It’s Act 4. On the Mithraeum, two months have passed, and at Canaan House — well, we just don’t know. It’s wild from here on out, so let’s get into it.
Chapter 32 Skull header: Eighth House. Time: two months before the Emperor’s murder. 2nd person.
Cytherea’s body is still missing, but only John seems to care. There was no fall-out from the night of Harrow’s rescue of Ortus, no change in the status quo except that Ortus has tried to kill Harrow only twice and seems to have lost his appetite for assassination. Harrow is sent out to kill her 14th planet.
This time, Mercy sends Harrow alone,; the planet is quite earth-like, and full of life. While she hikes to the kill zone, believing that these weeks will be her last, Harrow is almost happy.
- No one else wants to kill the planet, so Harrow is stuck with it.
- Regarding the morning after the Fatal Threesome: “The total absence of appropriate shame made you suspect that this had happened between them before, a thought that made you want to give yourself a lobotomy” (p. 297). Interesting thought, that.
- “It was an uncomfortable thing, to remove the soul of a planet like this: it would b the first time you had done it, and the first time you had killed any planet alone. The creatures would not die immediately when the planet did. But they would — slowly — come to change, and in the end they would be thanergy mutants who could not reproduce. A rather Ninth House death . . .” (p. 299).
- This is a view of evolution through a horror lens.
- The Ninth House: thanergy mutants who could not reproduce.
- Mercymorn is unusually tense, and sends Harrow out alone, giving her six hours to murder the planet.
- Six hours? And, as we shall see, Harrow is more than three hours from the kill zone.
- I have questions. Like…. why? Do some places offer better conditions for planetary murder than others? If so, is there a reason the shuttle couldn’t drop Harrow there? Did Harrow, who is usually so quick-witted, just forget to question why she’s dropped at a remote location and left alone? (If you’ve read ahead, don’t spoil it for those who haven’t.)
- For whatever reasons, Mercy drops Harrow with a six-hour deadline (what was her last planetary kill — 8.5 minutes?) and skedaddles. Harrow legs it into the woods. This gives her time for rumination about God and home.
- John wants to keep her in his rooms when the Heralds attack. She refuses.
- “Your love for God was akin to your love of the beautiful riverbed edge of the iliac crest. Your love for God was like those moments of reprieve, immediately after waking, when you were not sure who you were, those moments of living in another Harrow’s skin, a Harrow who understood everything with a purity of completeness . . .” (p. 299). It’s said that the body remembers when the mind doesn’t, and Harrow’s physical reactions in the next chapter will bear this out. But her body and part of her mind remember “pre-work” Harrow as a person who at least had things in hand.
- She’s homesick. For that nasty, nasty place where she felt loved and valued.
Chapter 33 Skull header: Sixth House. Time: same. 2nd person.
After more than three hours of walking, Harrow meets Camilla Hect. “I saw your corpse,” she says, to which Camilla answers, “Well, don’t tell everyone, or they’ll want to see it too” (p. 302). Harrow gives Camilla one of the twenty-four letters she got from Harrow 1. After some cautious conversation, Camilla gives her a piece of skull painstakingly glued together from fragments and tells her that Palamedes is a revenant attached to his skeleton, and she needs Harrow to confirm that she has the right pieces.
Despite her skepticism, Harrow takes the piece and enters the River, thinking she might find Palamedes’ insane ghost drifting in the filthy water, but finds herself in a small room where Palamedes is waiting. He explains that he made a bubble in the River where he can impose something of his own perceptions — in his case, he’s stuck in the room where he died. It was Dulcinea/Cytherea’s room, which explains the presence of the trashy romance novel. He’s horrified to learn that he’s been dead for eight months, and tells Harrow that Camilla would not have willingly parted with her. He’s also horrified to learn that she became a Lyctor. They’re interrupted by the Sleeper, who tries to break into the room and Palamedes tells her to leave. They knock heads as the Sleeper tries to break in.
- “I saw your corpse.” Harrow remembers events from alt-Canaan House. She bleeds so profusely that Cam diagnoses her with an intra-cranial hemorrhage. Her brain is bleeding because the cognitive dissonance is so powerful.
- The letter Harrow gives Cam guarantees her life and Harrow’s assistance.
- “’I am a Lyctor, Hect. What hope would you have against me?’ ‘None,’ said Camilla. And then she added calmly: ‘Yet’” (p. 303).
- Interesting. Cam can’t move against a Lyctor — yet.
- “She silently proffered this shabby little bag, about as big as your two hands cupped together, as if it were a casket filled with jewels” (p. 304).
- It’s a carefully assembled fragment of skull. “The Warden’s still in there” (p. ). She tells Harrow that Palamedes is a revenant. “He deliberately fixed his soul to his body with spirit magic . . . We planned for it. In the event of his death. I know he did it, because I got the message” (p. 306).
- ’Gideon!’ he called out. ‘Tell Camilla —‘ He stopped. ‘Oh, never mind. She knows what to do” (GtN, p. 404).
- Harrow insists that it’s impossible for a soul to cling to such a small thing, but looking at Cam, she realizes that she’s in an agony of grief.
- “And she said, with that same dull, blank, diamond-hard pain: ‘The Cohort took the rest of him away. And I don’t know where they have put him’” (p. 306)
- This echoes the words of Mary Magdalene in John 20:13, one of the saddest, most helpless and pathos-filled passages in the Bible.
- “Augustine had ducked you and Ianthe in the River, to train you for this” (p. 307).
- Baptismal imagery, much?
- Pro tip: whenever there’s a river that must be entered or crossed, always think of the Classics: the River Jordan or the River Styx. Conflate them if you will — you’ll never go wrong.
- Instead of focusing on her body, her “old meat robes” for navigation, she focuses on the skull fragment, hoping to glimpse Palamedes’ mad ghost drifting through the River, so that she can report back and Camilla “might drift away from the buttoned-up primal grief a ghost story had frozen in place” (p. 308). Instead, she finds herself in Palamedes’ room.
- YES! Pal is back! Whoop whoop! For him, unenviably, he’s stuck in Cytherea’s sick room with the last horrible trashy romance that Cytherea was reading: The Necromancer’s Marriage Season. Yes, his description of this romance’s awfulness is undeniably funny.
- He hugs Harrow, much to her discomfort “in a way you were a little familiar with: tight against the chance that the person in front of you might be a cloud, or a mirage” (p. 309).
- His first question is about Camilla, and he says, “Thank God for that mad, stubborn, lovely girl” (p. 309).
- Pal has established a bubble in the River, anchoring it to himself at a cellular level. Harrow disputes him (don’t you just love the fact that, even though she doesn’t remember him, the first thing she does is argue with him?) saying that the nature of the River is perpetual flux, and it can’t be built in. He answers that, like a bubble underwater displaces the water and imposes its own rules on that space, “we briefly exert space on non-space” (p. 310). This entire passage is important in ways that have wider application, as we will see soon.
- Harrow can’t imagine how he did it: “I cannot imagine the type of mind that would hold to that edge, and keep holding,” and he answers, “I can, and it scares me” (p. 311).
- He’s horrified to learn that he’s been dead for 8 months, and more horrified to learn that Harrow became a Lyctor: “Tell me you did it correctly . . . Tell me you finished the work. You out of everyone could have worked out the end to the beginning I was starting to explicate” (p. 312).
- What does he hope she worked out? Perfect Lyctorhood, a process that doesn’t destroy the cavalier and reduce them to a battery and a sword hand. And Cam knows he was working on it. Earlier Harrow asked her, “what could you do against me?” and she answered, “Nothing. Yet.”
- “How God takes — and takes — and takes.”
- Remember Cytherea’s speech to Gideon during the entropy challenge (which Mercymorn developed, by the way): “Gideon...you’re so young. Don’t give yourself away. Do you know, it’s not worth is...none of this is worth it, at all. It’s cruel. It’s so cruel. You are so young — and vital — and alive. Gideon, you’re all right...remember this, and don’t let anyone do it to you ever again. I’m sorry. We take so much. I’m so sorry” (GtN, p. 226).
- If Cytherea was ever as kind as John says she was, we see it here, where she’s telling Gideon that none of “it” is worth it, and “we take so much.”
- There’s one word that sticks out in this passage, however, and it’s vital. Yes, vital means “alive,” even “vividly alive.” But it also means “essential.” I suspect that Gideon is essential to something important, and the clue is embedded all the way back here. Especially when the narrator says that later, Gideon would remember every word of her speech.
- The Sleeper arrives. Palamedes tells her that his room is “powered by one single theorem, held together with the fragility of spirit magic. I cannot manipulate it . . . I can’t change a thing about this space — but anyone coming to me could change the parameter, and you’ve brought something with you that’s changing them” (p. 313).
- The Sleeper followed Harrow to this place in the River.
- He asks Harrow to change the skull fragment “something that articulates.”
- Why? Presumably so he could move the bones. Maybe write, or otherwise communicate with Camilla.
- They knock heads and, “Sextus was rubbing his temple and looking at you, awestruck, as though he had seen some stupefying glimpse of the beyond; you did not remotely understand the sharp smile that suddenly crossed his face. ‘Kill us twice, shame on God,’ he said,” and kisses her forehead (p. 314).
- Remember what Palamedes can do with a touch, what he can tell about a person with a single touch. Harrow is a Lyctor, and a void to other Lyctors, but that may not hold true for enormously intelligent necromancers.
- Harrow realizes that she’s not the most important person in this drama: “overwhelmed with the suspicion that you were standing in the middle of what you had thought to be scenery, only to reach out and discover that it was all so much flimsy. You were not a central lever within a mystery, but a bystander watching a charlatan display a trick. Your eyes had followed a bright light or colour, and you realised with a start that you ought to have been watching the other hand. You were standing in a darkened corridor, and you could not turn around: and then a brief explosion of light revealed to you that it wasn’t a corridor at all, and it had never been dark” (pp. 314-315).
- Again, the darkened corridor, which wasn’t a corridor at all. Harrow is beginning to realize that she’s focusing on the wrong things, and that she’s pursued an objective that has put her in the dark. This doesn’t make sense yet, but give it time.
- “But you were always too quick to mourn your own ignorance. You never could have guessed that he had seen me.”
- First time the narrator refers to herself.
- Is there any doubt about the narrator’s identity? Someone who’s died? Someone who’s inside of Harrow? Someone Palamedes recognizes? “Kill us twice, shame on God.”
- Yay for two chapters that deliver to us three favorite characters: Camilla, Palamedes, and Gideon! Yipee!
Chapter 34 Skull header: Second House. Time: same. 2nd person.
When Harrow wakes, she’s been moved to a larger clearing when Camilla is watching over her, and beside her is an unfamiliar shuttle. Harrow tells Camilla that Palamedes is in the skull, and she changes the fragment into a hand, explaining that Palamedes requested it.
Inside the shuttle she finds Judith, Coronabeth, and a picture of a woman with red hair. (It’s old home week.) Under instructions from one of her letters, she fuses Judith’s jaw so she can’t speak. Coronabeth draws on Harrow and Camilla breaks up the impending fight. She shows Harrow how to hold the sword properly and tells her to let Judith and Coronabeth go.
Harrow has questions, like: why are they here, why weren’t they found at Canaan House, how did they cross 140 billion light-years in a shuttle, and how are they alive at all? Judith really wants to answer, and curious, Harrow unglues her jaw long enough for her to say that there’s a traitor in the Emperor’s midst, before Corona muffles her, pulls her into the shuttle, and closes the hatch. Camilla tells Harrow they’re not on the same side anymore, and adds that they’re with Blood of Eden (Judith calls herself a POW; Cam and Corona’s status is ambiguous).
That evening Mercymorn picks Harrow up after she’s killed the planet. She doesn’t ask any questions. Harrow is utterly miserable.
- The shuttle is battered and obviously not from the Nine Houses. It doesn’t have any bones on it.
- It cannot have traveled very far.
- The planet is in the neighborhood of the Mithraeum.
- They’re with Blood of Eden; therefore, Blood of Eden is in the neighborhood of the Mithraeum.
- Harrow makes a hand from the skull fragment and offers to make a full skeleton, but Camilla passes, saying “That’s going to get me in trouble” (p. 317), the implication being that just the hand will get Cam into trouble, which tells us that Cam isn’t exactly a free agent.
- Judith is gaunt and thin, but alive and mobile, which is an improvement over the last time Harrow saw her: shot to pieces (this will be important when we get to the appendices).
- “Ianthe Tridentarius’s features stared out of Coronabeth’s face” (p. 318). What’s different — does Corona look worse or Ianthe better? It’s easy to forget they’re twins, but they’ve always been twins. Now Harrow has seen Ianthe away from Corona, and it’s made a difference in her perception.
- The poster of the red-haired woman “frightened you more than anything you had seen since becoming a Lyctor; it scared the irresolute piss from your body. Yet you had never seen the face before in your life” (p. 318). In fact, at the sight of the fierce redhead, Harrow’s brain starts to bleed again. Cognitive dissonance again.
- The letter about Coronabeth smacks of a negotiated settlement: “In the interests of the work, you may silence her, so long as this causes her no significant pain” (p. 319), after which there is a series of postscripts defining “significant” down to “as little as possible.” We think it’s Ianthe from the typescript. Amy and Mel from the Locked Tomb podcast report that in the audiobook version, the second handwriting in the postscripts is read in Corona’s voice, not Ianthe’s. And there is the matter of the last postcript: xoxoxoxo. Hugs and kisses? Certainly not meant for Harrow.
- Something happened at Canaan House between the end of Gideon and the arrival of the Cohort.
- Corona has Gideon’s rapier, which Harrow recognizes.
- “Warn him, Lyctor! He has been infiltrated, damn it, and I can do nothing! I am a prisoner of war! If you love him, tell the Emperor that the traitor has already — “ (p. 321). Hmmm . . . to whom could that possibly refer?
- Mercymorn is extravagantly uninterested in whatever happened on the planet.
Chapter 35 Skull header: Ninth House, fractured. Time: indeterminate. 3rd person.
Harrow walks in on Abigail and Ortus conferring about Ortus’ ancestor’s rapier and the chance of calling someone back with such a tenuous link, which Abigail thinks is very unlikely. Ortus looks like Harrow caught him out. Harrow has just finished laying wards to see if the Sleeper will trip them.
The situation at Canaan House is worse, since the rain has turned to snow, which sometimes falls red, and everything is freezing. All around the facility, “great slithering, pulsing tubes” have infiltrated, tubes that are pink and translucent, with red veins and black clusters of something swimming inside. While they review their relative strengths and chances, Ortus and Abigail agree that time is against them.
Teacher enters and delivers a rambling sermon that’s both confusing and revelatory, and which thoroughly annoys Abigail.
- “With such an old rapier you’d need both a Sixth House specialist and to get awfully lucky” (p. 323). Ortus has a plan that he hasn’t shared with Harrow, especially since he reacts to her entrance as though she’d caught him “opening birthday presents a day early” (p. 324).
- In laying the wards, Harrow tried to move the Sleeper’s coffin. Ortus says, “I wish that you would not take such enormous liberties with your own life.” She answers “’Would you rather I took enormous liberties with yours?’ and did not intend it to be unkind . . . But Ortus’s dark eyes chilled in their sockets . . .” (p. 325). We think it’s because of the cruel edge that Harrow always takes with Ortus, but it may be something else.
- This is an aside, but a carefully planted one: John’s rooms on the Mithraeum are locked, and at Canaan House they’re nowhere to be found. Abigail thinks the Emperor’s lost chambers run “sidelong to the facility” (p. 325). Whether this means anything I don’t know, but it’s interesting.
- I didn’t mention it specifically in Act 2, but when the window breaks at the end of Chapter 21, “The water carried with it a handful of flashing brown-and-steel objects . . . she and Ortus stared down a a collection of large, rusted pipette needles, the hard plex type with measurement markings up the side” (p. 206). I should have noted it, because now we have something else: now we have the translucent pink tubes — “black clusters [that] swam within, this way and that, like frightened fish” (p. 326).
- I’m going to break chronology, in the service of continuity (and because if you don’t know, you’re bloody mystified by now): Teacher says that everything is changing: “we certainly never saw fimbriae hanging from the rafters. Let me prophesy in my old age: the Sleeper is getting up the strength to wake completely, and colonize what it finds” (p. 329). Fimbriae are, in general, threads. In specific, however, they are “a fingerlike projection at the end of the Fallopian tube near the ovary” (New Oxford American Dictionary).
- Pipettes, fimbriae, and swimming black clusters in pink tubes . . . fimbriae . . . what’s with all the reproduction imagery?
- Now is a good time to remember the note from Chapter 5: “The eggs you gave me all died and you lied to me,” as well as the notes that followed. Massive hint.
- “The Sleeper is getting ready to wake” — another massive hint.
- Now for Teacher’s sermon:
- “Time means very little...mastery does” (p. 328). Remember back in Chapter 2, John says, “I mastered Death; I wish I’d done the smarter thing and mastered Time” (p. 34).
- Now this Teacher says that time means very little, mastery is important.
- Aside: In Chapter 2, John also said that he would be Harrow’s Teacher, and he would teach her to run rather than fight. But this entire book has been gearing up to fight. John’s been moving the goalposts again. I wonder why. He’s also been trying hard to get Harrow to wait with him in his inner room when the Heralds arrive. Again, I wonder why.
- “I believe we are now being punished for what they did. Even the devil bent for God to put a leash around her neck … and the disciples were scared!” (p. 328).
- They? Who is they? The Lyctors, of course, who committed the necromantic sin that set the Resurrection Beasts on them.
- Who is the devil who “bent for God to put a leash around her neck”?
- “But when the work was done — when I was finished, and so were they, and the new Lyctors found out the price — they bade him kill the saltwater creature before she could do them harm ...”
- The “saltwater creature” who would harm the Lyctors is also the “devil.”
- Remember John saying, “I buried a monster” and then reciting “Annabel Lee”?
- The monster = the devil = the saltwater creature = “Annabel Lee” = the Body.
- So the Lyctors “bade” John kill the Body.
- “Oh, but it is a tragedy, to be put in a box and laid to wait for the rest of time.”
- “It happened to me, but I was only a man, or perhaps fifty men … Reverend Daughter, your whole House treads upon a knife’s edge, as keepers of such a zoo.”
- Teacher compares himself to the Body and implies that the monster/devil/saltwater creature/Body in the Tomb isn’t really dead.
- Teacher says he was put in a box and laid to wait for the rest of time.
- “You worship a monster in a box and play at being the masters of its tomb. Now we have a monster in a box, and it has become obvious that it means to master us all!”
- Teacher is saying that in both cases — here at Canaan House and back at the Ninth, they’re dealing with forces none of them can comprehend or hope to control.
- He also said that the Sleeper (monster in a box) is getting ready to wake up.
- It’s already followed Harrow to Palamedes’ River bubble.
- This entire speech is addressed to Harrow. It’s a warning that she has no idea what she’s dealing with.
- “Into the River with us, boys! Fifty can school like fishes!”
- “It’s coming for you — and once it’s got you, once that rock’s rolled away, once that tomb’s levered open, the Emperor of the Nine Houses will never know peace ever again! The King is dead! Long live the King!” (p. 329).
- You have to admit, it’s quite the farewell.
Chapter 36 Skull header: a Herald. Time: One week before the Emperor’s murder. 2nd person.
Flashback to month earlier: the Seventh, the Resurrection Beast that killed Cassiopeia, has arrived. Mercymorn announces it in the middle of an utter freakout. The shutters close. Everyone goes back to bed. The Body tells Harrow, “it’s coming,” and Harrow tries to kiss and hold her, and she says “I have to go away for a while” (p. 334). When Harrow wakes, the Body is gone.
The Lyctors hold “How to Fight the Resurrection Beast 101,” and Mercymorn instructs, explaining the levels of the River: Epirhoic (upper river, “rhoic” meaning “river), Mesorhoic (middle), Bathyrhoic (lower) and Barathron (bottom). In the Barathron are stomata (plural of stoma, which are openings that, in the interest of delicacy, we’ll limit to “mouths”) that open at the proximity of a Resurrection Beast. Not even John knows what’s on the other side of the stomata. He calls them the “mouth to hell” (p. 340).
- Why does the Body have to leave?
- In the wait for the Resurrection Beast, Harrow reminisces and prays, mostly that things could have been different, or that most of what she experienced at alt-Canaan House and on the jungle planet were hallucinations. Her ears bleed. A lot.
- The alarm sounds, everyone calls in except Mercy, who panics. “I saw it, and it is blue like Loveday’s eyes! It knows what you did to its kin, and it sees my cavalier’s mortal soul burning in my chest!” to which John says, “Thanks” (p. 333).
- Yes, you can laugh.
- Loveday was Cytherea’s cavalier. Remember Cytherea’s cornflower blue eyes?
- The Body, whose eyes are “death-mask gold,” says “’It’s coming,’ with the most anticipatory astonishment you had ever heard . . . ‘It’s near’” (p. 333).
- In that hovering place so close to the end of your life, it seemed only natural that you should reach for her. The fear of death had remade your worship into desperation, or maybe desire. You reached one hand out for that frozen tangle of hair at the back of the skull; you closed the gap between you, and you kissed that lovely corpse mouth” (p. 334).
- “The Body said: ‘I have to go away for a while,’ and you regretted everything. ‘I have done wrong,’ you said. There was the tiniest suggestion of a furrow in that cool unbreathing brow, and she said, ‘How?’”
- Does that Body not understand Harrow’s desperate desiring assault, her bid for comfort and love and sex? Maybe not. Is the Body really human? Maybe not.
- The narrator calls Harrow “you poor brokenhearted sad sack” (p. 334). This is Gideon, but it’s a Gideon who speaks with empathy. If only Harrow’s conscious companions had a grain of Gideon’s character, her life would be a lot easier.
- Mercymorn’s “fight the RB” lecture is a riff on the Church lady meme. Except for “It’s a Resurrection Beast, honey! Thank you! Next!!” (p. 334) — that’s an Ariana Grande song (I don’t make the rules, folks).
- Back in the day, Ulysses incited the sexy parties, which Mercymorn hated.
- If the physical Resurrection Beast is destroyed, in the River the brain goes inert and can be taken straight down to the stoma. Cyrus drew the body of an RB into a black hole and Ulysses disposed of the brain.
- Harrow can’t figure out who the traitor is, but hopes it isn’t Ianthe, although she knows “Ianthe’s facility for tergiversation would have given the whole universe pause” (p. 336). Tergiversation: equivocation, inconstancy, desertion of principles.
- Mercy draws a Resurrection Beast on a whiteboard.
- “Augustine said, ‘That’s a muffin’” (p. 337)
- “’I see a cloud, but with a face,’ said Ianthe . . .”
- “You said, ‘I thought it was a flower,’ and God said, ‘No, yes, I agree, there’s something — florescent about it.’”
- “And Ortus said, ‘Thought it was a snake in a bush.’”
- This refers to the presence of a traitor, or it’s the punchline of a joke about a kid catching his parents having sex.
- “I hate you all,’ said Mercymorn passionately. ‘I have hated you for millennia … except you, my lord’” (p. 338).
- There’s nothing profound about this; it’s just funny, and it sets up Mercy’s description of her fantasy about jailing God and filling his cell with acid. Which is also funny.
- The older Lyctors describe the former Resurrection Beasts in varyingly horrifying terms. They plan to take up stations around it in the River to wear it down. Everyone gets an assignment but Harrow.
- John: A stoma is “a portal to the place I cannot touch — somewhere I don’t fully comprehend, where my power and my authority are utterly meaningless” (p. 340).
- Neither Augustine nor Mercymorn have told Ianthe or Harrow about the stoma. Mercy says Harrow won’t be around long enough to see it. Augustine says he plans for Ianthe to be in the mesorhoic zone because a Resurrection Beast has a fierce gravitational pull and isn’t for beginners. Mercy: “We may not all of us be alive by the time that thing is exhausted, so I would stop swaddling your squalling baby — “
- Augustine: “You never did take the stoma seriously, which is why your whole damned House sucks at it like a grotesque teat — “ (p. 340).
- Mercy and Cristabel founded the Eighth House, which is known for soul siphoning. Augustine implies there’s a relationship between the stoma and soul siphoning.
Chapter 37 Skull header: Ninth House. Time: Same. 2nd person.
The clock ticks down and the tension ratchets up. The Lyctors lay wards with debris on the bank of the River, although the ghosts seem to have fled with the Resurrection Beast’s approach. While they’re in the River, only Harrow sits in a vulnerable position; the rest stand around, “their faces like blank flimsy, their rapiers in their hands, the offhands at the ready” (p.343 ).
John makes one more attempt to get Harrow to wait out the attack in his rooms. She asks him why he stays behind, and he tells her that if he goes into the River, leaving his body behind, the magic that powers Dominicus would fail, the star turn into a black hole, and the Nine Houses would die.
Harrow asks about A.L. After an abortive attempt at distraction, John tells her about his “bodyguard,” his “first Resurrection,” and his companion during the early days of the Resurrection, after the earth was destroyed by “rising sea levels and a massive nuclear fission chain reaction … it all went downhill from there” (p. 346). A.L. died, he says, and tells her that all the Lyctors who followed her were, metaphorically, her children. He then tells Harrow he wishes he’d been her father.
For Harrow this is too much. She shatters a drinking glass and throws herself on the shards, confessing that she’d broken into the Tomb. John tells her she didn’t; whatever false Tomb she found was not the real one, because no one can break into the real one. His certainty makes her doubt her reality and sanity again. Trying to comfort her, John touches her head and asks, “Who the hell’s been tampering with your temporal lobe?” (p. 350). Harrow flees.
There’s a lot of information in this chapter, but the most essential stuff that you might not have noticed includes:
- “Dominus illuminatio mea et salus mea, quem timebo?” (p. 344). “The lord is my light and my salvation, whom will I fear?”
- Have you noticed the Christian (specifically Roman Catholic) imagery shot through the whole series? Thought you might have.
- John explains that, if he enters the River, his body will go inert, just as the Lyctors’ do. And the Nine Houses will die.
- Yes, he’s been in the River before, but only in his body.
- If the Nine Houses fail, humanity will survive, but the Empire won’t: “We would be so few, and so many people hate us, and my work is not yet done” (p. 344).
- So many people hate the Nine Houses — a yet-unexamined principle for sure.
- “My work is not yet done” — compare to Jesus on the cross (since it’s Holy Week): “It is finished.”
- This sentence implies a purpose beyond hiding on a space station, but if John has “work” beyond that, he hasn’t shared it with Harrow.
- “I cannot behold that apocalypse.” He says that only Harrow understands that apocalypse isn’t a violent paroxysm, but a “setting of the sun, without another hope of morning.”
- This is really really terrible — thus far the worst meme in the entire series: “So I’m shut in here — walled in, really — to prevent the Nine Houses from becoming none House, with left grief” (p. 344). I’m sorry. I feel bad for pointing it out (not really).
- Muir herself has apologized for this one.
- Harrow asks about A.L. and John tries to deflect by asking about her sex life (how inappropriate can you get?). She apologies. He says, “Let’s talk about my bodyguard,” and supposes she’s heard bits from Augustine and Mercy. “They still carry their apportioned blame” (p. 345).
- He called her Annabel Lee and Annie Laurie:
- Annabel Lee, the tragic beloved of Poe’s poem, whose “highborn kinsman came / And bore her away from me, / To shut her up in a sepulchre / In this kingdom by the sea.” Recall that the Locked Tomb is surrounded by a tidal pool of cold salt water.
- Annie Laurie, a ballad based on a poem by William Douglas, about lovers whose love it so strong they would die for each other.
- Some readers have also connected A.L. with Annabel Lee in Nabokov’s Lolita. And, as with any reference to Lolita, now I need a shower.
- These readers are not wrong. It’s a fair interpretation.
- And he called her First.
- Make a note of this. It comes up next week.
- “She had a real name, but I buried it with her” (p. 345).
- “She has been dead for nearly ten thousand years, but she keeps her vigil with me, as a memory, if nothing else . . . She was my first Resurrection. She was my Adam” (p. 346).
- “She was my defender and my sole companion, and my colleague in the scholarship of learning how to live again.”
- She ‘was not a normal human being . . . and she struggled to pretend. Anger was her besetting sin. We had that in common” (p. 346).
- “D’you know why you’re really the First? Because in a very real way, you and the others are A. L.’s children … There would be none of you, if not for her” (p. 346).
- This is the extracted sum of what John says about A.L.
- The world was destroyed by “rising sea levels and a massive nuclear fission chain reaction … it all went downhill from there” (p. 346). This is the most we’ve heard about the extinction event, but it won’t be the last word; you can bet on it.
- “And when the cost of Lyctorhood was paid, when the emotions were at their peak … we found out the price for our sin. The monstrous retribution. To be chased for our crime to the ends of the universe, to have our deed stain our very faces and follow after us like a foul smell. She died after that first terrible assault” (p. 346).
- Writing from a slightly more privileged spot in that I’ve read farther, I will tell you this is a mix of truth and lies. What’s true and what’s false will come out in the wash. But if you haven’t figured out on your own that the Emperor God of the Nine Houses is a deceptive manipulative kind-seeming liar, you haven’t been paying attention. This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have his good points; when Harrow kneels on the broken glass, he calls himself an idiot and instantly blames himself for her anguish. He does it again at the end of the chapter. This doesn’t minimize the awful things he’s done, but John/God is the end result of a generally decent person being given absolute power and then left to marinate for 10,000 years. It’s complicated, but on a cosmic scale.
- Harrow explains to John/God exactly how she opened the Tomb. When he insists she couldn’t, she says, “Don’t consider my limitations, God: I am not a person, I am a chimaera” (p. 349).
- Imagine the depths of Harrow’s self-loathing, the lifetime of responsibility she shouldered; she can’t even think of herself as human.
- John tells her she couldn’t enter the Tomb because there isn’t an entrance. The ward that guards the whole thing is an unbreakable blood ward that will answer only to him — it’s foolproof.
- Whenever someone says it’s foolproof, it’s like the assertion that Blood of Eden is dead or A.L. is dead. I’m not saying they’re wrong, but . . . well, yes, I am saying that.
- “You were seized, all over again, by doubt in the face of fact. The uncertainty of the insane. The conviction of the mad” (p. 349).
- Is there anyone on the Mithraeum who wouldn’t gaslight Harrow? Speaking of which, on to the next chapter, and more gaslighting.
Chapter 38 Skull header: Seventh House. Time: same. 2nd person.
The Body is gone and Harrow wonders if she’d ever been there at all. She goes through the motions of life, preparing to die. On the second night before the RB’s arrival, she finds Cytherea lying under her bed, inert and dusty. She clamps the corpse to the floor with bone shackles and fetches Ianthe, who looks under the bed and says she doesn’t see her. She leaves Harrow alone. Harrow goes into the bathroom, washes her face, and returns. The bone cuffs are there, but Cytherea is gone.
Then Ortus tries to kill her one last time and she finally asks him why. He tells her to end it herself so she won’t suffer, and says that he failed her because “I pulled too many punches. Sorry” (p. 355).
- “Manifold symbols of desolation”: the Body is gone. “The path was cleared for you to die, and the lovely woman lying chained to the marble had not been able to bear to watch your progress on it; or perhaps it was just that she had never existed, except within a ten-year-old’s fever dream” (p. 351).
- This chapter just exudes fatalism, as Harrow prepares to say farewell to the world and realizes that she has nothing to say and no one to leave.
- There’s a monster under the bed! These books play off horror tropes and childhood terrors with a terrifically deft touch.
- Is Cytherea a delusion? Harrow touches her arm and feels the power of John’s spells keeping her body from rotting. But if she is, she leaves quickly and silently.
- I think she’s really there. Remember, Cytherea could evade wards back on Canaan House.
- Ianthe is nothing but cruel. She really is Draco in leather pants.
- Ortus tells Harrow that killing her wasn’t his idea.
- Harrow is a hair’s breadth away from a complete meltdown: “You were suddenly seized with the conviction that the universe would not have judged you if you had lain down in that corridor, shed fifteen years, and thrown an absolute tantrum; if you had pelted the cool panel floor beneath you with hands and fists and wailed. It meant so much that you would die with so many questions unanswered, would go to your unkind grave understanding absolutely jack shit” (p. 355).
- About time that she’s gone from cringing victim to angry toddler.
- “You were always such a little bitch when you were angry” (p. 356). Ah, Gideon, we’ve missed you!
Chapter 39 Skull header: Herald. Time: same. 2nd person.
The Heralds arrive. Harrow panics in one of the finest descriptions of terror I’ve ever read, but controls herself. Ianthe does significantly worse. Augustine tells them it’ll be more than an hour before they breach the station.
Harrow’s room is dark and cold, and all she hears is the thumping as Herald bodies hit the hull. John announces the breach will come in ten minutes.
- “Unlike them [the Heralds], you generally needed light and felt pain, but you were the Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House. The first was negotiable, and the second was irrelevant” (p. 357).
- She’s still, at base, the Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House, not the First.
- “The great sword you had taken off and laid before you, as though it were a beloved talisman and not a sickening, befuddling relic, a back-breaking burden your dead self told you to carry. You were almost fond of it, except when you looked at it, at which point all fondness was dispelled” (p. 357).
- Mercy: “They’ll try to smother us first, and roast the station” (p. 358). Hence the AC is turned up to frigid, to give them all more time.
- The terror that hits Harrow is produced by the proximity of Heralds. “As the sensation rose, you filled with contempt for a stranger’s insanity. You had enough of your own to contend with” (p. 358).
- “And you walked to your death like a lover” (p. 358).
- We will not see Harrow on the Mithraeum again.
- If you want to know what happens next, flip to the front of the book and read the Parodos [yes, I checked the spelling] again. We’ve come full circle.
How are we all doing?
Next week, we’ll cover the Epiparodos and Act 5, and I would like to switch things up, if that’s okay. Instead of stringing along hints for you to keep in mind, I’d like to explain as we go what’s happened. This assumes that you’ll have finished the book by then, so it’ll be a more complete wrap-up of the novel as we move through the final act.
Let me know if you think this is a good idea, or whether you would prefer to continue as we’ve been.
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)
- 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).
- 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: “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).
- Colum Asht is possessed by something with mouths for eyes, a long blue tongue.
- “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. 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
Particularly determined revenants can move through objects to reach 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 was the 311th direct descendent of the Tomb keeper, and the 87th Nona.
- THE EGGS YOU GAVE ME DIED . . .
- 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.
- 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.”
- Cytherea has gone from moving on her bier to walking the corridors of the Mithraeum. Or so Harrow thinks.
- Ortus tries to kill Harrow on orders from a power that John can’t gainsay.
- “When he [Ortus] kicked that Edenite commander out an airlock, it was like seeing a man on his wedding day.”
- I WILL REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU KISSED ME . . .
- Dios apate, minor . . . implies a Dios apate, major.
- 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.
- Mercy is involved in some “business” Augustine describes as her “bad old tricks of decades past,” which he’s promised not to reveal even though he thinks it’ll mean their deaths.
- 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.”
- 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”
- 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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