Welcome to Nona the Ninth, the accidental third in a spontaneous tetralogy by Tamsyn Muir. I need to know at this point: is anyone reading for the first time? As in, it’s your first time and you have no idea what’s going on. I want to calibrate how spoilery to make these recaps because there’s a lot happening and, as usual, we’re dropped in the deep end of an entirely new and exciting pool.
I’m going to structure the recap of the first chapters differently, since they’re mostly exposition and backstory, before we launch into the blow-by-blow of the action as it picks up on Day 2.
But we start, not with a cast of characters, but with a list of who’s invited to the birthday party, transcribed by Camilla Hect. First up: the dogs, including Noodle, “king of dogs in secret.” Then come the members of the gang, the teachers, three members from Blood of Eden (all vetoed by Camilla), and “you three.” This is a different world than the one we’ve been inhabiting in these books, figuratively and literally.
Of note we have the dogs. Nona loves dogs. Then the gang. Honesty, Beautiful Ruby and Born in the Morning are almost certainly not their real names, but they’re their names in the way Nona hears them (she can understand all languages). Hot Sauce and Kevin are probably those characters’ given names. The Angel gets an invite, and members of Blood of Eden.
- Noodle has six legs and is called an “arboreal species.” Noodle can climb trees, not that there are any in the city where they’re living.
- Hot Sauce: leader of the gang. Age 14, covered with burn scars. No family.
- The Angel: the science teacher, Noodle’s owner.
- Crown Him with Many Crowns: guess the identity. Won’t take you long.
- The Captain: also not a stretch.
- We Suffer and We Suffer: Wing Commander of BoE’s Ctesiphon cell.
- Her name comes from Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, lines 250-251: "But Justice turns the balance scales, sees that we suffer / and we suffer and we learn. And we will know the future when it comes."
Next up, a pair of poems, one familiar with it’s “Three Rings for the Elven Kings” vibe that recounts the Nine Houses, and the other a sweetly rhymed but chilling counterpoint that’s worth reproducing. Note that the italicized parts are the poem. The non-italicized parts are the speaker, the rest is the poem:
You told me, Sleep, I’ll wake you in the morning.
I asked, What is morning? and you said,
When everyone who fucked with me is dead.
When everyone we loved has gone or fled,
That’s morning. Empty’s just another word for clean.
Let’s put this first-draft dream of mine to bed.
In the appointed hour
I’ll pull up your sheets. I’ll kill the light,
Lie down beside you; die; and sleep the night.
This time will be the time we get it right:
Forgiveness not so hard, nor anger long;
Our graves will be less deep, our lies less true.
You held aloft the sword.
I still love y
Right now you could guess who the two are, and I’ll bet you get it right. It goes without saying that eventually we’ll circle back to this.
Nona is divided into days, rather than acts, and the narrative is split between Nona’s perspective and these dreamy interludes that seem to begin when Nona is asleep and that are headed with references from the Book of John. You might think they refer to the John of the Gospels; you would be mistaken. For just about the first time, we have references that don’t call back to a Classical or Biblical source. Instead, they refer to John the Emperor, and the references form an alphanumeric code that’s revealed as the book progresses. We start with one of them:
We’ll go through this prologue in detail, since it sets up so much that comes into play later. In subsequent sections, I’ll move faster.
We’re told this is explicitly a dream, and we start at the beginning, with John giving his bona fides and hatching a plan. “He said, We just wanted to save you. You were so sick” (p. 13). John assembles his merry band for the project: freezing eleven billion people to be stored off-planet while the earth was let to heal from all our environmental depredations. “Our rule was, nobody knowingly left behind” (p. 14).
This crew based in New Zealand is not the only one working on the problem: others work on faster-than-light technology and ships. John’s not worried, until his backers pull their funding in favor of the ship building. So John does “a damned thing” and calls his companion “Harrowhark.”
The two are sitting on a beach under a tarp because ash is still falling. It’s a post-apocalyptic world.
- Right away we meet some old friends: A— is Augustine, a scientist who was “the glycerol-6 genius” (p. ). Glycerol-6, as far as I can understand it, is an enzyme vital in cell function (and that’s as much as I need to know). M— , Mercymorn, is a medical doctor. C— is Cassiopeia, a lawyer. G— is Gideon, an engineer. These are most likely not their original names, so they’re named with an initial and a dash, as if this were an Eighteenth Century tell-all.
- The ash is “still falling. It made them sick, but only ever for a little while” (p. 14). Apparently, they adapt quickly.
- ”She was sat next to a bundle of meat he’d cut” — notice the passive “was sat.” It’s interesting, as if she’s not ambulatory just then.
- And the meat: thighs. Remember John said, “Ten thousand years since I’ve eaten human being” (HtN, p. 232).
- The two of them are interesting joined, somehow. They get hungry and thirsty simultaneously.
- In John’s story, he mentions that A— and M— cried in each other’s arms. There’s a symmetry to it, since that’s what they do after Mercy kills John.
- After the backers pull their funding, he says, “I couldn’t do a damned thing.” Then he does “a damned thing.” Nicely attenuated definition.
- ”When is the part where you hurt me?” It’s storytime, a story told before, the way you tell bedtime stories to children, and the voice is quite childlike.
- “You always say that, Harrowhark” (p. 15). Harrowhark? Whose dream is this?
Day One: five days until the tomb opens
Chapter 1 Header: The Locked Tomb
It’s the start of a normal day. As soon as she wakes, Nona retells her dream to Camilla and a tape recorder. Then she dresses and keeps Pyrrha company while she makes breakfast. Palamedes emerges from the bedroom and he and Pyrrha have a private talk while Nona eavesdrops. Things are getting worse in the city. The three dress to go out, review the week’s code words, and leave for the day.
- Both Gideon and Harrow began with a grand, “In the myriadic year of our Lord — the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, our Resurrector, the full-pitying Prime! . . .” etc. etc. etc. Nona opens: “Late in the year of nobody she really thought about that much in particular. . .” (p. 19). This sets a very different tone, but keeps continuity.
- The dream Nona recalls is, of course, the pool scene from Gideon. The “painted face” is Gideon’s, which they’ve drawn for Nona so they can be sure it’s from Harrow’s perspective that Nona sees. Camilla transcribes Nona’s facial and physical reactions as she recalls the dream while the tape recorder catches her words.
- “She had only ever had two tantrums in her life, but it would be humiliating to have a third” (p. 20).
- Their clothing is protective from conditions outside, and quite substantial.
- The apartment is a dump, and they’re sandwiched between militia below and police above.
- Pyrrha makes an ass joke and Nona writes it down on a tally. “Palamedes will say you’re skewing the data” (p. 24). They’re tracking Nona’s reactions to ass jokes.
- Palamedes and Camilla share Camilla’s body, and they trade eyes depending on who’s present. They don’t appear to be a Lyctor, though, just two souls taking turns. Beyond the eye color difference, Nona can tell who is who because Palamedes stands still and Camilla can’t.
Two things to note here: the details of their lives are straightforward, but the background events are harder to parse, and they’re what I’m going to pay more attention to from here on. Also, a couple of weeks ago I referred to Pyrrha as “they.” In this book, however, her pronouns are “she/her,” so that’s what we’ll go with.
- People can only get meat on the black market, and it’s not the sort of meat you’d want to eat.
- Camilla banned Palamedes “from a life peddling poor-quality erotica. Says she doesn’t want our last gift to the universe to be tales of people mashing birthday cakes beneath their bottoms” (p.26 ). This is a real thing. You’re welcome.
- Nona has trouble eating.
- Pyrrha and Palamedes go into the bedroom to talk. Nona eavesdrops, but doesn’t understand. Blood of Eden wants Nona, but Palamedes says, “They gave us a year” (p. 27).
- They’re also searching for something. Palamedes wants to search more aggressively, while Pyrrha’s more cautious. Pyrrha warns, “The closer we get to the barracks … to being rumbled that we’re searchi— “
- Palamedes doesn’t understand why Blood of Eden doesn’t storm the barracks now, while their position has never been stronger (p. 27).
- Pyrrha has suspicions but won’t share them for Cam and Pal’s own safety.
- She’s made them an offer before of something different, which Palamedes says is beautiful and useless. They can’t stop searching and they both know that, whatever it is that Pyrrha suggested, it would turn Blood of Eden on them entirely.
- Palamedes wants to save everyone; Pyrrha wants to save only them. Pal warns that, “once it’s over — the deluge” (p. 29).
- People are divided, half want the Cohort to return, half waiting for “the kickoff.” “This is what happens when you force refugees from twenty different planets to live cheek by jowl and you keep thinking people unify under a common threat … She always made that mistake. I told her twenty years ago. Works beautiful in the short term, but you’ve got to give them a future to really keep ‘em glued” (p. 29).
- This is sound advice. People need a future to live for or they’ll eventually turn on each other. Holds true in this world, too.
- “She” was Wake, of course.
- “You can have the barracks or your people — or neither.” Pyrrha presses Palamedes for a commitment to one achievable priority. Palamedes is not having it.
- There are Cohort soldiers holed up in a barracks, and BoE wants to take it out. If this is a resettlement planet, it’s clear that the Houses have almost no presence here any longer and the population is ready to explode.
- “Your people”: is that what they’re searching for? And who are “his” people?
- “We’re all of us in one layered hostage situation. Three million people squatting on a thanergy planetoid millions of kilometres away from us. Nine million people in this city alone . . . That’s equivalent to the whole of the Seventh and Eighth put together” (p. 30).
- Who are the three million squatters millions of kilometres away?
- The Houses are really small, if the Seventh and Eighth together is a little greater than the population of New York City. That’s not a lot.
- Pyrrha has already picked: she wants to save herself, Camilla/Palamedes, and Nona. “You’re not listening to me. BoE are making that choice, Palamedes … We Suffer’s lost. The Wakers and Ctesiphon Wing can’t protect us. Merv Wing’s got the glue, which is a way out. The Hopers call the shots now … and I’ve met leaders like Unjust Hope before. They’re the guys who come to the fore when people want leaders who don’t count the costs. We’re heading for a purge, Sextus. This is the Blood of Eden who don’t give a fuck” (p. 30).
- In short, things are changing fast, and the ruthless part of BoE is ascendant.
- Merv Wing (the combatant cell from last week) and Ctesiphon Wing are at odds, and Pyrrha’s assessment is that We Suffer is on the way out.
- Merv Wing’s commander is Unjust Hope, so Merv Wing is “The Hopers.”
- “It wasn’t as though they needed either hats or masks. That was the whole problem, wasn’t it?” (p. 32). Their imperviousness to conditions outside marks them as different from the rest of the people.
- The sky used to be yellow, but now blue has spread across the entire sky.
- The codewords for the week are indexed below the fold. If you see them appear in conversation between Pyrrha and Cam/Pal, you’ll have a leg up on the casual reader.
- Pyrrha asks “What are your stations if that thing in the sky even looks like it’s about to stop periscoping?” (p. 32).
- What do we know that periscopes?
- Now we know what the light in the sky is, and we get the answer much quicker than usual; we don’t have to wait for half a book to figure it out: it’s Varun, aka “The Eater,” aka Resurrection Beast Number Seven, killer of the Lyctors Gideon 1 and Cassiopeia, and it’s periscoping.
- Resurrection Beasts drive Lyctors mad. If they have the same effect on necromancers (they do), we know what happened to destabilize the city: Varun appeared and suddenly the Houses were vulnerable.
- You remember that by periscoping, Varun remains physically in the River and sends out its projection, figuring out where it’s going to appear in the material world. It also sustains itself on thalergy: if it emerges here, everyone on the planet is going to be consumed.
- “Varun” is a variant of “Varuna,” the Hindu god of rain, law, and divine justice, among a great many other possible meanings, many of them relating to justice. It’s also a character in Monster Legends (which may or may not be significant and/or a joke here) and a “transneptunian object” (a very large asteroid) in the Kuiper belt. I’m betting the locals named Varun for “justice,” since it seems to be delivering it to the despised Houses.
- Camilla wears Gideon Nav’s sunglasses.
- Pyrrha “used to run the whole Bureau . . . Now I’m up against wannabe heroes and hairy dogs” (p. 33). Pyrrha had a job before helping to found the Second House (10,000 years ago).
Chapter 2 Header: the Locked Tomb
“Pyrrha worked for Nona, Camilla looked after Nona, and Palamedes taught Nona” (p. 34). So that’s all cleared up. Pyrrha works at some sort of job in demolition and is persuasive. She’s in charge of the household and can fight with a gun and a sword. Camilla is watchful and protective and can fight with any weapon. Palamedes “could think. He said it was his party trick” (p. 37).
- Nona is called Nona because her first words were No, no, and because Nona means Nine. She’s one of two people, and her flatmates are trying to figure out who she is. Whoever she might be, she thinks she looks beautiful, which is a nice change from Harrow’s self-loathing.
- We realize from the description that Nona is in Harrow’s body.
- Palamedes tells her that “when you give yourself to someone else, their soul shows in yours by the eye colour,” although sometimes being in someone else’s body is only temporary. “Your amber eyes could mean that you’re like Camilla and me, or it could mean something else” (p. 35).
- Nona is good at understanding what people mean despite what they say. She can’t lie and knows what people mean despite what they might say.
- Camilla warns her away from predatory men.
- Both Pyrrha and Camilla have advanced fighting skills.
- In addition to thinking, Palamedes is gentle and respectful with Nona, and “never made Nona feel bad for not being able to do any of these things, only acted like it was interesting that she couldn’t” (p. 37)
- Touch: Nona brings it out in the others.
- She can also speak “any language that was spoken to her, in person, so she could see the person’s face and eyes and lips” (p. 38)
- The others speak only one language, “a kind people used for business transactions . . . but it was falling out of favour, because it was a language used by awful people” (p. 39).
- That’s House, the language spoken in the Nine Houses.
- “Nona understood everybody and could speak back to them so that they understood her, and nobody ever said she had an accent” (p. 39). Massive hint about Nona’s identity.
- Many languages are spoken in the city because everyone’s been resettled from someone else, and they’re all angry about it.
- “Everyone was crammed on one of three planets now, after having endured multiple evacuations and resettlements.
- Three planets? That’s all? The Empire (aka John) has settled everyone on just three planets (and they’re thanergenic, meaning well on the way to dying).
- They think this planet is “easily the worst, though this always made Nona feel a little bit offended on the planet’s part” (p. 39).
- Zombies, necromancers, and necromancy are forbidden words.
- Now things start to make sense: Varun appears, and everything falls apart from the point of view of the Houses. The Cohort necromancers can’t function. Food shipments have stopped and resources are scarce, there’s no authority, and everyone’s on edge. The situation is ripe for bad things to happen.
- Despite how terrible background events are, “Nona was so grateful to have had a whole six months of this. It was greedy to expect much longer” (p. 40). Serious foreshadowing. It also indicates that Nona is more aware than she will admit, even to herself.
Chapter 3 Header: A fruiting tree.
This chapter explains how Nona got to go to school and meet the gang, what they do, and why she loves them.
- Camilla says that Nona comes across to other people as “unworldly” (p. 41).
- She knows that everyone was expecting that she was someone else. Wanting to be useful, she “got herself a job, even though it wasn’t a paying one” (p. 41).
- The teacher doesn’t believe that Nona is almost 19, and says she looks like 14 at most.
- She believes that Pyrrha is a pimp and Nona and Cam are prostitutes. “God knows I’d have had better luck pimping out Augustine and Alfred” (p. 43).
- They agree that Nona will tell everyone she lives with her sister and a friend of their father’s, and everyone else is dead. “This was an answer so ordinary and boring” that it reflects everyone else’s lived experience.
- She can’t learn: “It was as though someone had probably told her everything before and she had already forgotten it . . . [it had] the ring of old familiarity — it felt and sounded as though she had heard it all before” (p. 44).
- The kids all love the Angel “because she was calm and even-handed and the same day in and day out” (p. 46). The Angel is a still point in their otherwise chaotic lives. Hot Sauce especially reveres the Angel.
- Of course they love her — she’s normal and their lives are otherwise sheer chaos. Think about growing up in Sarajevo, or Bakhmut, or the Occupied Territory, and it makes sense.
- Hot Sauce: 14, covered with burns, frequently still (“It was the stillness of someone rejecting thinking” (p. 50).) The undisputed leader.
- Honesty: Hot Sauce’s lieutenant. A hustler and outrageous liar.
- Beautiful Ruby: has an infant sibling.
- Born in the Morning: has 5 fathers.
- Kevin: needs a bathroom attendant because of panic attacks. He’s 7.
- Of all the kids, Hot Sauce named herself, and Kevin is probably his proper name. The others have names that come from other languages and these are Nona’s translations as she hears them.
- Honesty tries to teach Nona how to lie, and she “longed to lie, but didn’t know how to stop her body from showing the truth” (p. 47).
- The kids range around the city, sometimes near “the huge cemetery hills where they had dug all the bodies out of the cracked sand and concrete and put them in a huge pile, which still smelled terrible” (p. 48). The smell means it was recently done.
- Why would the citizens have exhumed all the bodies and piled them up?
- When ranging around the city, Nona has to be extra-careful about not getting cut.
- Why? Any ideas? (Muir could teach a masterclass on embedding just enough detail to foreshadow without beating readers over the head.)
- The Convoy travels in the tunnels beneath the city, where it’s dangerous to be and no one ever really goes. When it passes, the buildings above shake.
- Pyrrha explains what a convoy is while she’s “melting slag for dummy pellets,” which means that she’s making slugs that she’ll fit to cartridges to make bullets (p. 49). Again, great detail; Pyrrha is preparing for the deluge.
- Nona “never quite got over that little shake, that tight vibration of the stomach when the Convoy was near, how it excited her somehow. It was like she could feel something wonderful in it” (p. 49).
- In the conversation the kids have, we learn that people have been burning necromancers alive.
- Beautiful Ruby asserts that all the necromancers are dead, but Born in the Morning says they’re still in the barracks.
- Remember Palamedes wants to save everyone.
- Honesty to Nona: “Nobody’s saying you’re a zombie, you dumbass” (p. 50).
- Hot Sauce says that the necromancers will come back. Beautiful Ruby asks, “’What about Varun the Eater?’ ‘It’s here for them,’ said Hot Sauce” (p. 51).
- “If Hot Sauce thought Nona was sweet, she was going to be part of the group no matter what” (p. 51).
Chapter 4 Header: Seventh House skull.
Nona, Camilla and Pyrrha walk together to work. Pyrrha splits off first, then Cam drops Nona at school and goes on. At school, Hot Sauce tells Nona that someone in an adjacent building is watching the school. The Angel arrives for the Hour of Science and looks like she’s been up all night. During the snack break, Honesty tells the gang he has a real job after school, one that involves going into the tunnels. Hot Sauce cautions Nona to stay on the school grounds when she takes Noodle out. Outside, Nona sees someone in the alley opposite the school.
- Sometimes the three cut through the park, where cages have been placed. Sometimes they don’t, because the park is full of “mercs” (mercenaries).
- Nona worries that maybe the person watching the building is watching her, but Hot Sauce says, “They were here before you” (p. 55) and dismisses the idea.
- Ctesiphon Wing? Merv Wing? Who knows?
- They were here before Nona started to come to school, or they arrived today before she did? It’s not clear, but someone is surveilling.
- Nona isn’t looking well (she thinks she looks great, but) “Cam said her hair was drying up and she had white spots on her nails” (pp. 56-57) and Beautiful Ruby says, “Hey, you don’t look so well lately, Nona. You look kind of sick” (p. 58).
- The Angel is “a gallant little person of fortyish who gave the impression that she had learned a lot early in life and discovered late that it was no real good to her or anyone else. This lent her teaching a weightless, secretive feeling, like it was really all for fun at the end of the day” (p. 57).
- Honesty says that, though the tunnels are dangerous, he’ll “be in a car the whole time and no shooty-shooty, it’s just stripping stuff off the pipes again” (p. 59). So . . . scavenging.
- The rest get an Hour of Science; Nona gets an Hour of Noodle.
- Nona spots someone in the alley she thinks might be dead, but decides they’re probably not, because their gear is decent and no one’s scavenged it.
Chapter 5 Header: Ninth House skull
Camilla and Nona walk home and have a snack. Nona has a session handling bones while she and Palamedes talk about love. Nona cuts her finger on a bone and Palamedes draws out the bone shard. They talk about the blue light. Palamedes’ timer goes off and he has Nona give Camilla a kiss on the hand for him.
- The teacher at school still thinks Pyrrha is a pimp and routinely checks Camilla for bruises and gives her pamphlets, likely about resources for trafficked women.
- The person in the alley is gone.
- “Nona had decided that she was fine with having eaten fruit, but not with eating fruit” (pp. 61-62).
- Camilla has been seeing people while Nona’s been at school. Nona guesses she saw Crown.
- Palamedes emerges to teach her and says, “Crown isn’t our friend right now” (p. 62).
- Are we good on who Crown is?
- Nona asks if she’s not allowed to love Crown. Palamedes answers, “I could never stop you from loving anything. I don’t have the right. Nobody has the right to tell you who to love or who not to love, and equally nobody’s obliged to love you. If you were forced into loving them, it wouldn’t be love ...” (p. 63).
- “Being unexpectedly loved is so wonderful or terrible, isn’t it?” You have to wonder why Palamedes might think it’s terrible to be loved.
- “I pity the Captain to the very depths of my heart, and never did like her much . . . I pity Crown not at all, and like her terribly” (p. 63).
- Nona asks why “the blue light” hurts some people, but not Palamedes and Camilla. Palamedes answers, “She’s got the wrong kind of body. She and I can cheat … for now … draw on me, not her, for the unusual kinds of things that I do, with the downside being that our time is very limited. If I was in her body for too long, I’d her her and the blue light would start to hurt me” (p. 64).
- Palamedes explains that Varun affects necromancers, but he’s shielded by being in Camilla’s body. This implies that necromancy resides in the soul, not the body, although necromancers’ have physical characteristics that mark them (smaller, scrawnier, different heartbeat, etc.).
- Likewise, Pyrrha has the “right type of body to be hurt by it, but the wrong soul” (p. 64).
- Nona is a puzzle, and they don’t know why she’s immune. She asks if that’s why Blood of Eden doesn’t want her and he says, “Oh, they want you . . . They want you very badly” (p. 64).
- “’I know things are getting worse,’ she said, wanting to sound worldly. ‘I know I’m not fixed and we only have a few more months to fix me, and who knows what’s going to happen in the meanwhile” (pp. 64-65).
- She likes We Suffer, who treats her as a colleague: “Keep at the mission, Nona.”
- Palamedes says that under different circumstances he might have liked all of Ctesiphon Wing.
- Something has happened to estrange them from Ctesiphon Wing.
- “’I don’t like it when you do — the necromancy word — ‘ (‘you just said it, said Palamedes) ‘ — but it feels nice at the same time. It’s mixed up. It’s like when you do that, it makes me sad — not sad that you did it, but sad that you can do it’” (p. 65). Another hint about Nona’s identity.
- “Nona always paid so much more attention to the lessons of the hand and the mouth than she did to the lessons of the bone and the sword” (p. 66). Muir is dropping hints everywhere. First time readers don’t see them as hints.
- The first time Nona kissed Cam’s hand for Palamedes, Camilla sat in the bathtub alone for an hour. Now she almost doesn’t flinch.
- This is a great depiction of two people who love each other deeply and long to be together, so close and yet, unable to connect. There’s a displacement, like the one between Gideon and Harrow in the last book: so damn close . . . but not connecting.
Chapter 6 Header: Sixth House skull
Pyrrha works late; part of the delay is because no one knows who pays the workers — the militia or the failing or fallen government. While Nona bathes, Camilla reads letters from a ridiculous advice column to her. She surprises Nona by asking if she would want to leave and start over (is this Pyrrha’s “other” offer?). When they lie down, Camilla tells her the story of how they met, and readers get a number of blanks filled in. Nona goes to sleep happy.
- Camilla asks Nona if there’s something she’s keeping secret and Nona admits there is. Cam says, “Do you promise to tell me or Palamedes if you get scared about something, or don’t know what to do?” (p. 68).
- Side note: Camilla and Palamedes would make the world’s best parents.
- The “Dear Aunty” letter is a meme, and it’s hard to find online, so I’m going to reproduce it here, with apologies, and thanks to the crew at the Locked Tomb Podcast, who pointed it out. Side note: if you haven’t check out the podcast, you should. You’d enjoy it. The meme is based on a spoof of Reddit’s AITA (Am I the Asshole) subreddit, and reads thus: “I [F29] love my Fiancé [M34], except whenever we fight, he takes a dump in the living room, then makes me refer to his turd as ‘Mr. Hoskins’ and apologize to it. Am I overreacting? Our wedding is in 6 hours.”
- If I have to know this, you have to know it, too.
- The story of How they Met:
- ”We met you when the Warden saved you, after you were hurt” (p. 69).
- Palamedes was still an unmoored soul, “he didn’t have a body . . . He was stuck” (p. 70).
- “We knew you were in trouble. You’d disappeared. We’d been trying to get you. We found you and Pyrrha” (p. 70).
- While Harrow’s soul was stuck in the alt-Canaan bubble, Palamedes had figured out that she was in trouble and was trying to find her. We don’t know how, but now we do know that he and Cam were conducting a search-and-rescue mission for her.
- “Pyrrha helped us escape from an attack. We lost people. Ships. Something very important. But we got you away” (p. 70).
- Some time after the retrieval, they were attacked, and lost people and ships. So it must have been a large attack on a Blood of Eden force, meaning maybe John and Ianthe attacked them? Pyrrha helped them escape, proving her worth to BoE, and they lost “something very important.”
- Don’t worry — you’ll know soon enough.
- “Then I found a way for the Warden to come back” (p. 70).
- So it was Camilla who was the active agent in Palamedes’ return.
- “He wanted to evoke the break clause” (p. 70). Remember the Source Gram from “As Yet Unsent”? The Source Gram is roughly 6,000 years old and refers to a “break clause.”
- Cassiopeia, the Sixth House founder, was a lawyer — who wrote a break clause into her contract founding the Sixth House! Damn, that’s foresight! [eyeroll] Lawyers….
- “The Warden convinced the Oversight Body, convinced the Sixth House to come with us” (p. 70). You remember the Oversight Body from “The Mysterious Study of Doctor Sex,” right? The governing body of the Sixth House.
- “We showed them the secret of the installation . . . we helped them move.”
- The Sixth House was secretly a space ship? Now the comment from Chapter about three million squatters on a planetoid makes sense.
- “The the Warden picked sixteen people to talk with Blood of Eden.”
- “I thought I didn’t know you at all. You were new” (p. 70). We know that they were expecting Harrow or Gideon, but Camilla says, “you were new.”
- Is Nona a blend of the two and entirely amnesiac, or is something else going on?
- “The light appeared. We found out Blood of Eden had lied to us … or at least, didn’t have the power to look after us anymore” (p. 71).
- Everything changed when Varun, the Resurrection Beast, appeared in the sky.
- Nona asks for the adult version of the story, and asks why the Sixth House left. Cam says, “We didn’t feel we could be there anymore … not until we really understood what we were doing, morally” (p. 71).
- Despite doing the right thing, they feel that Blood of Eden hasn’t kept up its side of the bargain, and got Palamedes to make “promises we couldn’t keep.”
- This explains why their relationship with We Suffer has soured, but it doesn’t explain why they’re estranged from Crown.
- “Sometimes it was hard not to be happy; sometimes it was so difficult when everyone else had that hard, hurt look at the corners of their eyes that meant they didn’t quite know how to carry on: the men at the dairy, Pyrrha, Palamedes, the nice lady teacher at school, Kevin” (p. 71).
- This is an indication of how attuned and wise to emotion (even repressed emotion) that Nona is, that she can instinctively read the panic and despair in both strangers and the people she loves.
- The people she notices that panic in is interesting: the randos at the dairy, the teacher, her housemates, and Kevin. Kevin is more affected by trauma than the other kids, or he has fewer coping skills. This is a population living without hope and on the edge of exploding.
“She” and John stand on a hill overlooking a swept plain. John tells her that their funding for the cryogenic freezing project dried up. Their plans to freeze the world’s entire population leaked and the public panicked, realizing that the earth was in its end-stage. The economy tanked and his group realized their backers had moved on to another proposed solution. Meanwhile, the government told them they were going to cut their power and they would have to dispose of the bodies they’d been working on. John kept working while everyone around him fell apart but, without power, the bodies would decompose. John said farewell to his favorite corpses and the power was cut. Most of the bodies liquified, except for John’s favorites.
- The scene, “as though somebody had cupped their hand over the landscape and scraped everyone to one side” (p. 73) is strangely reminiscent of literary descriptions of the plains of Megiddo, where the Apocalypse of John’s book of Revelations takes place.
- C— (Cassiopeia) and N— (Nigella) were dating and thought nobody knew. They all knew.
- “I knew all those bodies by name. Funny to say, but they were my mates” (p. 74).
- “After what we’d done to them they couldn’t be cremated or buried safely.” I know nothing about cryogenics, but this doesn’t sound at all like cryogenics. Anybody know more about these processes that would render the bodies as hazardous waste?
- And they were going to do this to earth’s entire human population????
- P— (Pyrrha), a friend of G— (Gideon) was their “pet cop” and a detective slated for promotion, who “kept the heat down for us” (p. 74) We’re beginning to see the gang assemble.
- The public panics when the word gets out about their project: “the worst was yet to come, but it was like the crisis had been announced all over again. Like you’d sprung this on us out of nowhere, like you’d never said you were sick” (p. 74).
- Who do you suppose is “you”?
- Other options for human survival, beyond the cryo-cans that would move the entire population to Tau Ceti “in my lifetime” include:
- the Mars installation, held up by some problem with fusion batteries, only room for five million people and no food sources, either (a real problem with better than ten billion people on earth);
- the “Kuiper platform,” Uranus and a “shell we’re building”: won’t be ready in time.
- The Kuiper belt is a region of icy planetoids and smaller bodies that stretch between Neptune and Pluto.
- “The only way out was to dump the population on an exoplanet. The cryo cans would have let us get everyone to Tau Ceti in my lifetime” (p. 74).
- “I knew I wouldn’t live to see you get well, but I wanted to stop you hurting” (p. 74).
- John believes he is doing the best for everyone. He really believes it.
- John: “It was like I knew more every day about how it should work, what the little niggles were. I was having six breakthroughs a day” (p. 75).
- “Kia kaha, kia māia” is Māori and means, “Be strong, be brave.” It’s a popular phrase in New Zealand culture (p. 75).
- “He smiled out over the hillside, over the flat plains and the twisted rubbish, a strange fleeting thing with teeth” (p. 76).
- This is “her” viewpoint. To her, John is a “strange fleeting thing with teeth.” What to make of that?
- “But, Harrow … all the ones I touched, all the ones I loved … they stayed incorrupti” (p. 76).
- John’s favorite corpses don’t rot when the power goes out.
- Something interrupts the dream.
And here we are at the end of day one. The interludes are John’s story about How We Got There, while in the chapters, Nona and the others sit on a giant powder keg, watching the fuse burn.
One thing we’re certain of: the Tomb will open — again. How it happens this time, we don’t know. But we trust that it will.
In an interview shortly before Nona was published last year, Muir said that if Gideon’s soul was a McDonald’s Happy Meal and Harrow got the cheeseburger, you have to wonder who got the fries, drink, apple slices, and tie-in toy? Tuck that in the back of your mind while reading.
The memes are fewer in Nona, and there’s no comprehensive list of them. I’ll note the ones I find. You should do the same.
If you haven’t tuned into the Locked Tomb Podcast, you should.
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.
Nona the Ninth
- The week’s codewords:
- Lowdown: Danger, everyone scatter
- Deadweight: All clear
- Red ribbon: Someone following
- Fritters: Someone listening
- Fishhook: Important resource, come and help secure it
As yet unsent
- Gideon’s corpse is incorruptible.
- Blood of Eden’s principal objections to the Nine Houses: Steal planets, forced resettlement, forced “contracts” that never expire.
- The Sixth House has a “break clause” somewhere in its history.
- Coronabeth had planned to be Ianthe’s cavalier. Now she’s converted to Blood of Eden.
- Blood of Eden has a ship with a stele, and a necromancer to power it.
- Mercymorn worked directly with Blood of Eden.
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.”
- From “The Little Mermaid”: the chance to live as a human, also the bit about sharing souls.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Palamedes cracked the question of perfect Lyctorhood. Everyone else has done it wrong (except John).
- Something has gone wrong with the River.
- John says his work is “not yet finished.”
- A.L.: The First, Alecto. Who/what is she? She’s John’s cavalier. He can’t kill her.
- Why did John lie to his Lyctors and induce them them to kill their cavaliers?
- Gideon tells Ianthe that Harrow has already opened the Tomb. Never forget that Ianthe has her own plans, and they involve Harrow staying alive . . . among other things.
- Two words: Ass jokes.
- Wake, Gideon’s mother, is the charismatic commander of Blood of Eden, now deified by BoE.
- “Space was being cleared for a new character” (p. 464).
- Mercy says that the Resurrection Beasts were coming for Alecto.
- Augustine begs John to stop his 10,000 year old mission. “Nobody has to be punished anymore for what happened to humanity” (p. 483).
- Pyrrha wishes that Augustine had given them the packet.
THE MYSTERIOUS STUDY OF DOCTOR SEX
- Dulcinea writes a letter to “My dearest pals...” Either to Palamedes or to him and Camilla both. Also worthy of note: in Harrow she calls Palamedes her first strand and Camilla her second, and three strands were not undone.
- 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
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.
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.
- “’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.
- 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). I’m about to retire this pin: what’s important is that Anastasia “got” perfect Lyctorhood, and John ruined the attempt. E.J.G.: Emperor John Gaius.
- Ianthe: “I’m interested in the place between death and life . . . 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. He says, ‘I saved the world once — but not for me” (p. 443).
- House of the Emperor, his servants, and his Lyctors.
- Seat: Once Canaan House, now the Mithraeum.
- Skull: no adornment.
- Planet: Earth
- Primary: John Gaius (gold eyes), aka God; his cavalier: Alecto (black eyes).
- 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 (brown eyes); his cavalier: Pyrrha Dve (green eyes).
- 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 (purple eyes), cavalier: Naberius Tern, age 23 (blue eyes).
- 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.
- Planet: by the process of deduction: Neptune. It’s beautiful. It’s also the RB Number Seven.
- Colors: Blue
- Characteristics: courage
- Necro: Isaac Tettares, Baron of Tisis, age 13 (hazel eyes); cavalier: Jeannemary Chateur, knight of Tisis, age 14 (brown eyes). (eye color here and elsewhere h/t DesiderataDetritus)
- 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 (eyes gray).
- 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) (eyes clear gray), cavalier: Camilla Hect, age 20. Second cousins, (eyes gray/brown).
- 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 (pallid blue eyes); 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, Saint; her cavalier: Loveday Heptane (blue eyes).
- 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 (eyes brown); cavalier: Colum Asht, age 32, 34, or 37.
- Lyctor: Mercymorn, saint of Joy; her cavalier: Cristabel Oct (grayish hazel eyes).
- 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.
- The entropy and siphoning challenge at Canaan House: Mercy designed it.
- Specialty: spirit magic, focus on soul siphoning. Also hypocrisy.
- Skull: Blindfolded, denoting blind loyalty.
- Planet: Uranus (of course). It’s a pale planet.
- Colors: black
- Characteristics: devotion to the Locked Tomb.
- Necro: Harrowhark Nonagesimus, age 17 (eyes black); cavalier: Gideon Nav, age 19, (eyes gold).
- Not-a-Lyctor: Anastasia; her cavalier: Samael Novenary.
- Specialty: bone magic.
- Skull: lacking a mandible.
- Planet: Pluto.
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