Welcome back, my little phalanges! It’s time for another close read of Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir! I’m your host, Freddie Purrcury, and today I’ll be recapping chapters eleven and twelve. These are exciting chapters, with lots of swordplay and exploring!
Before we start, just a quick reminder that I am going to spoil these two chapters LIKE WHOA, so if you haven’t read these chapters yet, you should bone up on them first.
The opening of this chapter establishes that Gideon is now on her own for a while. After making sure that Gideon paints her face, keeps her mouth shut, and doesn’t cause any trouble, Harrow pretty much ghosts her. Which would be a wonderful thing for Gideon, if it wasn’t so unsettling. Because how could she get that lucky? Nope, Harrow must be up to something.
Gideon spends the first few days exercising in her room, practicing with her rapier, and silently eating meals. Aside from one sleepy glimpse late at night, Gideon doesn’t see Harrow. And Harrow doesn’t leave any notes, so she has no idea where she goes. No news is good news, right?
So one morning, as Gideon is eating two breakfasts, the shiny twin of the Third House, Lady Coronabeth Tridentarius (which sounds like a dinosaur with three spikes) approaches her. She explains that some of the cavaliers are having sparring matches, and she hopes Gideon will join.
Flustered by Coronabeth’s beauty, and the fact that she’s lonely and itching for a fight, Gideon accepts. Coronabeth leads her to the pool area, where the cavaliers from the Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth House are also gathered. It is obvious they didn’t think Coronabeth could convince Gideon to join them, and that they aren’t exactly thrilled to see her. Magnus of the Fifth House is his usual cordial self, but the others regard her like so much heavily armed roadkill.
It is decided that Gideon will duel Magnus. The other cavaliers are puzzled by Gideon’s knuckle knives and the fact she doesn’t remove her robes or sunglasses for the match. But this is how she is used to training like this at home, and isn’t concerned about them now, since the duels here are basically the same. (The book says “…but with more folderol.” Which is a word I had to look up and means an aerosol spray used to clean folders. JK, it means with more trivial fuss.)
The setup for the duel lasts longer than the duel itself: Gideon beats Magnus in three moves. (What’s that old saying? Never bring a Nav to a swordfight? Debunked.) (That is not the saying at all.) Gideon doesn’t even have to parry. She doesn’t even have to Steve Perry. Everyone around her is impressed, except the Third House cavalier, because he’s a self-righteous tool. And as a self-righteous tool, he now wants to fight Gideon.
If Naberius the Third were a 1980s movie villain, he’d be Teddy Beckersted in One Crazy Summer. The very fact that Gideon dares to exist is an affront to him, so now he needs to make an example of her in front of an audience. Gideon makes a face that is construed as acceptance, and so they square off to fight.
As they get closer together, Naberius proves he is a tool by saying something derisive to her under his breath, and proving to her that she needs to take this guy down. But it’s not that easy. The duel starts, and just as quickly as she won against Magnus, she realizes that she isn’t going to win this time. Naberius is a pro: his technique is perfect, and he—surprise!—he has a fancy trident knife that is helping him win.
Gideon gives the fight all she’s got, but Naberius is just too good. It’s obvious he’s been training to be a cavalier since he was in diapers, while Gideon has only been working at it for three months. Several more moves and Naberius relieves Gideon of her rapier.
To which she responds with the only way she knows how: she punches Naberius in the chest and drops him to the floor, then picks up her sword and points it at him. She’s the winner, right???
Er, no, wrong. Turns out, if Gideon was familiar with these duels, she would have known that the fight was over when Naberius took her sword from her. But still, she punched him, which had to feel good, and we all know he deserved it. To use another One Crazy Summer reference, it’s basically like when Hoops lost the shooting contest, but Demi Moore gave Teddy and his friends a faceful of mace, so who’s the loser, really?
Naberius is outraged, even though he won, especially after his necromancer tells him Gideon is the better fighter. Magnus, sensing things are going to get ugly, suggests they all turn to exercises to avoid any further confrontations. Everyone agrees, even though potatoes are a vegetable (you’ll have to look at that one yourself, it tickles me to no end), and as Gideon removes her knuckle knives, she sees that Harrow has been watching from the shadows, just before her nemesis-slash-roomie turns away in a dramatic swish of bitchiness.
TL;DR: Gideon finally got a chance to poke at people with sharp objects, even if it was for fun, and Harrow hasn’t been on her case, which is nice. Also, Naberius of the Third House is a tool.
So by the end of the first week, Gideon has met all the adepts, and most of them…avoid her. Except for Coronabeth, the sparkly twin, and Magnus of the Fifth House. It doesn’t help that Harrow decorates the hallway to their quarters with bones, like she’s the Grim Creper, and the theme to their prom is A Night of the Living Dead To Remember.
Gideon also gets to see more of her willowy, bloody first crush, Dulcinea Septimus, who never misses a chance to bat her eyes in Gideon’s direction and ask her to fluff her pillows (not a euphemism), straighten her blanket, or carry her to another spot on the terrace.
Gideon continues to exercise in her room, and eat meals, usually alone or in the company of Teacher, and not care too much that since the duels, she hasn’t seen Harrow. She has Ralphie-Black Bart daydreams of her life when she gets away from the First House, and how she’s going to join the Cohort, and be the bravest, most decorated soldier. And then Harrow will have to kiss her glove and offer her thanks, like the necromancers in the comics that Gideon reads, but with less cleavage.
It is somewhere around the end of this week that she realizes that Harrow has not been back to the room in two nights. Harrow’s bedclothes have not been moved. Perhaps she is sleeping somewhere else? Gideon loves that idea, but Harrow’s face paint is still in the room, and Gideon knows that she never goes anywhere without it.
So as much as she would like to put her shoes on Harrow’s bed and button all her shirts incorrectly, Gideon realizes the most likely solution is that something has happened. (I love that Gideon’s grand plans for the possessions for the person who has tormented her for her whole life is to get footprints on her covers and mess with her buttons.) Gideon even entertains the thought that perhaps Harrow has been murdered, in which case, the murderer would automatically become Gideon’s BFF.
The idea of an early escape from the house and/or a new bestie aside, Gideon knows that these things are not as likely as the possibility that things will only get more complicated if she doesn’t locate Harrow, so she sets off into the First House to find her.
“Are you my necromancer? I am not your necromancer. I am a skeleton.” Gideon searches the dining hall, the terrace, the atrium, the pool, but she does not find her, so she decides to give up. But it takes Gideon precisely the length of her lunch to change her mind back, and go looking for Harrow again.
This time, Gideon goes exploring in less conspicuous places. She finds CAUTION tape that has been snapped, as though someone has broken through it, and decides to follow where it leads, which is behind a huge tarpaulin and onto a crumbling terrace beneath the landing dock. She dislikes all the rubble and being so close to the sea, so climbs a spiral staircase. It takes Gideon through a door and into a dark hallway. She can see by the available candlelight that it is a very beautiful lobby. And she can hear that she is not alone.
Two people at the bottom of a staircase are discussing the artifacts in the room. While they are lovely, one of the voices is able to tell that they are not at all from the same time periods. Some things are fifty years old, and some things are three thousand. The voice is sure that the whole building they are in has been scavenged from a garbage compactor. (They were probably able to retrieve the stuff after someone shut down all the garbage mashers on the detention level.)
Moving closer, Gideon discovers the voices belong to the necromancer and the cavalier of the Sixth House. And here, once again, Gideon proves she is not as sneaky as she thinks she is, and alerts the cavalier to her presence. The cav jumps into action, and quick as you can say, “Knob’s your elbow,” she’s pulled her sword and is fighting Gideon, who barely manages to get her own sword out in time.
And this cavalier isn’t just good, she’s like someone crossed Mary Lou Retton with a cat, and then taught them to fence. The doing gymnastics all over the place, and fighting Gideon up and down the staircase, and kicking her dagger back into her own hand when she drops it, and –
Her necromancer calls for his cavalier, Camilla, to stop. He puts a protective spell around her, which makes Gideon’s flesh look like it’s melting when she doesn’t manage to move her hand away fast enough. But just for a second. And he apologizes to Gideon for his cavalier’s behavior, but really, she shouldn’t be skulking around in the shadows.
The necromancer also knows that Gideon is looking for Harrow, because he noticed a large amount of Harrow’s blood on the floor down a hatch where they have been exploring. He says it just as nonchalantly as that, too, like he’s reading the specials. “Today’s soup is tomato and basil. The chef’s vegetable is potato. (CALL BACK!) Harrow’s blood’s on the floor down there.”
Gideon attempts to pull the hatch open and almost rips her arms from the sockets. The Sixth House necromancer, Palamedes, explains that she needs the iron ring she was given on the first day. Since Harrow lifted hers their first night at the First House, the necromancer uses his cavalier’s key to open it. He also explains that the odds are very good that Harrow is still down there, but given the amount of blood that they saw, she’s probably not going to be alive. And so Gideon says her first words in a very long time: “Then get off your ass and help me.”
Gideon and her new companions climb down the ladder into the floor below. The climate down there hatch is much colder, and at the bottom of the ladder they find several passageways, showing them to be laboratories, a pressure room, a preservation, a mortuary, work rooms, and a sanitiser. (This is totally under Disney World.) There’s also an old white board that is nearly illegible, except for the words “It is finished!” Now that’s not ominous, is it?
Gideon follows Palamedes and Camilla down the passageway marked ‘Sanitiser’, where they quickly come upon sprays of blood, which ultimately lead her to a grey cocoon-looking thing, which upon a kicking, reveals not Wilford Brimley, but an unconscious Harrow.
Palamedes rushes to save Harrow’s life. He performs a transfusion of blood on site, while marveling over the fact that she’s alive. After a few minutes, he tells Gideon she can move Harrow so Gideon slings Harrow over her shoulder and they climb back out of the hatch. She thanks the Sixth house adepts for their assistance, and Palamedes advises her that she and Harrow should not attempt anymore exploration on their own. He says he knows this because he is the greatest necromancer of his generation, which gets a response from a now conscious Harrow. “Like hell you are.” Palamedes advises Gideon on how to care for Harrow now—rest and fluids, as though she has the flu—and then they part ways and chapter twelve ends.
Weren’t those chapters so fun?!? Gideon found Harrow in a cocoon. I told you last week that it was going to get weird. Spoiler: It only gets WEIRDER and I LOVE it. And there were lots of swordfights! +5 awesomesauce. (Related: Check out the real-life swordfighter who helped with Gideon the Ninth.) Thanks for joining me again today as I geek out! I’ll be back next week with a rundown of chapters thirteen and fourteen. Same bone time, same bone 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.