Gideon, oh, Gideon, say have you met Gideon
Oh! Gideon, the tattooed lady
She has blades that cut through bone so,
And through torso even more so…
Welcome back, space fans! It’s time for another close read of Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir! I’m your host, Itsa Duckblur, and today I’ll be discussing chapters five and six. These two chapters were each teeny, a last bit of Ninth House and cavalier exposition before Gideon and Harrow rocket off into space, so I’m going to double up on the jokes, and throw in a definition of necromancy at the end.
Before we start, just a quick reminder that this post will be more spoiled than milk in Hell, so if you haven’t read these chapters yet, you should bone up on them first.
When last we left Gideon and Harrow, Gideon had just learned that she was to replace Ortus as Harrow’s cavalier in the First House challenge. (Which is like the Pepsi Challenge, but instead of soda, you drink antimatter.) Gideon didn’t want to do it, but Harrow sweetened the deal by promising to really, truly, swear to blob, Gideon can leave the Ninth House when it’s over.
So, now, chapter five opens with a word I had to look up: prolix. It means ‘(of speech or writing) using or containing too many words; tediously lengthy.’ Which tracks, because they’re received a second letter from the First House, and Gideon and Harrow are discussing it as Gideon practices painting her face Ninth House-style.
The paints are black and white, and should be worn in the latest undead fashion, like the wearer is Bobo the Necroclown. Gideon hates them, and is allergic to boot, but Harrow insists she has to wear them. They must follow every Ninth House tradition to keep attention away from the fact that Gideon is not the actual house cavalier.
Up until now, Gideon didn’t realize they were going to the actual First House, since no one actually lives there. Because necromancers need death to draw energy, which is hard to find when no one is around to be so polite as to die, so there will be no supply of ‘death juice.’ (Which, coincidentally, is what I call eggnog. Because it tastes like Santa’s gym socks.)
Harrow draws Gideon’s attention to lines five and six of the letter (like I am drawing your brain to chapters five and six of the book – another coincidence!) It basically says no one else is able to attend except the heir and their cavalier. So no Ocean’s Eleven, just George and Brad. And Harrow again reiterates the importance of getting every little bit of Ninth House tradition correct, so as not to draw attention to Gideon the Fake Cavalier. And not only that, but to hide the fact that Harrow’s parents are really nothing more than goth puppets, and the Ninth House is a dying house. Which is funny, considering they’re normally all “Yay, death!”
Here Gideon rubs the paper of the letter, because as we’ve seen before, paper is a rare commodity. At least parchment is rare, which has me wondering now what Gideon’s dirty magazines are printed on. Glossy paper? Palm leaves? Very small rocks?
Moving on: Gideon isn’t sure Harrow can trick the First House into believing everything is fine, because the status is not quo, but Harrow assures her that once she is a Lyctor, she will return to restore their home to its former undead glory.
Gideon only has a moment to ponder that when Harrow rips the sponge out of her hand and starts applying Gideon’s face paint correctly, albeit roughly. Gideon bites her fingers as Harrow slathers on the makeup and explains that she is to wear it every day from now on, or suffer the consequences.
If Gideon was expecting a pep talk from Harrow about their upcoming trip, she is sorely mistaken. Harrow simply tells her, “All you need to know is that you’ll do what I say, or I’ll mix bone meal in with your breakfast and punch my way through your gut.” Which is the speech Red Auerbach also used to give the Celtics before games, I’m pretty sure.
Aside: More than once as I was reading this, I’ve wondered if Harrow is named Harrow because it sounds like ‘marrow.’
CUE ‘EYE OF THE TIGER’: Gideon now has three months to train for their visit to the First House, which she spends almost entirely with Aiglamene. Gideon has been raised fighting with a longsword, and must now learn to fight with a rapier, if she is to pull off their ruse. At first, Gideon attempts to leave her cell without her face paint, but Harrow makes good on her threats and has her heat turned off, so now Gideon greets each day looking like a member of Danzig.
But aside from the physical agony of swinging a sword every day, all day, and the itchy face paint, Gideon doesn’t find existence too terrible for those twelve weeks, and it’s because Harrow has locked herself away in the library, and rarely shows her ghoulish face. (Which is the dream, amrite? I would love to be oldboyed in a library.)
When Harrow does make an appearance, it’s usually to yell at Gideon about her poor face painting skills and make her remove it and do it again, like some contestant in an undead pageant. (“There she is, Miss Necromerica…”)
Gideon also catches bits of Harrow’s conversations that she has with the Captain, and learns that it isn’t the houses who are good at fighting, like Third House, that concern Harrow. It’s the houses who are good at thinking that worry her.
A week before their departure, Gideon puts a false bottom in her travel runk, so she can smuggle her longsword onto the shuttle. Aiglamene presents her with the sword she will use to fight at the First House, a plain sword of black metal, unadorned with the usual Ninth House decorations, like teeth. (Which gives new meaning to the term ‘armed to the teeth.’)
Aiglamene also gives her knuckles, made of her obsidian and steel, with blades on the back of the gauntlet, and again tries to help her understand how important it is to use this hand to fight while she’s swinging her sword with the other hand.
On the day Harrow and Gideon are set to leave the Ninth House, all the creeps creep out to see them off. It’s here that Harrow announces that her mum and dead, er, I mean mum and dad, will be locking themselves away until Harrow returns. Because remember, Harrow won’t be around to pull their strings, so its best to put her meat puppets on the shelf until she gets back.
Gideon finds she’s a little bit excited. Sure, she’s about to take a road trip with her nemesis, and she looks like a rejected member of KISS. But she’s leaving the Ninth House for the first time, and maybe even for good. So for her, everything’s coming up undead roses.
As we close the chapter on Gideon and Harrow, Gideon notices Harrow is actually crying. But she still summons the energy to tell Gideon that she wants to watch her die, so most everything is still right in the world.
BONUS: Grandma, what is “necromancy?”
For these last three posts, I’ve been throwing around the word ‘necromancer’ a lot, because that’s what Harrow is, a necromancer. If you asked me to define ‘necromancer,’ I would guess ‘one who plays with dead things.’ But if you aren’t sure what necromancy is, or want a better definition than mine, I’ve got you covered.
According to Merriam-Webster, necromancy is ‘conjuration of the spirits of the dead for purposes of magically revealing the future or influencing the course of events.’ So, playing with dead things, essentially, to get your way.
The Witch of Endor, who was not an Ewok, is the most popular necromancer in Biblical history. And famous necromancers in fiction include Randall Flagg, Anita Blake, the Night King, and Lord Voldemort.
Now close your eyes, and picture the ‘More You Know’ shooting star. Got it? Okay, we’re done here. Thanks for joining me again today for another episode of Better Off Dead. I’ll be back next week with a rundown of chapters seven and eight. Same bockety time, same bockety channel!