Holy undead cats, it’s already time for another close read of Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir! I’m your host, Cowntess, and today I’ll be recapping chapters fifteen and sixteen. These chapters include both work and play for the Ninth, and end with a big cliffhanger leading into Act Three!
Before we start, just a quick reminder that you should check out these chapters on your own. Otherwise, if at first you do not read, they’ll be spoiled, spoiled again!
When last we left our intrepid Ninth cavalier and her surly necromancer, they had been fighting the bone construct from Hell. And while they didn’t actually defeat it, Harrow got enough of a look at it to formulate ideas on how they will destroy it. But first, she fainted.
So now they’re back in their dark, dank room. Gideon is bemoaning the fact that she can’t fight the monster with her longsword, which she secretly stashed in her luggage before they left. Harrow tells her it doesn’t matter, because she doesn’t have one. Which delights Gideon, because it means that Harrow hasn’t found her hiding spot.
Gideon asks Harrow how exactly fighting the love child of Skeletor and Krang is supposed to be a test. Harrow explains that this uber-bone construct is not the result of one necromancer theorem, but several, all woven together. And since Harrow can’t get close enough to take it apart without it punching her lights out, she’s going to use Gideon to unravel it. It’s just a little more difficult to do from inside Gideon’s brain.
They’d probably fight about the fact that Harrow wants to go back and try again, even though she’s hasn’t rested enough, but just then, the giggly teenagers of the Fourth House slip an envelope under their door and scurry off.
It’s an invitation: Lady Abigail and Sir Magnus of the Fifth House are hosting a dinner party in honor of their eleventh wedding anniversary. Harrow is vehemently opposed to attending, but Gideon is all, “PARTY TIME! EXCELLENT!” Especially because the invite also mentions that there will be dessert. And since it is addressed to both of them, Harrow can’t really stop her from going.
Harrow tells Gideon that she is an idiot – what if the party is a trick? What if the Fifth House poisons everyone so they can win the First House test without any competition. Gideon says if that’s how she feels, she’ll eat Harrow’s dessert too. Mmmmmm, competitor poison.
Okay, Harrow asks, but what if they go to dinner, and some of the other houses don’t attend but instead use that time to pull ahead of them in the competition? Gideon assures her that everyone will be in attendance, for diplomacy’s sake.
So Harrow begrudgingly agrees to go to dinner, which is a little alarming to Gideon. Because, come to think of it, she hasn’t been ridiculously awful to her in a while, which is more upsetting than if she was. Gideon is sure it has to be coming. Maybe after the party she’ll unleash her Carla on her Diane.
In the meantime, they get gussied up for dinner. Gideon paints her face and dons her robes, and Harrow applies her facepaint and wraps herself in layers of black lace like an undead Stevie Nicks.
When they arrive at the dinner, they are greeted by Magnus, who is genuinely happy to see them, as always. He brings them in the kitchen and introduces them to his wife, Abigail, the Fifth House necromancer, who has an intense stare. “But she was wearing an apron and it was hard to feel intimidated by her.”
Teacher, the little weirdo, is excited to see them, of course. Teacher could be told he had to have his intestines removed with a grapefruit spoon, and he would be excited. Nothing deters the odd little man. He has a chat with Harrow, sharing bits of information and gossip about the other guests.
Once everyone has arrived, they are all seated at the table. The Fifth has switched up the seating so people who might not normally interact can talk to one another. Harrow is internally all “thanks, I hate it.” Gideon is seated between Palamedes (the Sixth necromancer) and Jeannemary (the Fourth cavalier), and directly across from her crush, Lady Dulcinea, who blows her kisses.
Magnus makes a short speech, and a terrible joke, and then finally the food is served. First is soup, which Gideon tucks away as fast as she can, even as the skeletons refill her bowl, while listening to bits of her neighbor’s conversations. Don’t forget that as far as the other Houses are concerned, Gideon doesn’t speak, even though Palamedes and his cavalier heard her talk down in the hatch. So Gideon doesn’t have to make conversation and is free to stuff her face.
The other guests are discussing food, customs, heritage, and historical records. None of it interesting to Gideon. Ianthe is talking about the birth of herself and her sister, and once again, her cavalier interrupts to defend her sister, and the two have a bit of a back and forth. Gideon hears someone else at the table mention swords, a discussion she would very much like to hear, but just then, someone tugged on her sleeve.
It’s Jeannemary, who asks to see her biceps, and Gideon obliges. Literal weird flex, but okay. Then she gets back to shoving as much food in her mouth as she can. She’s like Will Farrell in Elf, just eating serving after serving of everything that is set in front of her. After all, when will she be allowed to attend a dinner party again?
As the skeletons clear away the dishes, Dulcinea flirts with Gideon a little more and teases her about flexing her muscles for Jeannemary (who can be heard arguing with her necromancer that her arms aren’t as big as they should be.)
Dulcinea starts to say something interesting about the Houses, how different they are than they used to be, full of suspicion where there used to be peace. She makes a comment about how she’s drawn a conclusion about the situation they were in, but before she can tell Gideon what that conclusion is, they are interrupted by Palamedes. (Now we’ll never know what state Springfield is in!)
Palamedes is checking on Lady Dulcinea. He brings her tea, and attends to her like she’s a waiter. Just her. Gideon can go pound sand, for all he cares. He makes his exit, but Gideon doesn’t get to have any further conversation with her crush, because Harrow appears at her side, and drags her out of the room. She needs Gideon to go with her to fight the monster RIGHTTHISVERYMINUTE, because she thinks Abigail has also figured out there is something down the hatch, so Harrow wants to beat the monster before she does. Gideon has eaten her own weight in delicious food, and isn’t up for fighting, but she can tell that Harrow is not in the mood to be trifled with, so off they go. And that concludes chapter fifteen.
This is a very short chapter but a lot of important things happen!
So here Gideon is again, in the room with the enormous bone construct from the fog. What is that fog, anyway? Because my brain has been working out ways that the First House is on a desiccated Earth, I am imagining it is some Crystal Pepsi that was left to sit too long and became self-aware. (Yep, that’s what it’s like in my brain, all. the. time.)
Back to the fight. Gideon is in the room with the monster, and Harrow is looking at it through Gideon’s eyes, literally. She instructs Gideon to do exactly as she tells her. Harrow has figured out what parts she should hit with her sword, and in what order. It’s like stabbing in your code of the ATM, except instead of getting money, you get monster death.
Gideon follows Harrow’s directions to a T-bone, and as quick as you can say “tibia schmibia,” the monster falls to pieces. Not like monster soup, but this time like monster sand, which is how they know it’s different. And when the sand crumbles away, there’s a gleaming black box in its place, which clicks open and reveals a key.
This is exciting! Harrow is so pleased with the results, she actually compliments Gideon on her fighting, which Harrow experienced firsthand when she took over her body. Now Gideon knows she’s in trouble, or maybe Harrow has hit her head from fainting, because she never gives Gideon a compliment. But she’ll have to worry about that later because right now, to the door!
I know I’ve asked you before to remember the one thing that Teacher told them about the rules: do not open any locked door without permission. And Harrow has found a few locked doors in her travels. So even though Harrow is completely drained of Gummi Bear juice, and Gideon is still so full from dinner that she might hurl, they head to the special door with the markings that Gideon had seen in her earlier travels.
What could be behind the door? A new car? Their shuttle? A centaur? The Emperor himself? It doesn’t matter, because they’re not going to find out. Because there, at the bottom of the ladder that goes up out of the hatch, are two piles of laundry. And by laundry, I mean dead bodies. Lady Abigail Pent and Sir Magnus Quinn of the Fifth House, to be exact.
Annnnnnnd that’s the end of chapter sixteen, and the second act.
What an ending! When you first read that there were bodies on the floor, who did you think it would be? What a bummer that it’s Magnus, the only person who has been nice and diplomatic to everyone. Who killed them, do you think? Another contestant? Another Crystal Pepsi monster? Do you think a necromancer will be able to do magic and bring them back to life?
I, myself, am pretty excited about dead bodies, because I’m a morbid little monkey, and because it means things are going to get serious. Like, more serious than a giant deadly bone toddler made out of fog. Someone or something isn’t effing around! And now it’s a space-goth puzzle house with a murder mystery!
Who will be turned into floor laundry next??? Stay tuned as next week we start Act Three and I run down chapters seventeen and eighteen! 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.