Podcast

283 – Gideon the Ninth

The Mythcreant Podcast
Today’s Hugo nominee is a spooky tale of haunted castles and grotesque monsters. Or, wait, is it a comedic romp full of genre savvy jokes and spicy double entendres? Turns out it’s both, because this episode is all about Gideon the Ninth. That means sword fights, skeletons, dirty magazines, and more quips per minute than you can handle. So sharpen your rapier and keep those bone fragments handy: it’s time to work some necromancy, in spaaaaaaaaaace!

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Gideon the Ninth

Harrow the Ninth

Tamsyn Muir

The Deepwater Bride

The Fantasy Inn: Tamsyn Muir

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Transcript

Generously transcribed by Olivia SB. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.

Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast, with your hosts Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock, and Chris Winkle. [Intro Music]

This is the Mythcreants podcast, I’m Chris and with me is-

Wes: Wes

Chris: and-

Oren: Oren

Chris: And we are all here to become Lyctors. We don’t have to compete with each other for this rare honour, but we’re still going to.

Oren: Yeah, because I don’t like any of you, so I don’t want you to be Lyctors.

Chris: It’s also very unclear how we can become Lyctors by doing this podcast, but that’s part of the challenge, because we have to figure it out.

Oren: Don’t worry though, it’s totally fine, at the end, the reveal of what was going on, will make this all make sense. “whispering” Pst, no it won’t!

Chris: So today we’re covering Gideon the Ninth in our Hugo coverage. This is a debut novel by Tamsyn Muir, who’s a writer from New Zealand. She did have a novelette, The Deep Water Bride, that got some attention, but yeah, this is her first novel. So, that’s a great start for her.

Oren: Yeah. I mean, I certainly have never gotten my first novel, a Hugo nominee, so good job.

Chris: We do have some pretty big spoilers to cover because it’s significant to the end. So I’m gonna try to get us to hold off until about the 20 minute mark, before we do the super big reveals. We can put exactly when it is in the show notes, in case anybody wants to avoid spoilers.

Oren: Also, to be clear, Wes didn’t have time to read this one, but he has been reading all of the things that we have written about it, because we have used Gideon the Ninth as an example in a lot of our articles recently.

Wes: A lot, a lot, yeah.

Oren: I’m not entirely sure why, it just happened that way.

Chris: Some works we just talk about a lot more than others. I can’t always name exactly why.

Oren: Well, I mean, I do think that this book sits in an interesting place, where it has enough good stuff in it that it is worth talking about, but it also has enough mistakes to give us something to talk about. If we are trying to create examples of problem writing, then we have a lot, but we also have stuff that is worth salvaging, which is kind of a perfect book for us: “This is a problem. This is why it hindered the good stuff that the novel had going on, and this is how we could fix it to make the good stuff work better”, as opposed to a novel that has nothing good going on, and it’s like, “Well, I mean, fixing it would require a total rewrite, so what do you want from me?”

Chris: Whereas some of the other books we’ve covered, I felt like they needed major restructuring to bring them up to their potential, with Gideon the Ninth it feels like revisions that should have been done are at a smaller scale, where if it just had one more round of content editing and revision, it would’ve made a huge difference to the book. And maybe there are a few more problems that are a little more intractable, but for the most part its flaws are at a smaller scale and it’s closer to what we would consider a great book.

Oren: Yeah. I mean, most of the structure is there. It’s just not being used correctly in a number of situations.

Chris: So let’s talk about what this book is actually about. Gideon the Ninth is a space fantasy, I guess, it’s basically a fantasy except for, Muir wanted to include modernisms like porno magazines. It’s technically a far future sci fi. The main character Gideon is an indentured servant to the Ninth House and the Houses are both nobles and necromancers. Everybody’s a necromancer, and the basic plot is that a call goes out for qualified nobles to gather at an abandoned castle, to see if they can become Lyctors. And in this setting, that’s a super powerful and immortal necromancer. Each competing necromancer needs a cavalier who does sword good, and since Gideon is the best swordsperson in the Ninth House, Harrow, who is the leader of the Ninth House and a necromancer, promises Gideon her freedom if she serves as the cavalier during this, not really a competition, but also a competition.

Oren: It is both sort of a competition and also Harrow sort of promises Gideon her freedom.

Chris: Right, it’s very unclear whether Harrow has to become a Lyctor for Gideon to get her freedom, or if just participating gives her her freedom. I paid attention, we just don’t know.

Oren: Or does Harrow just have to survive. What is it? And also does Gideon believe Harrow, because we start the book with Harrow being incredibly tricky and completely ruining Gideon’s day, using some clever, manipulative wordcraft to weasel out of a promise that she made. It’s very unclear if Gideon thinks that Harrow will actually keep her word this time. And I don’t think Gideon knows, because the book never really talks about it.

Chris: The narrative style is third past limited from Gideon’s viewpoint and it’s unfolding. We’re all in Gideon’s head, and Gideon has a lot of witty sort of commentary happening, so that’s where a lot of the novelty from this book comes from.

Oren: 90% genre-savvy quips by volume.

Chris: Why do people like it? First of all, the genre-savvy quips.

Oren: Everyone loves those, they’re great. I love them, fair enough.

Chris: I mean, I thought all together it had quite good wordcraft. It has a very different feel from the type of wordcraft that is in Ten Thousand Doors. It still had quite a bit of evocative imagery, in addition to the wit, so I definitely think that the word craft is a strong point. Oren, you told me that supposedly the amount of wit in this book had actually been toned down between revisions.

Oren: Yeah, that’s what I read in an interview. And I was like, “Wow, I can only imagine what this was before.” Because part of the book’s problem is actually that Gideon is too busy quipping to explain things properly. Just imagine how much worse that was in the previous draft, and it’s like, maybe that’s why things are, maybe this was the compromise.

Chris: Yeah. I mean, the quips do sometimes detract from the story a bit. Overall they are a big plus, but there are places when it’s too much. So, I have to say that if the quip was reduced, that was a good call. And sometimes I think this goes too far, but for the most part, I think it’s the right amount of quip.

Wes: Do you think it contributed well to the narrative voice on the whole?

Chris: Yes.

Oren: Yeah, no, I think it really did. I think its main issue is that there are certain scenes where instead of clarity, the author goes for a joke. And like, jokes are great. I love reading jokes, but I also need to know what’s happening.

Chris: My issue with the quips is that sometimes they undermine the tension too much. It took me a little while to get attached to Gideon, even though Gideon is actually in a very sympathetic situation in the beginning. The main reason why is because Gideon is so busy with this like, flippant attitude that it’s hard to feel sympathy with her. It doesn’t feel like a sad situation for her, or a tragic situation for her, because we’re too busy being quippy about it. So having her have a light, flippant attitude is fine, but sometimes if we do it too much, it feels like nothing is taken seriously and we lose some opportunities for sympathy and intention where it’s needed. Overall though, I did think it was a big plus and I liked it, and I did, as things continued, get attached to Gideon, but that really should have happened significantly earlier.

Oren: Another reason that I know people like this book is that it is full of bad-ass queer women. Gideon is clearly bi, or maybe even just straight up gay, I don’t know. I know that she expresses a lot of attraction with women. Then there are a number of other women who are in similar situations and people really liked that, for obvious reasons. And the fact that it’s actually very light, despite it getting into some very graphically violent material later on is also, I think a big plus that people really enjoyed. And that’s why I think this one is going to win. I think this one is going to win the Hugo. I don’t think it’s the best one, that’s still Light Brigade, but it has extremely enthusiastic fans. You know, the Hugo vote is basically a gated popularity contest where you have to pay a certain amount of money to be able to vote. And so enthusiasm is really important in that sort of situation.

Wes: It also wins as far as cover art goes. Distinctive, visual, it’s intriguing, you’re like, “Oh crap, who that, I’m going to read it.”

Oren: Although, there is actually an error with the cover art that I find interesting. I discovered this when we read this in our book club, my editors’ book club, a number of editors in that group book club had not wanted to read it because they saw the cover, which looks like this bad-ass soldier surrounded by bones wielding a sword, and they were like, “Oh, it’s going to be dark and bloody and violent”, because they missed that if you zoom in on Gideon’s face, she’s wearing sunglasses and smirking, which is not easy to see if you’re looking at the cover art at its normal size. So I just thought that that was interesting. Because once you see that you’re like, “Oh wow, this actually is really appropriate to the book’s overall tone.” Once our editors actually read it, they were all like, “Man, I would have been so much more excited if I’d known that was the tone of the story.” So I find that very interesting, as like a kind of a weird fail on the cover art.

Chris: I do wonder if somebody thought that was visually clever, that it looks like a skull and then if you zoom in you get more details. But again, when a lot of people are looking at books online and you’ve got just little icons of the cover and it misrepresents the tone of the book, that’s just not good for marketing.

Oren: The whole point of the cover is to be the first impression. If it gives the first impression other than the one you want, I would say that it is not doing its job.

Chris: The main character I found quite likable, its got lots of novelty in the wordcraft, the world also has quite a bit of novelty. We have some small critiques of the theme, but for the most part, quite good. I’m sure some people like the central romance, just because any time you enter romance, there’ll be some people, in my experience, who like it. So it does have a lot of plusses in its favor. For me overall, I found the book to be pretty frustrating, just because I did like a lot of aspects of it quite a bit, and I got drawn into it, but ultimately it disappointed me.

Oren: We’ll talk about the ending a little later. When I was reading it, I was like, “Okay, I like Gideon a reasonable amount and this Lyctor thing, okay, that’s interesting.” It became immediately clear to me though that I didn’t understand what the stakes of the Lyctor conflict were, and the more that I learned about it, the weirder it got, and it was like, “Okay, so y’all go to this planet to learn how to be a Lyctor, and then you aren’t given any instructions, just like wander around until you figure it out. And then they find out what they actually have to do, which is to find a bunch of keys. And they’re like, “Alright, well now we’re competing”, and it’s like, “You don’t have to compete. You can all use the keys. Why are you competing?” And the book never explained it to me. They just started doing that, which was especially weird since a lot of them had been established to be friends earlier. Like, I thought all the noble houses were enemies, but they’re not, a lot of them are good buddies.

Chris: And if it had been established how the noble houses were enemies, then you could have created a situation where it becomes competitive when it’s not supposed to, but that’s not what’s established, it’s, you know, there are some points of tension, but for the most part, it’s the opposite. Everybody’s really nice.

Oren: You know, there’s like one guy, like the Eighth House, who is just rude. And also specifically hates the Ninth House. There’s some tension. We could at least have some conflict with that guy, but I just feel like at some point someone should’ve sat him down and been like, “Hey, you know, we can all be Lyctors. Why are you so devoted to stopping the Ninth House from becoming a Lyctor?” I would like to know that.

Chris: Definitely there were also things where certain types of necromancy, like, again, everybody’s doing necromancy, but there’s so many different types of necromancy, because there’s supposedly nine different houses and they each practice a different flavor of necromancy, but some are more taboo than others, and doing things in some situations is supposed to be taboo, but we never really understand why.

Oren: Also I refuse to believe that there are actually nine different kinds of necromancy. From what I can tell there are exactly two, there is the regular bone necromancy, and then there is the soul necromancy that the Eighth House does.

Chris: There’s also body necromancy.

Oren: Is there? I could not tell.

Chris: Yeah, because the doctors.

Oren: I couldn’t tell what kind of necromancy they were supposed to do.

Chris: I mean, that’s a good point. Like, there is a doctor character, but is that actually what his house does or does he happen to be a doctor?

Wes: That’s a lot like how in Dungeons and Dragons, they’ll classify their healing spells as still necromancy. “It’s all necromancy. Cause it has to do with bodies and stuff.”

Oren: And I mean, I’d be perfectly willing to accept that healing is a kind of necromancy. I just didn’t really see much of that in the story. It was very unclear to me if he actually practiced healing necromancy or not. And then we have the Seventh House lady whose schtick is that she’s very sick.

Chris: But she specifies that her house specializes in crystallizing the body.

Oren: I was like, “What does that mean? I don’t know what that means.”

Chris: Speaking of this necromancy theme, the necromancy flavor of the book does offer a lot of novelty. I wouldn’t want to disrupt that too much. At the same time, there would definitely be benefits in broadening the scope of the magic just enough. First, because as Oren said, these houses, there are so many of them – we can get into how confusing all the houses and characters are because it is very confusing- but they don’t actually seem to do different forms of magic, even though they’re supposed to. And if the magic were a little broader, then they could maybe actually have distinctive forms of magic that would help us, as he’s mentioned, memorize them and learn who they are. It’s very weird that magic in this setting is called necromancy, because necromancy means specifically “death magic”. But if it was the only magic it would just be called magic. And so that bothered me.

The other reason why I would wish to broaden it just a bit, like to “life magic”, for instance, in general, so that we have a little broader range, but all dealing with human life force in some way. In the book, we make a big deal about how all of the other houses are supposed to find the Ninth House to be creepy. But like they’re all necromancers, so why is the Ninth House any creepier than the other houses? And this is actually an important social dynamic that I think adds enjoyment to the book. And it would just work so much better if the Ninth House was the only house of necromancy and the others did like similar life magic, body magic type things, but not necromancy.

Oren: Or if the Ninth House just did a particular creepy kind of necromancy. Like I think what I would have actually had the Ninth House do, is I would have had the Ninth House enslave ghosts. Although actually, no, now that I say that I wouldn’t have done that because that would’ve made Harrow too unlikable. So I’m not sure what it would be, but like, you know, just for example, what the Eighth House does, which is like soul transfer magic, that’s creepy. That is an inherently predatory kind of magic. Whereas the Ninth House just seems to make bones as far as I can tell, they just make skeletons. Why is that creepy? Why is that weird? Maybe they’re supposed to do something else that we never see, I don’t know.

Chris: And we have some cultural reasons that were established about their role in guarding this tomb, why they’re a little bit outcast, but it’s just not enough, especially when this is a fictional culture, it’s just, they just don’t seem creepier than the other houses.

Oren: And since, again, because the tomb isn’t important to the plot, that’s one of the things that’s irritating, is that they keep bringing up the locked tomb and there’s even a big reveal about the locked tomb, that is the Ninth House’s home base, but it has nothing to do with the Lyctor storyline, which is why it feels so ancillary. It’s like, “Oh, we have this giant reveal about what’s in the locked tomb and how important it is.” And it’s like, “But how does that change the current situation at all?” And it doesn’t. And so that’s part of the issue here, is that we are spending a lot of time on stuff that doesn’t matter instead of building the plot that we already have.

I think the biggest issue with this plot is that it is structured kind of like a murder mystery. But it’s not a murder mystery, and it should be a murder mystery. People start dying mysteriously, and you have this huge cast of characters who, at least in theory, have something against each other, many of whom are mysterious to our protagonist. That sounds like the set up for a murder mystery, and in a murder mystery, you would investigate the different characters and set up their motivations, and that would be how we remember them, but that doesn’t happen here, because it’s made clear very early that none of the characters are suspects and that the murders are probably being done by some kind of giant monster. Now I guess we’re just waiting for the monster to show up again, there’s no investigation. And the characters aren’t directly involved. So we have lost the opportunity to remember who they are or why they matter.

Chris: Yeah, I mean, I think that one of the biggest missed opportunities for this book, that I feel like we’d even need huge revision for, was that it just needs just a little bit more tension. It still can be a light book, it doesn’t have to be a super suspenseful book, but some very basic things like having a deadline or giving an actual reason for them to compete with each other, even if they still can cooperate, those things don’t have to be mutually exclusive- we could have it so that they could cooperate if they want, but they still have some incentive to compete, to add a little bit more tension, clarifying the stakes, character motivation.

Oren: I sort of mentioned this earlier, but the biggest issue with the character motivation is that at the beginning, Gideon hates the Ninth House and hates Harrow, and Harrow hates Gideon. So then Harrow is like, “Hey Gideon, I need you to do this job for me where you’ll protect me as I become a necromancer, or as I become a Lyctor”, she’s already a necromancer. And so it’s obvious what Harrow is getting out of this. She’s getting a really, really talented swordswoman to protect her, even if she doesn’t particularly want one. But what Gideon is getting is kind of confusing because Harrow makes very vague promises of freedom and glory. And because we’ve already established that Harrow is really sneaky and will weasel out of any promise that she makes and hates Gideon, it’s really hard to tell if Gideon thinks this is a serious offer or not. That’s okay for a little bit, because there’s this period where Gideon is basically just exploring the haunted space castle, almost independent from Harrow. But later on, she has to actively go out and help Harrow and it’s a little unclear why she’s doing that. Eventually they reconcile and become friends, but there’s this very awkward period in the middle where it’s not really clear why Gideon’s doing what she’s doing.

Wes: Does any of that fall on Gideon’s just, status with the Ninth House?

Oren: I mean, you would think, but no, she doesn’t care about the Ninth House at all.

Chris: She hates the Ninth House. She’s been trying to escape from the Ninth House her entire life.

Wes: But then when they’re like, “We need you to do a job.” Gideon’s like, “I guess you own me, so …”

Chris: And they also established in the beginning that Gideon and Harrow hate each other. And she starts again, proactively looking out for Harrow before that softens into friendship, as far as we can tell? The whole motivation for that is missing.

Oren: What I would have done – this is a relatively small change that could have helped quite a bit – is at the beginning, we should have established the actual stakes of what Gideon has been sworn to do, which is that she should have been told that she needs to keep Harrow alive, not necessarily see her succeed, but that she has to survive. That way we can have this part at the beginning where Gideon is just kind of exploring the space castle, because she doesn’t think Harrow is any danger. And then later when Harrow is in danger, now she has a reason, “Okay, I have to go save Harrow so I can get my freedom.” And the way that we would guarantee this is, rather than what happens now, which is Gideon’s mentor character from the Ninth House is like, “Please, Harrow, keep your word this time, thumbs up.” Why would Harrow care? Instead, we should have that mentor be like, “Hey Gideon, I have the power to grant you freedom on my own. I haven’t used it before, because I think you should stay with the house. But if you do this, I will set your freedom.” And that way it doesn’t matter what Harrow does. We’re not depending on Harrow to keep her word, because we already know she won’t. We know she doesn’t do that.

Chris: It’s established in the beginning that Harrow does not keep her word. I want to talk about the central romance between Harrow and Gideon.

Oren: Okay, we are past the 20 minute mark, so we can do the spoilers now, if we need to.

Chris: As I said, I’m sure lots of people liked the Harrow/Gideon romance, because it was a romance and it was present, you know, they have a number of scenes that are kind of cute, it’s developed okay, in that we see their progress. Again, there’s a lot of question about Gideon’s motivation. I personally did not like Harrow, and because the next book is about Harrow and it’s increasingly, it’s clear that Muir really likes Harrow, that was a huge down point for me throughout this book, and in the Harrow and Gideon romance, there’s this issue where it feels very one-sided, where Gideon is doing everything for Harrow, and Harrow doesn’t do anything for Gideon. Harrow is also again a noble necromancer who just has power over Gideon, who is an indentured servant. And then we have this other side character. I am a poor Dulcinea/Gideon shipper.

Oren: Yeah, team Dulcinea.

Chris: There’s another character that Gideon has somewhat of a romance with on the side, who, spoilers, turns out to be the villain at the end. That romance, I found so much more compelling, because Dulcinea actually does have something to offer Gideon. Dulcinea is sick, it appears that she is dying, you know, so she’s really weak, but Gideon is brawny. And so they also feel like they suit each other that way. But Dulcinea actually does quite a bit of emotional support for Gideon. Gideon feels completely, you know, alone. She’s not appreciated by anybody, she doesn’t get affection from anybody. And so simply having a character there who is interested in her and who appreciates her and says nice things to her, in the context of this book is really significant, and Dulcinea is just a really nice person who again, is very sympathetic because she comes, even though she’s sick and people are like, “You’re really going to compete to be a Lyctor while you’re dying?”, and she’s like, “Well, I wanted to see it.” She’s just an interesting person.

Whereas Harrow, we never fully feel that sympathy for Harrow. I’d like to make a comparison with a character in My Hero Academia, Todoroki, because we reveal later that Harrow is supposed to feel guilty for being really powerful, because her parents did something terrible to have a super powerful daughter. But it’s weird because, even though she’s supposed to be guilty and she says she’s guilty, she’s proud of her powers. And she gets bored and pushes boundaries with her powers and does dangerous things with her powers, whereas Todoroki actually has the same situation in My Hero Academia, where he was created through an unethical marriage that he feels ashamed of, but it changes how he uses his powers and how he approaches them. He doesn’t have that pride as he’s using it, and so you can see that guilt working as he operates and does magic, and that makes him a more sympathetic character, whereas in Harrow that’s just completely missing and it’s hard to believe that she feels bad about that.

Oren: Right, she claims to, but everything that she does indicates, otherwise. The reason she hates Gideon is super contrived. “Well, I hate you Gideon because you didn’t die in that ritual, that you were supposed to die in.” Why would that make you hate her? I don’t understand.

Chris: That’s the reason the Ninth House hates Gideon. We have another explanation for why Harrow hates Gideon that comes later, but it’s clear that Harrow liked to torment Gideon even before that happened.

Oren: And that other explanation I was just going to get to is also super contrived, and is clearly not Gideon’s fault. That is the explanation for why Harrow hates Gideon. And it’s just, well, I guess Harrow is an even worse person than I thought, because sure, you can make the argument that like, “Oh, well she’s not, you know, being totally rational about this, she’s hating Gideon for something that wasn’t her fault.” How does that make her a better person exactly? That’s the problem here, is that this reveal is pulling this weird double duty where it’s supposed to both explain why Harrow hates Gideon, to put Harrow in a more sympathetic space, but also make sure that Gideon didn’t do anything wrong, which is like the classic problem with the trying to make the hero-hater character sympathetic.

Chris: I will also say that the other reason why I resented the Harrow/Gideon romance is because I really wanted Harrow to be an antagonist, because I felt the book would have been so much better with Harrow as an antagonist. Because again, that puts Gideon in a very tight situation. If the necromancer that’s in charge of her is just antagonistic, it generates more sympathy for Gideon, it creates more conflict in the story. It would have just been better, and having a romance with Dulcinea- I’m going to be shameless about my Dulcinea/Gideon shipping – Harrow even forbids Gideon to see Dulcinea, hang out with Dulcinea, and that’s obviously not healthy. And it’s justified later, of course, because Dulcinea is a evil Lyctor in disguise.

Oren: Well, this calls into question, like, “Well, why were you acting like a romance interest in the first place then”, like, apparently none of that was real, we find out, she doesn’t have any actual feelings for Gideon.

Chris: Actually it’s super inconsistent. When we first learn that Dulcinea is this other person, it’s like a completely different person: “Ha, ha I was just acting, die Gideon!”, where two scenes later the former Dulcinea is just like, “Oh Gideon, I meant what I said.”

Oren: At that point it seems pretty obvious that she’s supposed to be lying. Although then again, I don’t know why she would, I don’t remember if she had a reason to, in that scene.

Chris: It felt like Muir was trying to have it both ways. “I want her to seem super evil now, but I also want her to have that chemistry with Gideon.”

Oren: We’re basically at the end, and we’re also like over our 30 minute mark, I do want to talk about the actual ending. I’m not opposed to the idea of Harrow coming to appreciate Gideon over the course of the book and Harrow and Gideon having to fight side by side at the end. I do wish it was against someone other than Dulcinea. Because I actually really liked her, and finding out that she’s evil is like, “Yeah, I guess that was a surprise, but it made the story worse when you did that.” But we have this big situation where there’s no way to beat the final boss, except for a sacrifice turning point. And that is where things go wrong. So we have, Gideon sacrifices herself to make Harrow into a Lyctor. And so Harrow can beat the bad guy. This has two problems. One is a technical problem, because previously we had established that the only way to become a Lyctor was to absorb someone else’s soul through this very difficult necromantic ritual that you had to do. It was something hard. We didn’t know what it was exactly, but it was clearly difficult. In this sequence, because we don’t want Harrow to seem like a bad guy, it is suddenly changed, so that now Gideon dying can somehow unilaterally put her soul into Harrow and make Harrow a Lyctor.

Chris: To me, it felt like what was happening in the narration was that Gideon was like, I’ll sacrifice myself, and then Harrow will have to use my soul.” And then we just skip over the part where Harrow does it because it’s not believable- that Harrow would do that after we established how guilty Harrow feels about the other people who were sacrificed for her- to when she’s already done it, so that we can skip over the unbelievable part of Harrow doing this.

Oren: The way that it’s written is that there is a break in the narration where Gideon dies and then the narration restarts after Harrow has become a Lyctor and absorbed Gideon’s soul. And Harrow is freaking out being like, “No, I can’t do this Gideon, I can’t use your powers. It’s too evil to use your powers.” The only explanation is that you already did the thing necessary to absorb Gideon’s soul, which it doesn’t seem like you would have done. And you were definitely not acting like you just did that. So that’s the technical problem. The karma problem is that Harrow is the one with the bad karma debt, not Gideon, Harrow is the one who was both a jerk and also has this thing of, all these kids were murdered so she could have power. Gideon dying to give Harrow even more power is like, “Okay, I don’t see the satisfaction there. Gideon’s just dead now.” Whereas what should have happened, is it should have been the reverse. Harrow should have died and made Gideon into a Lyctor, and it would be totally believable because Harrow is the bestest necromancer ever, so if you gave me some magic babble and explained that Harrow was able to do that, I would say, “Yeah, I believe it, because Harrow is the best.”

Chris: To be clear, what’s been previously established at this point, information-wise, about becoming a Lyctor, is that a Lyctor is made when a necromancer absorbs their cavalier’s soul, and they get sword fighting powers. Most of the cavaliers, they are all trained in the rapier because it’s a very light sword, and so the necromancer’s body doesn’t have a lot of muscle, but they don’t need it for a rapier, and they absorb the knowledge of how to use the rapier. Now, Gideon, she can use a rapier, although not terrifically well, but she’s actually trained in the much heavier longsword. First of all, we have a problem there because Harrow doesn’t have the muscles that would be necessary to wield a longsword well. But, because we’ve established this skill-absorbing system, it seems entirely plausible that Gideon could instead absorb Harrow’s soul and get necromancy.

Oren: Yeah, I mean, that’s what should have happened. It would make more sense and it would be more thematically satisfying. And also, then the next book could be about Gideon, who was the character we like, whereas the next one’s about Harrow, and I just have zero interest.

Chris: Yeah, I don’t have any interest in the next one. I did not like Harrow.

Oren: And I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re going to bring Gideon back, because at the end her body disappears, and you don’t steal a body unless you’re planning on resurrecting someone, but, if you do that, then this death was just a cheap fake out, and that was also a bad decision. So there’s not really a good solution to that.

Chris: Yeah, I don’t know, maybe it’s going to be like an evil, twisted Gideon. I’m not interested enough to read about Harrow.

Oren: Well, now that we’ve discussed the end of the book, it is time to discuss the end of the podcast, which is a short discussion, because the podcast is over. Before we go, I want to thank a few of our patrons. First we have Kathy Ferguson, who is a professor of political theory in Star Trek. Next we have Ayman Jaber, he is a Marvel connoisseur and urban fantasy writer. And finally, we have Danita Rambo. She lives at therambogeeks.com. We’ll talk to you next week.

Chris: If you like what we do, send a few dollars our way through our Patreon. Every cent goes into the hoard of gold we lounge on like dragons. Just go to patreon.com/mythcreants. [Outro music] This has been the Mythcreants podcast, opening, closing theme, ‘The Princess Who Saved Herself’, by Jonathan Coulton.

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Comments

  1. Cay Reet

    After the podcast, I think I might give the novel a chance at some point. I like necromancers and swordspeople and queer stories, so it sounds like it could be a good one for me.

    But, yeah, it sounds like the term ‘necromancy’ is used very, very broadly here, if it encompasses every aspect of a body, not just the aspects of death. I think that the whole ‘dead matter’ thing which is inherent in necromancy functions as a great limit for it as well, as just because you can manipulate dead matter doesn’t mean you can heal someone. And just because you can control spirits doesn’t mean you can control living beings. There’s a natural limit and that’s a good thing for storytelling.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I really wish I knew how broadly defined necromancy is in this setting. Cause again, I feel like I only came away with an understanding of how two, maybe three of the eight houses use it.

  2. CardiganDiary

    Oh, boy. Wait until Harrow the Ninth. It answers so many questions but creates so many more. And it also makes it clear why it had to be Harrow at the end and not Gideon. You are going to miss something special if you skip it.

    I will point out that one of the keys to Harrow is her devotion to her house and her people. She has been handling adult responsibilities since she was nine. Because her parents destroyed the future of the house (the children) to preserve the future of the house (not becoming absorbed into another house because there was no heir).

    Figuring out how her house will survive independly, without people to replace the old and dying and without the resources of the richer houses, has been Harrow’s mission since her parents died. She even says that her purpose in becoming a lyctor is so that she can ask the emperor to renew her house. Or to paraphrase Harrow, her beloved house.

    Spoilers for GtN:

    Don’t forget that Gideon told Harrow’s parents that she opened the locked tomb. Gideon feels guilty that she caused Harrow’s parents’ deaths and she assumes that is the reason for Harrow’s hatred. For Harrow, hating Gideon was easier than feeling guilty over her own actions. She also admits to loving the body in the tomb.

    If it wasn’t clear, Gideon adores Harrow, and she sacrificed herself because of that.

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