Welcome back, boneheads! It’s time for another close read of Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir! I’m your host, Mmmm Purple, and today I’ll be recapping chapters thirteen and fourteen. These chapters contain fabulous puns, pithy banter, and some serious “WTF did I just read?!” awesomeness.
Before we start, just a quick reminder that I am going to spoil these two chapters until they are insufferable brats, so if you haven’t read these chapters yet, and you would like to avoid spoilers, you should bone up on them first.
Lucky thirteen! When last we left our swordswoman and her bitch boss, Harrow had just been rescued in the basement. There was lots of blood on the floor, and she was barely alive, inside a bone cocoon she had created to try and heal herself. (Bone cocoon sounds like the name of a bachelor pad owned by a caterpillar.)
Now, having returned Harrow to their dark, moldy chambers, Gideon is assessing her damage. Dried blood all over her face? Check. Cracked and bleeding lips? Check. Vile countenance, even when unconscious? Check.
Despite her instincts to smother Harrow with a pillow while she’s down for the count, Gideon attempts to help her by getting her a glass of water, which goes unappreciated. Harrow is upset by the fact that Gideon disobeyed her orders and spoke to people, instead of showing any signs of being put out by the fact that she just lost a huge amount of blood and wound up as the meat in a bone burrito. (Oh, god, that sounds so bad. But I’m keeping it.)
Gideon tries to sound all tough and demand answers from Harrow about where she has been and what she’s been doing. And after some more growling and hissing from Harrow, and a promise from Gideon to hide the iron ring in a bodily orifice so Harrow can’t find it if she doesn’t cooperate, she explains herself. (After she gets literal props from some skeleton arms.)
It turns out, from the very first night they arrived, Harrow has been searching the house. The only rule that Teacher, their weird little host, gave them, was to not open any locked doors without permission. Harrow took this to be a clue, and so she started counting the doors in the house. She even has a map in a creepy old book, bound in what appears to be human skin, to help her.
So far, Harrow has found seven hundred and sixty-five doors. Which is one long-ass Scooby-Doo monster chase, am I right? But the notable thing about that, is that of those seven hundred and sixty-five, Harrow discovered that only six of them were locked. Harrow is immediately drawn to the locked doors like a goth to a flame. (Sorry not sorry.) She asks Teacher for permission to enter two of them, which were located at the hatch where Gideon and the Sixth house adepts later found her.
Teacher gave her permission for the first door, but said he couldn’t in good conscience let her go through the second one, while winking repeatedly at her like he had something big in his eye, like a squirrel or a Toyota Camry.
Harrow took that to mean she could go through that door, so she swiped the iron ring from Gideon that first night, and whooooo, what she found is some Grade A, science fiction horror stuff. Like Sextus, the Sixth House necromancer, Harrow determined that the section of the house below the hatch is much older than the rest of the building. But Harrow is way less interested in the age of things than the fact that she found all kinds of wild stuff.
Whoever was using that section of the facility left all their work behind. Scary work. It’s all down in that tunnel of hallways, with the laboratories and the mortuary and the sanitiser, etc. Harrow managed to find what she thinks is a test. It’s a construct in the form of something Harrow can’t see. That’s super helpful. And so far, whatever it is has destroyed one hundred and sixty-three of the skeletons that Harrow has sent its way.
That’s why Harrow had sealed herself up in the bone cocoon (ha ha bone): she was exhausted from trying to get past some invisible creature that ruined every bit of bone magic she could conjure. Me, I would have given up after one or two, but Harrow kept sending the skeletons in in larger and larger groups to try and fight…whatever it was. Gideon knows something about this place that Harrow doesn’t: she’s seen a locked door with the symbol of a long-horned animal skull that is in the book. This locked door leads to a hallway behind where all of Harrow’s skeletons have been destroyed.
Gideon tells Harrow she will show her where it is, but first Harrow has to promise that from now on they do things as a team. As much as she doesn’t enjoy being around Harrow, it’s gotta look bad on your résumé if your job was to protect your boss, and you fail, right? And there’s still that things where if Gideon helps Harrow succeed, Harrow gets to be a Lyctor, and Gideon gets her freedom, and then soon people are calling her on the horn all the time, and she’s gotta show up at shopping centers for openings and sign autographs and shit like that.
So as much as she hates Gideon, Harrow hates losing even more, so she begrudgingly agrees to let Gideon help her, and even smiles at her, which is worse than when she isn’t smiling, making her look like the Grinch or Yzma or someone equally evil. But, she warns Gideon, if she accompanies her, “you may die by violence, or you simply may lose your soul.” Teacher’s words, not her. And the possibility of violence-slash-death makes Gideon even more excited to get started. Silly necromancer, violence is for Gids.
So the following morning, Harrow insists they head out to try and beat the test again, even though she looks like death. (In her defense, she always looks like death.) She and Gideon quietly sneak through the shadows to the hatch, to avoid alerting any of the other adepts to their plan. Because if Andrew gets up, they’ll all get up, and it will be anarchy.
Once they’re down the hatch, it’s so dark that even two residents of the Ninth House have to remove their sunglasses and veil in order to see. Harrow guides Gideon through the door marked ‘Laboratory Two.’ (“Gideon, you can have this life-size cutout of Lady Dulcinea, or you can have whatever is behind door number two. What’s it going to be?”)
The room was obviously at one time a functioning lab, but now it’s just an empty room, with shelves void of books or papers, and rows of unused electrical sockets. Along one wall is entirely glass, and behind that is a door marked ‘Response’ and a glowing green light next to the word ‘Occupied.’ The floor of this room is filled with the broken bits of Harrow’s skeletons, and the other door to the room, marked ‘Imaging,’ is smeared with old bloody handprints. Sounds like a good time, right?
When Gideon tries to open the door to that room, Harrow leads her to a pedestal of reflective black glass that gives off green sparks when Harrow passes her hand over it. When she presses her hand directly to the glass, it covers her hand like a cage. She now has Gideon to get in behind the room and be her eyes, since Harrow can’t leave the controls and see what is happening in the room at the same time.
So with Gideon in place, Harrow shows her what happens when she sends a skeleton into that room. She conjures up a fresh skeleton with bone magic and sends it into the room. When the Imaging door closes, Harrow places her hand on the pedestal and the Response door opens. As Gideon presses herself to the glass to watch closely, the room quickly fills with fog, and seconds later, an enormous, grotesque creature emerges from the clouds. It’s all bone spurs and horns, with too many legs, glowing green eyes, and two giant swords where its arms should be. It sounds like a skeleton scorpion-spider hybrid from an early Peter Jackson movie, or like Bowser and Skeletor had a baby. Or it’s possibly the newest member of Gwar.
Whatever the thing is, it makes short work of Harrow’s skeleton in two blows, and then melts away into a drain in the floor, like some kind of monster soup. (Personally, I like the monster soup with stars.)
Now, a giant spiky Gwar monster might put off most people. But not our Gideon! The monster has swords, and that’s all that has registered in the chewy nougat center of her brain. She wants to fight it, and tells Harrow, “Put me in, coach, I’m ready to slay.” Harrow is not as agreeable, but after trying and failing several more times, she tells Gideon she’s up at bat.
Gideon enters the room and readies her stance. She gets a bit dizzy suddenly, but shakes it off. When the monster forms out of the fog, she hears Harrow making noises just as she barely avoids being struck by the creature. She’s happy to learn that even though the monster looks impossibly strong, its blows are not nearly as powerful as she expected, so she can block them.
The bad news is that it was almost impossible to damage, thanks to its powers of regeneration. She cuts off its blades, only to watch them grow back into place. She keeps chipping away at it, fighting off its swords, and trying to figure out how to stop it. Harrow keeps yelling to her through the speakers, but she’s not really sure what she’s saying, until Harrow tells her to close one eye, and against her better judgement, Gideon does.
Suddenly, she can see a shimmering light from the corner of her eye. It hovers around the monster construct, like it’s protecting it. But fighting it with one eye closed is too hard, so she opens them both back up. The monster manages to hit her hard on the shoulder, and knock her against the wall. Gideon fears its going to get in another lucky blow but then – monster soup. The thing melts down the drain.
Harrow has pulled her hand from the panel. She has learned enough today, thanks to Gideon’s help. She’s sure the monster is the test, and explains to Gideon that she could see what was happening in the room through Gideon’s eyes, and was even helping her move.
Gideon isn’t super-thrilled about this, because she doesn’t want to be Harrow’s meat puppet. She doesn’t want her poking around in her head and rummaging through her thoughts, which are quite dirty and probably involve Lady Dulcinea. But Harrow tells her she has no interested in mind reading, and don’t be stupid, Griddle, and also, hey, she knows what they need to do now, but first, she’s going to faint.
Gideon meant to catch her. But these things happen. And with Harrow unconscious at the end of another chapter, that brings us to the end of today’s post!
Wasn’t that so WILD?!? When I first read chapter fourteen, I had to put the book down and just soak in it for a minute. You’ve got an ancient laboratory and a bone-monster hanging out in a room like some giant Gothra hall monitor, who can be turned on and off like some live-action video game. It’s just bananapants.
What’s going to happen next? Will we learn why Harrow calls Gideon ‘Griddle?’ Will Gideon have to fight anymore of their fellow adepts? Will they defeat the monster only to find out the princess is in another castle?
Join me next week as I run down chapters fifteen and sixteen in all their weird-ass glory! Same Gwar time, same Gwar channel.