Publisher: Tor (September 10, 2019)
Genre: YA fantasy/sci-fi
She held out the key to Gideon. "Put it in the hole, Griddle."
"That's what she said," said Gideon.
Necromancers and space ships and swordfighting, oh my!
Gideon is a damned good swordswoman. That's literally the only reason Harrow needs her. In order to become an immortal and all-powerful Necromancer servant of the emperor, and in so doing save her house, she must have a cavalier. Eight houses from eight planets, eight necromancers, eight cavaliers. And an unknown number of trials to win.
The only problem (well, at least the most pressing one) is that Harrow and Gideon are mortal enemies. A cavalier should be a necromancer's shadow. They should know each others' every move, every mannerism, should be able to communicate with a look. So not only must Harrow and Gideon NOT kill each other, but they must also fake it till they make it.
I absolutely loved Gideon. First, what a badass name. Her attitude is stunning. And with the sunglasses, I picture her as a kind of female Crowley (via Good Omens.) I actually like Harrow, though I don't think I'm supposed to at first. She's an entire asshat, but she's just trying to hold her house together, and I find her strangely intriguing. You know how I am with a morally ambiguous character. These women are definitely that.
I'll admit that the book starts off a bit slow. I found myself a third of the way through without fully understanding what was going on. And it took quite a while into the book though to make me fully understand WHY Gideon hates Harrow so much. And why Harrow hates her. It's coming, I promise. (Shit really starts to get real around Chapter 24.) But it picked up after that, so I was happy that I stuck with it. If you're into the enemies to friends trope, you'll love this one.
At first I thought this would be an action book, with all of the swords and necromancy and such. But it's really more of a murder mystery, just a really sci-fi gothic whodunnit.
What I liked the most about this book was the language. Tamsyn Muir managed to patch together sci-fi, gothic fantasy, and modern lingo. It's hilarious and relatable and fun. Here are some of my favorite quotes:
"Thanks for backing me up, my midnight hagette," said Gideon, placing her back down.....Gideon belatedly wished to be exploded, but reminded herself to act cool. "I appreciate it, my crepuscular queen."
It's almost physically painful for them to be nice to each other.
"Nav, show them what the Ninth House does." Gideon lifted her sword... "We do bones, motherfucker."
Hell yes they do.
The last thing I'll say here is, that ending. It's going to catch you off guard hard core. Be prepared. My exact words upon finishing were, "you must be FUCKING KIDDING ME!" *throws book across the room*
5/5, any book I throw gets an automatic 5 stars. (I've told you before, my blog, my rating system!)
PLOT SUMMARY (as detailed as I can be so beware of spoilers)
In preparation for Nona the Ninth and in recognition that Tamsyn Muir is way smarter than the rest of us griddles (wink, nudge,) I'm rereading and adding a plot summary to Gideon and Harrow. Here we go:
The book opens on Gideon attempting to escape from the necromantic Ninth House, which she has been at since birth. She is waiting on a shuttle she has plotted for months to get to come get her. Her mother came down in a shuttle not intended for humans with a box intended for live organ transfers, and inside was a baby. The nuns tried to bring her back with necromancy, and she came back only to scream "GIDEON! GIDEON! GIDEON!" and die again.
So the Ninth House raised the baby, calling her Gideon, as a vassal (aka indentured servant not just for life but also afterwards when she becomes an animated corpse for the necromantic house) for Harrowhark, their princess, daughter, and asshole of the highest order.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus and Gideon Nav are the only children on the Ninth planet - we don't know why but everyone else is old or dying.
Harrow catches Gideon in the escape and offers her a challenge: if Gideon (the best swordswoman the Ninth has seen in an age) duels Harrow and wins, Harrow will give her the purchase of her commission, essentially giving her freedom from imprisonment on Drearburh, the horrible decrepit bone chilling (literally) castle she's spent her life in, literally only there so that the other eight houses can send their worst prisoners, the ones they'd like to forget about, to the prison above the planet. A prison which claims NOT to every have had Gideon's mother as a guest. If Gideon loses -she still gets the papers, but she has to come to the muster meeting (necromantic church sermon) before she goes.
Unable to turn down the deal, Gideon (aka Griddle) accepts. Harrow promptly rips skeleton powder from the ground (which she spent the night before burying, the utter cretin) and turns it into an army of skeletons to beat the shit out of Gideon.
During this banter, we learn that Harrow's parents are dead. She, Gideon, the captain of the guard Aiglamene, and the marshal Crux know, but everyone else remains ignorant, because Harrow is keeping them intact somehow, animating their bodies and making up bold lies (vows of silence, solitude, anything to keep people from interacting with them) to keep the disintegrating Ninth going.
At the muster, Gideon learns that The Emperor, Necromancer Divine, has called on the Houses to send him the first fruits of their households to compete for the position of Lyctor, his first line of defense. If Harrow wins, she could save her house. But she must have a cavalier, a swordsman to protect her back while she performs her necromancy. Ortus, a thirty-something oaf whose mommy still wipes his chin, is the closest to Harrow's age, and is her house cavalier. When the announcement is made, his mother is horrified, she will not sacrifice her poor sweet idiot of a son (who will probably get Harrow killed because he's an absolutely worthless swordsman.) After the muster Gideon finds out that Ortus and his mother have taken the shuttle that was waiting on her to escape the planet, and that Harrow knew they would, and gleefully crushes Gideon's dreams of escape. She really does hate Griddle, we don't know why yet. Griddle seemingly only hates Harrow because Harrow hates her. Harrow then ropes Gideon into being her cav, after promising a fortune and freedom, and Aiglamene guaranteeing Harrow will keep her promise, no tricks. Aiglamene is the one person Gideon trusts on this godforsaken planet. She agrees. They arrive at the First Planet, which is abandoned except for some priests and some very complex skeleton constructs to serve them. Harrow tells everyone Gideon has taken a vow of silence so that she doesn't say anything stupid to give them away. They find out that even the Teacher (the head priest) has no idea how they become Lyctors, the challenge is that they must figure it out. Everyone is understandably pissed. And they mystery ensues.
Perhaps this is the time to introduce the other houses.
The Emperor, Necromancer Divine, Necrolord Prime, the Resurrector
The Priesthood of Canaan House
SECOND HOUSE (The Emperor's Strength)
Judith Deuteros, Captain of the Cohort, tries to boss everyone about
Marta Dyas, Cav, these are front line warriors and are used to fighting. They also have a chip on their shoulders about being Second House
THIRD HOUSE (Mouth of the Emperor)
Coronabeth Tridentarius, Crown Princess, and hottie extraordinaire, “the Golden twin or the Bright twin”
Ianthe Tridentarius, Princess, a pallid sharp twin of Coronabeth and sneaky bitch
Naberius Tern “Babs,” their bouffant and whiny Cav
FOURTH HOUSE (The Emperor's Sword - Vanguard)
Isaac Tettares, Baron of Tisis
Jeannemary Chatur, Cav - both are shy teenagers
FIFTH HOUSE (Heart of the Emperor)
Abigail Pent, Lady of Koniortos, married her Cav
Magnus Quinn, Cav and Senechal, he looks after the Fourth teens
SIXTH HOUSE (Master Wardens)
Palamedes Sextus, Master Warden of the Library, primary competition according to Harrow
Camilla Hect, Cav, looks like a librarian with an antique sword because...well she is one
SEVENTH HOUSE (Joy of the Emperor)
Dulcinea Septimus, Duchess of Rhodes, she's sick of a genetic degenerative disease and likely won't live through the trials
Protesilaus Ebdoma, Cav, a big brute that basically is Dulcinea's nursemaid.
EIGHT HOUSE (Keepers of Tome, the Forgiving House)
Silas Octakiseron, Master Templar of the White Glass, a knife faced mayonnaise colored grievously serious teenager and uncle to his Cav
Colum Asht, Cav, robust old man missing a finger, battery for his necro
NINTH HOUSE (Keepers of the Locked Tomb, no we don't know what's inside)
Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of Drearburh (pronounced Dree-a-buh) and Asshole Apparent
Gideon Nav, sarcastic and unwilling Cav who reads titty mags for the articles
Some quick Muirinology:
Thanergy: the energy generated by a death
Thalergy: comes from living things
Coronabeth sets up duels as entertainment. Gideon duels with Magnus and beats him easily. She then spars Babs and he is so perfect with his technique that he disarms her. She punches him not knowing the duel is over - the rules have not been explained to her. Hect says Babs is the winner but Gideon is the better fighter. Now he has a personal grudge instead of just general assholery.
Harrow goes missing. Gideon finds her with the help of the Sixth. Harrow has encased herself in bone. She explains she was fighting a construct blindly (she puts her hand on a pad and the battle ensues in another room where she cannot see.) At first Gideon is her eyes and explains the battle, but after hours of this boredom and watching Harrow bleed from her nose and eyes in exhaustion, Gideon stupidly jumps in to fight it and Harrow figures out the challenge is to possess her Cav to see through her eyes and show Gideon how to pluck the necromancy that holds the construct together, apart.
They are invited to dinner to celebrate Magnus and Abigail’s anniversary. During dinner Gideon makes friends silently and Harrow chats with Teacher who gives her a tip. They leave quickly and go beat the construct. Gideon tells Harrow she could see the be necromantic ties that held the construct together and Harrow is impressed but doesn’t understand how that happened, the challenge was more than it appeared. Harrow develops an appreciation for Gideon as a fighter. Awkwardness.
On their way out they find Abigail and Magnus dead.
Everyone tries to animate Magnus and Abigail and it doesn’t work until Silas comes and uses his Cav/much older nephew as a battery to sucks soul energy from him and brings something back… Dulcinea starts screaming so Gideon goes and grabs her, her knight punches Silas in the face. Teacher tells them there are monsters and to get the FUCK out of that area of the castle.
Everyone demands a murder investigation but Teacher says it was probably a monster. Teacher says they cannot call for help, it’s against the rules of the trial. Some of them agree that it was probably a monster from things they've seen, but Second is especially suspicious.
The key they got when they beat the construct leads to a room where a necromancer and their Cav lived. They find a paper with the formula to the possession and Harrow wants to study it. Gideon is upset about Magnus because he was nice to her. Harrow tells Gideon they need to work together because they might be all that keeps each other alive, and they’re all the Ninth has. Gideon agrees VERY uncomfortably. Seriously any feelings except hate between these two makes both of them painfully awkward.
Gideon finds Dulcinea outside passed out in the rain without her Cav. They discover Protesilaus is missing. They've also found human remains in the incinerator, but those are 8 weeks old and there are 2 human signatures on the remains so they know it's not him. The Fourth teens are a wreck over Abigail and Magnus and want to go hunt the monster. Second House tries to take control by making everyone give up their keys, obviously that doesn't work. After questioning teacher, they discover that the laws that apply to the houses do not apply here. Only the first house who finishes each trial get a key, and there are limited keys, but there is no rule that the trial has to be completed for a house to use a key. Second house takes that as an invitation and challenges Sixth to a duel (thinking they're picking on the weak because - librarians.)
Camilla surprises them all by being an excellent fighter and beats the hell out of Marta. Like, embarrassingly bad. Babs immediately tries to challenge her because she took a rapier through the arm. Coronabeth is pissed but is somehow cowed by Ianthe. Gideon gives Harrow a suggestive look and Harrow casually throws out that Gideon will stand in for Camilla. Babs backs down. Gideon goes with the Fourth teens to search for Protesilaus. The lights go out except one where they see "Death to the Fourth" written in fresh blood. They encounter an absolutely massive construct who kills Isaac, who is trying to hold it off with some kind of portal necromancy, while Jean and Gideon are trying to fight it.
Gideon gets Jean to rest. She falls asleep and when she wakes up she finds Jean impaled with bones, dead, blood across the ceiling “rest”
Gideon is distraught. She wakes in the sick room with Dulcinea, who after some conversation guesses that Gideon isn’t really a Cav, but says Harroe doesn’t even know what she has in Gid. Dulcinea mentions that dying fills someone with thanergic energy, insinuating that’s she’s far more powerful than she appears.
Sixth and Harrow make a deal to trade keys. Eighth invited Gideon to tea, tells her she’s a slave of her house. Harrow tells Gideon to stay away from Dulcinea, it makes no sense she should have a key. Gideon is pissed, they fight. Harrow pretends she still doesn’t care about Gideon. Gideon decided to betray Hatrow.
Silas tells Gideon at tea that he knows what happened to all the children who died on the Ninth. She says it’s got nothing to do with her, she was just one and Harrow wasn’t born yet. He says he knows what it will take to become a Lycyor and he won’t do it, and acts like he has the moral high ground. Then he tries to take her keys. But his Cav gave her his word she’d be safe when he took her sword at the door. She beats tail as he and Silas have a stand-off.
Gideon comes across Corona practicing with a sword. She wants to spar with Gideon. Babs comes in and is terrified and grabs Vorona, stopping her from sparring. Gideon walks away from the second conversation she doesn’t understand. Gideon goes back to her room and goes to thrash Harrows closet in anger and finds Protileous’s severed head.
Gideon brings the head to Sixth and tells him the secret. Harrow, when they were children, unlocked the locked tomb. Gideon tattled on her, and when she left the room, Harrow’s parents and their Cav hung themselves. Harrow and Camilla walk in cuffed together, he knows who killed Pro and it wasn’t Hatrow.
They confront Dulcinea. Pro died in an accident before they ever arrived. Their house specializes in freezing youth so she was able to maintain him.
Harrow brings Gideon to salt water to tell her a secret. She opened the locked tomb to kill herself, opening the locked tomb is supposed to begin the apocalypse, her parents hung themselves as a mercy and intended for Harroe to do so as well, she just didn’t. Harroe wanted to die because all the 200 children who died in her house were killed to create the thanergy for her mother to conceive the greatest nectomancet ever born to save their dying house. And no matter what H does that sacrifice can never be worth her life.
Harrow tells Gideon the truth, that what’s in the locked tomb is a girl. The one true enemy of the king, his undoing, the beast he defeated once but cannot twice. The ninth was meant to wall themselves up with the corpse and die there, but they didn’t. Their house was never meant to be. That’s also why the Eighth hates them.
Sixth and Ninth find the theorems behind the constructs that serve them - the souls themselves are powering their own skeletons. The fire alarm goes off. All the constricts have fallen apart, Teacher is dead. Second killed him trying to send out a help message to the only person they can call from the First House - the Emperor. Second both die of injuries.
Eighth says they found Abigail Pent opened up, something removed. Asht saw the Third leaving the morgue. Palamedes examines Abigail and finds that what was removed from was a key she’d hidden inside herself.
They go to find Third. Corona is crying and Ianthe has killed Babs and absorbed him - that is how you become a Lyctor. She figured it out not by solving the puzzle but from spying on the others and putting together the theorem based on the fact that there were originally 16 acolytes and then there were 8 Lyctors. Where did the 8 cavs go? She took his soul energy into herself as a battery, to power her forever. She made herself a tomb.
Eighth is so offended his Cav tries to kill Ianthe and then he tries to help (since she’s now both a swordsman and a necro.) She kills both of them.
Camilla tells Gideon and Harrow that Palamedes has been I love with Dulcinea since they were children.
Gideon goes to find Sixth, he has gone to see Dulcinea by himself. He freezes Gideon so she can’t interfere. He’s figured out that she’s not his first love - she’s the Seventh House Lyctor Cyrherea pretending to be Dulcinea so that she could lure the emperor in and kill him. She had the same genetic defect as Dulcinea and instead of Lyctorhood saving her, she’s just been dying for 10,000 years.
Palamedes tries to kill her. He dies and fails. Harrow, Gideon, Ianthe and Camilla fight Cytherea and her construct, the monster that killed the Fourth teens. But she is unkillable, she keeps regenerating. They all realize they’re about to die. Gideon tells Harrow she finally understands Cavalierhood - one life, one end, that there is no her without Harrow. She falls on iron fence spikes and kills herself to make Harrow a Lyctor in what is frankly one of the best and most heart wrenching death scenes I’ve ever read.
Harrow kills Cytherea.
She wakes on the Emperor’s ship and pledges herself to him in return for him renewing the Ninth House.