Hello, darklings! It’s time for another close read of Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir! I’m your host, Jason Waterfalls, and today I’ll be discussing chapters seven and eight. These two chapters cover Gideon and Harrow’s arrival at the First House, which is immediately weird, awkward, and dangerous. You know, just how we like things.
Before we start, just a quick reminder that this post will be more spoiled than my cousin, Susan, so if you haven’t read these chapters yet, you should bone up on them first.
So at the end of chapter six, Gideon and Harrow are getting in the shuttle to fly to the First House planet. And now at the beginning of chapter seven, they’ve arrived. And that is pretty much the extent of their time in space.
I’ve seen a few people asking why this book claims to have necromancers in space, when the whole thing takes place on the surface of planets, and very little happens in spacecrafts. Maybe you haven’t wondered that, but if you have, here’s my thoughts: For me, space is anything above my head. Shuttles flying around in the galaxy? Space. Astronauts moonwalking on the moon? Space. Aliens getting a pedicure on the surface of Mars? Still space. That may not be the technical definition of space, but to me, if it isn’t on the planet where I reside, it’s in space.
Now, back to chapter seven. The shuttle carrying Gideon and Harrow is waiting for clearance to land on the dock at the First House. Gideon is staring out the window at the planet, which is blue and white, “grey and green, brown and black”, and covered in water.
Does anyone else think that this is Earth? Maybe everyone knows it is supposed to be Earth, and I’m just a bit slow. But I think the First House is on Earth. Which ruins my theory about space being everything above me, but I never actually told you I was on Earth, did I?
As Gideon gazes upon the planet, we learn that this is the home of the Lord of the House of the First, the Lord Undying, and he has not been here in nine thousand years. That is some vacation!
The ride from the Ninth House to the First took just an hour, in a pilot-less shuttle. (“Look, Ma, no Han!) And now they’re waiting for First House security to grant them access to the landing dock. As Gideon continues to gaze out the window, Harrow worries her prayer knuckles, and Gideon wonders why she isn’t traveling on grave dirt from home to keep her power source, like cohort adepts do in the comics she has read. Like a Space Dracula! And Gideon briefly considers kicking Harrow’s ass while she’s weak, but she’s much too interested in what is going on as the shuttle finally lands.
The planet is incredibly bright, and Harrow covers her eyes with a black veil, as they have always lived in almost complete darkness. She offers a veil to Gideon, but Gideon came prepared: She whips out a pair of mirrored sunglasses, and dons them, Horation Caine-style.
They step out onto the landing dock, which is next to a giant white palace, which was once beautiful, but is now crumbling and covered in vegetation overgrowth. (I am giggling imagining that it’s Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World. I find the idea very humerus.)
Gideon and Harrow are greeted by a jolly man of indiscernible age, with a white beard and robes. (If this is Earth, maybe he’s Santa?? Or Sew Crates?!?) He welcomes them effusively, like a Walmart greeter on Planet Rot, and then immediately mentions to Harrow that her cavalier Ortus Nigenad is not with her. The jig: up. That lasted about 2.5 seconds. But no matter, the little man is happy with Harrow’s explanation of Ortus’s abdication, and tells them that he is to be called Teacher.
Now it’s Gideon’s turn to notice something: “I only count six shuttles.” (She noticed using her sixth sense, I bet, since she normally sees dead people.) Teacher is delighted that Gideon has pointed it out. Spoiler: Teacher is delighted by everything. It turns out, the shuttles for the Third and Seventh Houses are still being cleared, because of inconsistencies. The Third, he says, is pushing boundaries. (Is it weapons? We already learned that they will be the hardest to fight in battle?) And as they discuss it, the other two shuttles arrive.
But it is not weapons that held up the Third House, for when their doors open, three people step out onto the landing platform. And if you remember the rules, there should only be two from each house, the heir and their cavalier. This causes quite a commotion among the two other priest-greeters. Because it appears the two heirs were born at the same time, so they are both actually allowed to be there. Teacher isn’t worried, and tells the other two priests that it won’t be a problem until the end.
Now the door to the Seventh House shuttle opens, and a figure, covered in blood, faints into the priest-greeter’s arms. Gideon’s first instinct is to help, and she runs over to scoop the figure out of the priest-greeter’s buckling arms, only to feel the tip of a sword pushing into the back of her neck. It’s the Seventh House cavalier, who wants Gideon to move away from his charge, the Seventh House heir. Gideon observes the lovely young woman in her arms, who is dressed in a frilly seafoam green dress, covered in blood, as though she had a bad stint as a bridesmaid or attended a prom-slash-bloodbath.
The young woman insists her cav remove his sword, which he does, and then it’s Harrow’s turn to grab Gideon by the back of the neck. She’s peeved that Gideon acted out of turn, and Gideon knows that she’s going to pay for it later. But she’s still busy making heart eyes at the bloody young woman, Duchess Septimus, who has now realized they’re from the Ninth House, and is fangirling about meeting black vestals from Ninth House.
The Seventh House cav is just standing there all unreasonably muscly, like Kronk, as they make introductions. Harrow never loses her chilly demeanor, nor her temper through all of it, even though Gideon can tell she’s seething on the inside. And then Teacher ushers them all toward the palace, as he mentions a fatal blood flaw among the Seventh House heirs, which sounds very much like hemophilia. (“Alexei, Alexei, mustn’t run and mustn’t play…”) And as they head for the house, Gideon suddenly feels very sad for the duchess.
TL;DR: Shuttle landing, mirrored sunglasses, Santa/Socrates, doomed babe in seafoam green.
So the priests have all sixteen seventeen of the heirs and cavs in a cavernous, decaying atrium. Which sounds like a hotel ballroom, really. Gideon is even amazed that the floors are made of wood. (Come on, they’re on Earth, right? They must be! OMG, what if the Ninth House is on the dark side of the moon?!?)
Teacher starts by leading the group in prayer, which is a prayer familiar to everyone but Gideon and Harrow. And after they finish their version of “God is great, God is good,” Teacher asks the Ninth House to recite their prayer of the Locked Tomb. Which is way more metal, because it’s basically like an early 1980s Metallica song. “I pray the tomb is shut forever. I pray the rock is never rolled away…” And, of course, this delights Teacher.
Then Teacher brings out a wooden box, and one by one, he calls each cavalier forward and gives them a piece of chunky jewelry. It’s an iron ring, which is much harder to eat than an onion ring. Teacher doesn’t explain what the rings are for, and no one asks, so Gideon thinks she should, but she’s too late, because Teacher begins talking again.
He explains that many years ago, the Emperor had sixteen Lyctors, eight adepts and eight cavaliers, just as he seeks to have sixteen now. And while those Lyctors were given eternal life, I hope they kept their warranty, because it turns out that immortality didn’t actually mean forever. And so over the last nine thousand years, the original Lyctors have died off. (The bumper sticker on their space shuttles reads, “Old Lyctors never die, they…oops, wait, yep. They die. Our bad.)
So Teacher tells them that basically, they are here to replace the sixteen, and hopefully they’ll all pass the challenge, but whoops, they also might die, because what they’re attempting might kill them, ha ha, so get ready because there could be a little light death involved. And did he mention they might die?
But good news! They might die, but at least they all have their own accommodations, which they will all now be shown, as soon as he tells them what the First House asks of them.
What could the First House want? Their souls? Their first born? A shrubbery?
Nope. The only thing the First House asks of them is “that you never open a locked door unless you have permission.” That’s it. That’s the only thing. And when someone asks Teacher about the training, he says he doesn’t know.
To recap: Teacher is a cheery fellow playing proxy host to a bunch of strangers in a giant house with a secret mission for reasons he doesn’t know, for someone he hasn’t seen. Yep, he’s Wadsworth from Clue. Teacher totally buttles. I know because I watched that movie approximately eight hundred times when I was young. (Lee Ving can totally get it.)
And I also have to point out that sixteen (seventeen) people being brought to a large structure to win a competition is also totally The Westing Game, which is one of my very favorite books, and you should read it right now, if you haven’t already. So you can see why I love this book on so many levels.
Back to the story: And so off the seventeen go to their rooms, to get ready for who knows what. Gideon thinks the lights outside are broken, but Harrow informs her no, dummy, it’s night, something they don’t have on their planet. They just have varying shades of black. (See?! They live on the moon!)
And as Gideon falls asleep looking out the window, the last thing she sees are the First House skeletons pushing all the shuttles over the edge of the landing platform. Well, that’s not ominous, now, is it?
And that’s the end of Act One, and the end of chapter eight! When next we meet our goth heroines, we’ll get to know more about their opponents, and about the house where they may meet their demise. Thanks for joining me again today for another episode of The Real Housegoths of Canaan. I’ll be back next week with a rundown of chapters nine and ten. Same buttle time, same buttle channel!
Liberty Hardy is a Book Riot senior contributing editor, co-host of All the Books, a Book of the Month judge, and a ravenous reader. She resides in Maine with her cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon. You can see pictures of her cats and her books on Instagram @franzencomesalive.