wrought and to build a home “not paid for with blood” for the survivors. They’re the good guys. I’m feeling pretty unmoored by this revelation.
- There’s a serious “Moses won’t reach the Promised Land, but Israel will” vibe to this speech, and I’ll bet it’s deliberate.
- Augustine looks to Pyrrha, whom he called “Teacher’s attack dog” before, and asks “No retribution, Gideon? . . . I thought you might want to burn on his pyre” (p. 488).
- John: “It was a lovely bit of work on Mercymorn’s part. She must have been training for thousands of years, to bring that off. But I didn’t get to where I am by being able to die” (p. 490).
- Mercy’s intimate knowledge of human anatomy explained: she was preparing for this moment.
- John says he can’t die: the Resurrection Beasts are not a threat to him.
- Augustine says, “You acted afraid — “ and John answers, “Acted is operative” (p. 490).
- If the RB’s don’t threaten him, why does he keep sending and sacrificing his Lyctors — his most devoted servants — up against them? What is he doing — keeping them busy and distracted? For what purpose?
- Here it’s clear that the RBs are not John’s primary enemy, but we don’t know what is.
- To Pyrrha: “Mate, I’m not mad about Wake. I’m not even mad that you failed to either fix or put down Harrow. I just want your loyalty” (p. 490).
- John confesses that he was behind the assassination attempts — Gideon 1 was to kill Harrow or fix her by forcing her to incorporate Gideon’s soul and become a full Lyctor.
- What a manipulative asshole.
- Ianthe pledges without hesitation.
- About Wake, John says, “I’d been planning on keeping her around … She had a lot to tell me, and why be an ass to the mother of your child?” (pp. 490-491).
- Regarding his promise to send her to the River, that was a straight-up lie. He was going to extract every bit of information from her.
- This demonstrates that nothing John says is reliable, and makes us question every bit of received wisdom we’ve learned from him.
- “I pardon him, as God shall pardon me” (p. 491). From Shakespeare, Richard II, Act 5, where Henry IV pardon’s Aumerle for his participation in a plot to overthrow him, but executes the rest of the conspirators.
- Pyrrha: “Wish he’d given me the packet” (p. 493). No idea what it means, but again, it’s not random.
- We learn that Gideon 1 fought Number Seven alone. “Then with some ragtag cavalry led by that mad sweetheart Matthias. They almost had Number Seven . . . almost. Gideon never could walk away from a losing fight” (p. 494).
- Pyrrha was “Commander of the Second House, head of Trentham Special Intelligence, cavalier to a dead Lyctor.”
- She knew Matthias Nonius well enough to call him a “mad sweetheart.”
- “He [Gideon 1] took more from me than got taken from you.”
- “[Wake] was the most dangerous woman I’d ever met who wasn’t me.”
- The stoma is surrounded by teeth, but “that hole was blacker than space, that hole was an eaten-away tunnel of reality” (p. 495).
- “That’s your plan, Augustine?” Augustine’s plan is to push John down into a stoma.
- “’The stoma’s opened for John,’ said Pyrrha, and she sounded — detached, rather than triumphant, rather than grief-stricken. ‘It must think he’s a Resurrection Beast’” (p 495).
- Remember this — it’s an enormous hint.
- John can’t use his powers in the River. Interesting.
- Then the tongues come out.
- Remember the Eighth House, soul siphoning, and its relation to the stoma. Remember the thing that possesses Colum Asht’s body in Canaan House? Now tuck that thought away. It’ll come back eventually.
- Once again, Gideon faces death. “I wish I could say I was thinking about you, Harrowhark . . . But my whole life and death had come crashing down around me. It turned out I was a child of God — hey, suck it, Marshal — but also nothing more than a stick of dynamite. I was nothing but a chess move in a thousand-year game” (pp. 497-498).
- “Jail for mother.” Do yourself a favor and look up the meme.
- Gideon has Ianthe’s number: “Ianthe, with the world in the balance, reaching her hand out and pressing down on the weight marked BAD” (p. 499). Ianthe makes a choice between John and Augustine, and John is more helpful to her plans (whatever those plans are).
- Gideon expects her and Harrow’s lives to flash before her eyes, in a lovely layering of their entwined existence. But instead she sees “a grey-faced, dead-eyed woman, with a face so beautiful it almost went out the other side and became repellent” and she’s pissed that, at the very end, after everything she’s gone through for Harrow, she loses to “your bullshit dead girlfriend” (pp. 499-500).
- “And she said in the wrong voice twice removed: “Chest compressions. I know her sternum’s shattered; ignore it. We need that heart pumping. On my mark” (p. 500).
- Thanks to Amy and Mel from the Locked Tomb podcast: “the wrong voice twice removed”:
- The image is the Body.
- The voice is Camilla (the wrong voice at one remove).
- The words are Palamedes (the words twice removed).
- Makes sense. It’s a bit of a spoiler, but the beginning of Nona bears this out.
Chapter 53 Skull header: Ninth House, fractured. Time: half an hour ago. 3rd person.
Dulcinea tells Harrow that her body on the Mithraeum isn’t being puppeted, but that Gideon is there and she’s wholly alive; it’s not a fragment of her soul — it’s her entire person. She apologizes for telling her the truth, and leaves. Harrow pops the bubble and finds herself walking down a long black corridor. Her life flashing before her eyes shows her only herself and Gideon in the pool. She breaks the surface to find herself in the Locked Tomb, which is empty, except for a sword. She climbs into the tomb and takes the sword in her arms, finds a dirty magazine at her side, and feels a distant explosion that rocks the tomb as if it were a cradle. Harrow closes her eyes.
- Half an hour ago: this tracks with the time when Ianthe and Gideon are on their way to see John.
- “Abigail couldn’t have felt what I felt, when we both looked outside. I’m not an expert with revenant spirits, but I know a little something about puppeting. And your body’s not being puppeted, Harrow — something is moving it around, and not a fragment” (p. 501).
- Dulcie believes in “the whole, unpackaged, slipshod truth. Truth unvarnished and truth unclean. Pal and I were always zealots, in that line” (pp. 501-502).
- Harrow: “There’s a difference between keeping a shred of dance card . . . and saving the last dance” (p. 502). Lovely callback to both Ianthe’s and Magnus’ stories about acquisitive love, and Harrow’s rejection of it. Like Gideon, for Harrow, love requires sacrifice.
- “You are walking down a long black corridor” — We’ve always thought meant that Harrow was making a mistake. Now we have to reconsider.
- Back to the pool scene, and Gideon: It all comes back to Gideon’s forgiveness. It’s become the central touchstone of Harrow’s existence.
- Then to the tomb, and Harrow has come home.
- Instead of the Body, there’s a sword.
- “She was filled with a drowsy, comfortable certainty, as though rather than an icy tomb she had been tucked into a bed with a pillow fluffed beneath her . . . The sword she embraced shamelessly; those six feet of steel held no fear for her now” (pp. 503-504).
- Frontline Titties of the Fifth — the title Gideon made up and told Crux during her escape attempt. Nice callback to the start of the series. Has Gideon been here before her (callback to Chapter 48 and “you rolled a rock over me”)?
- “Lying in the tomb that had claimed her heart, far-away in a land she had never travelled, Harrowhark Nonagesimus fell asleep, or dropped dead, or both” (p. 504). This is not the Tomb on the Ninth House, since Harrow had already been there. So . . . is this a bubble in the River? Is it beyond the River? Is it the real Tomb but Harrow arrives by way of the spirit world?
Epilogue Skull header: Sixth House. Time: Six months after the Emperor’s murder. 3rd person.
"She” lives in a city, where she lives with three other people: one who works for her, one who teachers her, and one who looks after her. They put covers over the windows and give her bones to hold, and after exercising, they give her a sword to hold. Late in the evening they go out and get fried street food. Where they live there are soldiers and they often hear gunfire at night. Lying on the floor, she looks at the person who looks after her and asks if they know who she is. ‘“Not yet,’ said Camilla” (p. 507).
It’s just around two page, but is more than enough to tell us that everything has changed. We’re not in the Nine Houses anymore. “Her” caregivers aren’t sure who she is, although they try to spark her memories with bones and a sword. Who is this person?
- We assume the body is Harrow’s. The soul — well, we don’t know. Camilla is one of the people with her, and she was with Blood of Eden. So it’s fair to assume that they’re at a Blood of Eden site, and things aren’t good, not with sniper striping on the windows and gunfire in the streets.
- They live on the thirtieth floor of this building and use the stairs, making their way through litter and castoffs, to get dinner. “She and the person who looked after her had used to go to a different haunt, where the food was cheaper and the sausages more juicy — but there the man who fried the food had once said warningly, ‘It’s hot,’ only to find she had already stuffed her mouth full of lacy fried things anyway” (p. 506).
- They avoid that bodega because she healed so quickly, and he might have noticed.
- They cover the windows before she can handle the bones, and then the bones go back into a secret place.
- They’re in hiding.
- Not only are they in hiding, they’re hiding the fact that whoever Harrow is, she has powers that are both special and dangerous in this world.
We don’t really get the chance to catch our breath as Harrow lies down in the Tomb before the scene shifts and, again, everything is different. We’ve officially gone through a lot with Harrow.
But . . . even though the story is Harrow’s, it’s all about Gideon. Gideon is both absent and present in the novel. Harrow makes it the project of her life that Gideon will live. Gideon turns out to be the keystone of the novel, both the daughter of God and a tool created for a specific purpose — to destroy the Nine Houses and everything in them. And now we don’t know what’s happened to Gideon. Again, we’ll have to wait to find out.
So we come to the end of Harrow the Ninth. I can’t say it’s a joyous novel or a pleasant read, but it’s got depth and heft and is so worthwhile — for its exploration of grief and solace, for the return of the characters we barely got to know in Gideon, and for the continuing and expanding mystery about the nature of God: what does he want? Why does he lie? Who is he really? For that, and more, it’s on to Nona the Ninth. It’s also a difficult and confusing read, and you really stuck with it.
Before we dive into Nona, there are two pieces that were published in the paperback and Kindle versions of Harrow that shed light on Blood of Eden and on the months between the end of Harrow and the start of Nona. The first is a short story that was republished on Tor’s website: As Yet Unsent. It’s written from Judith Dueteros’ perspective. The other is “Blood of Eden Memorandum of Record,” which hasn’t been reprinted online and isn’t available in all versions, so I’ll abstract it next week.
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. Since the list is long, I’ve removed items that have been resolved.
GIDEON THE NINTH
- “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) P.S.: Aiglamene gave Gideon the sword, and encouraged her to go to Canaan House.
- 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).
- 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).
- It’s from Anastasia to Pyrrha, about her failure to become a Lyctor.
- “ 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’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).
- Colum Asht is possessed by something with mouths for eyes, a long blue tongue.
- 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. On thanergy planets the life is slowly mutating and dying off.
- 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
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.”
- 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.
- Harrow was the 311th direct descendent of the Tomb keeper, and the 87th Nona.
- John says there’s a hiccup with FTL travel in that it destroys something to do with time and distance.
- The two first-established Houses (Second and Eighth) use soul siphoning in their necromancy. Is this part of the early history of Lyctorhood and necromancy?
- 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.
- Something about jerking Ianthe’s white and bloodless heart from her body and eating it.
- Anastasia got the Lyctor process wrong. Or did she?
- 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.”
- Ianthe: “I always take the smartest option first . . .” Pair this with Harrow’s opinion that Ianthe dismisses as unimportant everything she isn’t interested it.
- Camilla has no hope against a Lyctor: yet.
- Palamedes cracked the question of perfect Lyctorhood. Everyone else has done it wrong (except John).
- It’s possible to assert limited structure and control in the River.
- Something has gone wrong with the River: innocents like Isaac and Jeannemarie should have passed through it “lightly” but got stuck.
- Gideon is “vital.” To something.
- Something happened, something was negotiated with Blood of Eden, before the Cohort arrived at Canaan House: BOE took Judith, Coronabeth, Camilla, and Gideon’s body. Ianthe knows that Coronabeth is alive.
- John says his work is “not yet finished.”
- A.L.: The First, Alecto. Who/what is she?
- 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.
- Pyrrha was a “bombshell” (John) and a “stone-cold fox” (Augustine).
- 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.
- Augustine calls Ulysses “a madman” who incited “the sexy parties.”
- 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.
- Alfred “led astray” by Cristabel.
- Specialty: Spirit 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. And an easy drunk. Protective of and/or jealous around Nigella.
- Nigella: “prettier” than Pyrrha Dve.
- 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, Cristabel coined the phrase “one flesh, one end.”
- First of the disciples after the Resurrection.
- Augustine calls Cristabel “a fanatic and an idiot,” and blames her for “leading Alfred astray.”
- There’s some relationship between the Eighth House and the stoma, a place that God cannot comprehend. Augustine says the House “sucks at it . . . like a teat.” Likely has a relationship with soul siphoning.
- 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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