It’s time for another close read of Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir! I’m your host, Trentin Quarantino, and today I’ll be running down chapters twenty-one and twenty-two for your amusement.
How is everyone doing out there? I hope you are all as well as you can be, readers, and that you’re not holed up anywhere that has a giant monster bone construct. (Ha, ha, it sounds dirty when I say it.)
Before we start, just a quick reminder that in this post I will be spoility-spoility-spoility down the spoiler trail, so if you haven’t read these chapters yet, you might want to do that first.
When we last left our necro-hero, Gideon, Harrow had just basically killed her. She used Gideon’s life force to cross the yellow-and-black line in the trial in the lab. In doing so, Harrow was able to thwart the spells protecting the key and retrieve it.
But I don’t think I stressed enough last time just how close to death Gideon was. I mean, she was basically dead. She experienced tremendous pain like never before, and slipped away from consciousness towards death. She was almost bereft of life, had almost ceased to be. She was almost an ex-parrot.
But she didn’t die, as much as she felt like it. Although her near-miss caused even Harrow, her sworn nemesis, to show concern. And now as this chapter opens, she wakes up back in her room, and finds notes from Harrow.
The notes inform Gideon that Harrow has taken their new key and gone to inspect the new laboratory it will access. (You didn’t really think she’d be able to sit on her hands and wait for Gideon to recover, did you?) Harrow demands Gideon stay in her room and speak to no one except Palamedes, who will be coming by to check on her, on account of all that almost-dying. And also, she left Gideon some bread in a drawer. Basically, Gideon is like a hamster that Harrow has left in her apartment while she goes on vacation.
While Gideon is trying to pull herself together and get cleaned up, which in her state is like trying to remove the dents from a totaled car with a hair brush, Camilla the Sixth arrives. She checks Gideon’s vision and asks her a few questions about her general health, to make sure she’s not still going to expire soon.
And while she agrees that Gideon seems fine, Camilla, like Harrow, finds that more concerning because she should really still be mostly dead. Camilla tells Gideon the reason Palamedes refused to help Lady Dulcinea with the spell is because he thought it would cause Camilla permanent brain damage, if not kill her. But somehow, Gideon is okay. Hmmmm.
Despite being instructed by Harrow to remain in her room, Camilla helps Gideon slap on some face paint, and takes her to get more food. They come upon Coronabeth arguing with Teacher about keys. Remember how Ianthe admitted to having one, and Coronabeth was shocked that she kept it from her? Well, they must not have worked it out, because now Coronabeth wants her own key, but Teacher tells her it’s one key per house, so she’s out of luck. She asks for Magnus the Fifth’s key, but Teacher admits it is missing.
Palamedes offers to take Coronabeth down to the trials himself. This displeases Camilla. Coronabeth asks Palamedes not just for an escort, but to help her get all the keys, and in return, she will make the Sixth House wealthy, and give them anything they could want. But Palamedes declines. He can only show her where she needs to go. Besides, each key is unique to the person who finds it, and there are very few unclaimed ones left now.
Gideon had not realized this, and now wonders how Lady Dulcinea plans to use the new key they retrieved together after Harrow is done with it. Coronabeth also notes that it means no one can really win, if they all hold different unique pieces of the puzzle. Teacher agrees, and even concedes that there is no Imperial law in the First House. There is nothing stopping them from murdering each other to get the keys. That’s reassuring, lol.
Coronabeth runs off to tell Ianthe what she has learned. Palamedes questions Teacher a bit about Magnus the Fifth’s key, learning he received it shortly before his and Lady Abigail’s untimely demise. Palamedes tells Gideon and Camilla to come with him, and they follow him through a door into a pantry off the dining hall, where they encounter Captain Deuteros.
Deuteros and Palamedes argue. She thinks he is a fool, but also wants him to work with her so they can end the trial quickly. He declines. It appears for a moment that there’s going to be a fight, but then the Second storms off. This allows Palamedes to continue with what he originally planned, and he leads Camilla and Gideon to the morgue. It’s a good place for a secret discussion, right? I mean, no one there is talking.
There is more discussion of keys, and how Palamedes has known they were unique all along, and how he’s pretty sure people are going to start doing horrible things to each other to retrieve them, and oh, hey, he also takes the wedding ring off Magnus’s finger and also cuts his pockets off his clothes to work a spell to try and find the Fifth’s key ring using the object’s energy. (Who among us hasn’t done this spell?)
Palamedes takes Gideon into his confidence: He tells her he is sure the Fifth house necromancer and cavalier died of more than a fall. But before they can finish their thoughts, they are interrupted by a sound. Someone was listening at the door, and they catch just enough of a glimpse to know it was the Fourth House teens.
“Poor dumb kids,” Gideon said, all of four years their elder.
“Do you think so?” Palamedes, surprising her. “I don’t. I often find myself wondering just how dangerous they really are.”
DUN-DUN-DUNNNNNNNNNNN. And scene.
So much went on in this chapter that when you get to the end of the book, you will realize, “Ohhhhhhhhhh, now that makes sense.” There was so much arguing and drama. And it has now been established that no one should be trusted, in case anyone had planned on trusting anyone to begin with.
Once again, Gideon finds herself alone in her room, doing her exercises, while Harrow is off doing whatever she is doing. She doesn’t return that evening, and Gideon fills the time working with her sword, then takes a long, luxurious bath.
She falls asleep after her bath and wakes up nine hours later to find Harrow has returned to her room. She is in bed and refuses to get up, despite Gideon’s insistence that they need to discuss what she has learned. So Gideon gets dressed and takes herself to breakfast.
But before she can get there, Isaac from the Fourth House requests her assistance. He looks like hell warmed up, and tells Gideon that Jeannemary needs her and that someone’s dead. That’s all he says before turning, and Gideon decides to follow him. He brings Gideon to the pool, which is now filled with water, and is occupied with swimmers. He asks Coronabeth the same as he asked Gideon. Again he refuses to say more, and now several people are following behind him, some out of curiosity and some as protection.
Jeannemary is out on one of the terraces, in front of an incinerator that has obviously been used recently. It’s still smoking. She’s annoyed by all the people, when she had only requested Gideon and Coronabeth, but it’s too late now. They are obvious cremains. They can’t belong to one of the skeleton servants, because as Isaac points out, there is fat and tissue in there. Yum. And it has already been ascertained that Magnus and Abigail’s bodies are still in the morgue, so whose cremains are they???
This dissolves into arguing again, and eventually the group mostly breaks up. Jeannemary tells Gideon and Coronabeth that she only wanted to show them, because Magnus had liked them. Basically, she was warning them that things are still murdery around the ol’ spooky house.
The rest of the day is gray and boring. There is a big rainstorm; Harrow never gets up from her sleep; the duel between the Seventh and Eighth house is off because the Seventh never showed up, and they’re not in their quarters. (Remember a few chapters back, Protesilaus punched the Eighth necromancer, so he had to fight the Eighth cavalier?)
Gideon learns about the duel’s cancellation from Camilla at dinner, so she goes to check on Lady Dulcinea and her hulking bodyguard. She finds her lady crush sprawled across the conservatory floor, soaked through from the rain and near death. And just before she faints, Lady Dulcinea says, “He never came back.”
Can I get an even bigger DUN-DUN-DUNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN?
Holy cats, what a place to end! And we’re only halfway through the book. So. Many. Questions. Who took Magnus’s key ring? How can someone win the position of Lyctor if no one has all the keys they need? Who is the ashy mess in the incinerator on the terrace? What the hell was Harrow up to this time?
Learn (some of) these answers and more, when I return next week with a breakdown of chapters twenty-three and twenty-four! Until then, be safe, stay inside, wash your bones, and read on.
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.