It’s time for another close read of Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir! And just in time, too. I don’t know about you, but I welcome the distraction right now. My brain is spinning like a top! So I’m your host, Violet Sharp, and today I’ll be running down chapters nineteen and twenty of the badassest space lesbian swordfighting adventure to ever grace the page.
Before we start, just a quick reminder that you should check out these chapters on your own first, if you don’t want them spoiled for you. Because I will do it, just try me. Don’t make me pull this post over.
When last we left our ghoulish hero and her necrowitch, they had failed to revive Sir Magnus and Lady Abigail. Then Teacher chastised them for messing with ghosts in the lower floors, they argued about what to do about the deaths, and Harrow reminded Gideon they had to get a move on, because she was still going to win the contest, monsters and ghosts be damned.
So now Gideon and Harrow have the key that was their prize for beating the big bad down in the hatch. Harrow consults her maps and books as to where to use it. They notice tiny markings on the bottom that easily solve this riddle: they read ‘X-203.’ So off they go to the door, Gideon more nervous, now that they’ve established there is something bad in the; Harrow, more paranoid that someone will beat them there.
Upon arriving at the door, Harrow instructs Gideon to unlock it, and she does. It swings open into a dark room. Neither of them thought to bring a flashlight, but Harrow finds the switch for the overhead lights and turns them on.
The lights reveal a study that looks like someone just left it recently. The decorations sound a bit like Hannibal Lecter’s office on the television show, plus a laboratory. There are maps, and diagrams, shelves of leather-bound books, bones used for decorations. There was also a sword rack holding two rapiers and a training floor, and even a few ancient guns. And it also holds a staircase that leads to another level full of books, plus two beds.
While Gideon is poking around, Harrow finds the Rosetta stone of monster fighting: a granite tablet with the whole theorem for the trial room. Gideon finds an ancient letter with the seal of the Second House on it, and both she and Harrow come to the conclusion that this place once housed a necromancer and a cavalier, and Harrow explains that something has been cast on the room to keep it in such good shape, because whoa, is it old.
In the midst of all this, Gideon becomes remarkably sad, because she remembers Magnus is dead, and he was so nice to her. And things take a scary turn, because Harrow attempts to be nice to her. She tells Gideon she wants her to trust her, and Gideon, horrified, tells Harrow she must be worthy of trusting and also, ew, David, please can they stop talking about this? She doesn’t want them to end up friends. (Episode 666: The One With the Bone Construct. “Could he be any harder to kill?”)
They head back to their room to get a good night’s rest, and only encounter the Fourth House teens in their travels, who are too busy in their mission to notice Gideon and Harrow scuttling like roaches in the shadows. And later that night, while Harrow sleeps, Gideon pulls an ancient piece of parchment that she stole from the study out of her pocket that she stole from the study. It contains a couple dozen words, forming a mysterious partial message, and includes the name “Gideon.” DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN.
So now it’s morning, and Gideon and Harrow are making their way back down the hatch ladder. Harrow is sure that there are more tests for them down there to solve, and possibly more keys to obtain. Gideon is barely awake and fed, so she’s slogging along. To get back to where they were before they found the bodies, they have to step over the blood the bodies left behind. And just as they finish that task, they run into Lady Swoony McCoughypants. Or Lady Dulcinea, as she’s actually called. She’s moving around on crutches, with her lumbering ape of a cavalier following behind her.
Harrow isn’t thrilled to see Dulcinea, and is even less thrilled when she tells the Ninth that she thinks the four of them ought to team up. Dulcinea goes on to explain that she’s actually completed one of the theorem labs, but she doesn’t think she’s physically strong enough to tackle the next one alone. Gideon is sure Harrow will tell Dulcinea to go pound sand, so she has the shock of her life when Harrow actually agrees.
Of course, Harrow is only doing it because if they don’t agree, then someone else will, and that might put them ahead of the Ninth House. So no worries, Harrow is still a disagreeable bitch, she’s just also good at plotting.
Dulcinea is delighted and leads them down the halls to Laboratories Seven-Ten. There’s a giant crack right down the middle of the floor of the first lab they have to cross. Protesalius carries Dulcinea over, and then Gideon helps Harrow across. Pro and Harrow go farther up ahead, which leaves Dulcinea to gossip about how Pro is fighting Colum the Eighth over the slight the night before. And by slight, I mean when Pro punched Silas in the face for sucking the souls out of the room.
It’s a pleasant little stroll but now they’re back to the spookiness: they all arrive at a door with human teeth decorating the top, and they have to each give Dulcinea a bit of their blood so they can pass go and collect $200, because she warded the place earlier.
They are now in some sort of gray metal chamber, with a yellow-and-black stripe running up the floor. It sounds like a room where they crash test dummies. The mannequins, not the band. On the other side of the stripe is some sort of invisible ward that makes Harrow’s hand go all dead and wrinkly when she crosses it. (Unrelated: Remember the poster for House?)
Dulcinea has figured out that there are two spells here, overlapping. Harrow doesn’t believe it, but not even her bone magic can cross the lines, and soon she’s bleeding blood from the effort. She has Gideon try tossing bones across the line, but they turn into powder faster than the bathroom sink counter at Studio 54.
As Harrow and Dulcinea debate what to do, it is learned that they were not Dulcinea’s first choice as partners. She asked Palamedes to take a look at it, who turned her down, and may have asked the Eighth House, if Pro hadn’t punched one of them. But now she’s here with Harrow, and they spend a few pages hashing out what is the best way to get rid of this ward. TL;DR (too long, didn’t rehash): Harrow is going to have to siphon Gideon in order for it to work. Having a cavalier is also like having a portable battery!
But there’s a catch: it’s going to be a life-or-death ordeal, for both of them. If the connection should be severed at any point after Harrow starts siphoning Gideon before they are finished, Harrow will die. So Gideon can’t just say, “Ugh, this sucks, I’m out” because it will kill Harrow. And that’s going to be hard for Gideon, because it’s going to hurt. But Gideon loves a challenge. She loves stabbing things more, but failing that, a challenge will do.
But, wow, does it suck, no pun intended. Once Harrow gets going with the siphoning, every bit of Gideon aches, but she also feels electrified, and at the same time feels like she’s drying up and decaying. She goes in and out of consciousness, and long story short, using Gideon’s essence, Harrow is able to retrieve the key, while Dulcinea tells Gideon that she’s not allowed to die, as much as she feels like she wants to at that moment. After all, this is like Pit of Despair-level essence sucking.
But even with Dulcinea cheering her on, Gideon is sure she’s going to die, and then she hears Harrow calling her name, and she comes out of it, realizing it’s the first time Harrow hasn’t called her Griddle. Awwww. That’s one hell of a meet-cute.
Harrow demands Lady Dulcinea scram now, which she does, after much more cooing over poor, drained Gideon. Harrow submitted to the partnership, but won’t stand for it a moment longer than necessary. She and Gideon limp back to their room, looking like Bruce Willis and Bonnie Bedelia at the end of Die Hard. Eyelashes are missing, face paint has melted off, their hair is shorter – all because of the soul sucking. But they have a new key, which they will turn over to Dulcinea after they use it. And they also have, whoa, could it be? It seems Gideon and Harrow just might have a newfound respect for one another. But first: they sleep.
And that’s the end of chapter twenty! Poor Gideon really took a pounding in that one. She was toasted like a human Pop Tart, but she’s tough, our Griddle.
What do you think the note that Gideon found is about? What do you think they will find behind the door they open with their new key. Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyy does Harrow call Gideon ‘Griddle’? Learn (some of) these things and more, when I return next week with a breakdown of chapters twenty-one and twenty-two! Until then, ladles and jellyspoons, be safe, stay inside, wash your hands, and watch out for bone constructs.
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.