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Literature / Gideon the Ninth

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IN THE MYRIADIC YEAR OF OUR LORD—the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death!—Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.

Gideon the Ninth is the first book in The Locked Tomb Series by Tamsyn Muir. It was released on September 10th, 2019.

Gideon Nav is a foundling who was taken in by the ancient House of the Ninth, last of the Emperor's great Houses, on the day she was born. She and Harrowhark Nonagesimus, the heir of the house, are the only children left on a planet otherwise populated by animated skeletons and dying cultists. Gideon has been trying to escape for nineteen-odd years, despite Harrow blocking her at every turn.

After her latest failure, a new opportunity arises. Harrow has been invited to the First House to attempt to become a Lyctor, an immortal saint of the Emperor. Tradition and propriety require her to have a personal cavalier, a sword-fighter sworn to her service. Unfortunately, there are no appropriate candidates left in the House of the Locked Tomb, so Harrow convinces Gideon to take the job instead.


The First House, however, isn't quite what either of them expected. Instead of being instructed in the most ancient secrets of necromancy, the heirs of the Houses are set loose in a haunted tower with no guidance or assistance. They are expected to somehow discover the secrets of Lyctorhood by searching through ten thousand-year-old experiments left behind by the original Lyctors. Harrow abandons Gideon immediately, leaving her to wander around aimlessly, listening in on the heirs of the other Houses, from worlds populated by more than senior citizens and bone constructs. She spends most of her time bored out of her skull.

And then people start dying.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Abandoned Laboratory: The locked lower levels of Canaan House contain a series of creepy, abandoned labs with the remnants of necromantic experiments. They're also supposed to be haunted and, as Gideon paraphrases, "chocka full of ghosts."
  • Academy of Adventure: Briefly discussed and parodied by Gideon. The heirs were expecting Canaan House to be this, and are disappointed to find it is very decidedly not a school of any kind.
    • Eventually subverted as Canaan House was meant to teach the heirs various advanced necromantic techniques with the ultimate goal of teaching the method to achieve Lycthorhood.
  • Action Bomb: Palamedes blows himself up by detonating his thanergy reserves in an attempt to kill Cytherea.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Camilla Hect is implied to be in love with her necromancer Palamedes Sextus, who only has eyes for Dulcinea Septimus, who is fixated on Gideon. When Gideon realizes this, she lays face down on the floor and sobs at the messiness of it all.
  • Anyone Can Die: By the end of the first book, only Harrow and Ianthe are found alive, out of the characters at Canaan House, although Camilla, Judith, and Coronabeth are never shown dead, and Gideon's corpse was the only one missing.
  • Anywhere but Their Lips: Gideon carefully kisses Harrow on the top of her nose after they clear the air.
  • Arc Words: The first book has one for the bond between necromancers and cavaliers: "One flesh, one end." It's both a ritual phrase used to ceremonially bind a cavalier to a necromancer, and also used as shorthand to explain why pairs act together. It also has a more literal meaning, given the process by which Lyctorhood is achieved. Gideon rephrases it another way before she pulls her Heroic Sacrifice as meaning "There is no me without you."
    • Along the same lines, as people start dying at Canaan House, several characters use a variation of the phrase "No necromancer/cavalier should have to see their cavalier/necromancer die."
  • As the Good Book Says...: Inexplicably, Gideon of all people quotes Ruth 1:17 to Harrow in the penultimate chapter of Gideon the Ninth. At the very least, it implies the Bible exists in-universe and this galaxy is not so far removed from our own after all.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Almost all necro and cav relationships have a healthy degree of playful banter and fighting, except for the Eighth and Ninth, but even they end up showing that they care about each other.
    • Harrow and Gideon share a... complicated relationship. Despite their frequent assertions that they'd love to see the other die a painful death, whenever one of them is actually in real danger of dying, the other freaks out and becomes protective.
    • Likewise, Silas is an even bigger jerk than Harrow, and treats Colum like a servant despite him being at least a decade older, but when Colum is in real trouble he genuinely loses his shit over it (especially because it's at least half his fault).
  • Bear Hug: Gideon gives Harrow one that lifts her off the ground. This surprises and flusters them both.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Harrow and Gideon, although their animosity is more rooted in real resentment and pain than in typical examples.
  • Big Guy, Little Guy: The Eighth House pair of massive Colum and his creepy younger uncle Silas.
  • Blood from Every Orifice: Part of the territory of doing powerful necromancer is blood sweat, and more powerful ones have a tendency to make it this trope. Also Gideon, when Harrow is draining her in the avulsion room. Harrow herself ends up this way a lot as a more extreme version of a Psychic Nosebleed when she's straining her magic.
  • Bodyguard Crush: Cavs and their necros often share a very intimate and close relationship, and for those for whom it's not a familial relationship, there's often some romantic tones to it; in the case of the Fifth, they're literally married. Especially implied to be the case for Camilla's feelings toward Palamedes, whom she's sworn to protect and look after. It's also teased a lot between Gideon and Harrow; Gideon's feelings for Harrow grow in tandem with her commitment to her duty as cavalier, and as they grow closer Gideon's narration is shocked to find anything attractive about her lifelong tormentor, but she starts to find things regardless.
  • Bookends: The final fight of Gideon the Ninth has a number of symmetries with the earlier parts of the story.
    • When she spars against the other cavaliers in the early days at Canaan House, Gideon defeats Magnus in three moves, and is caught off guard by Naberius' trident knife. She also gets past Cytherea's guard within three moves and makes a killing blow, only to be foiled by her Healing Factor, and on her second attempt, Cytherea catches her two hander like Naberius' trident knife.
    • When Gideon's narration recounts her mysterious origins, it begins with "Nav was a Niner name." The exact same phrase is repeated near the very end of the book as Gideon lets go of her hatred of the Ninth right before killing herself to save Harrow and Camilla.
  • Break-Up/Make-Up Scenario: Just as Gideon and Harrow seem to have reached a more comfortable place in their relationship, they have an explosive falling-out after the deaths of the Fourth. They reconcile for good shortly before the climactic confrontation of the book.
  • Building of Adventure: Nearly all of Gideon the Ninth takes place inside the mysterious, abandoned Canaan House.
  • Chekhov's Gun: When recounting her backstory, Gideon's narration briefly mentions a catastrophe that killed most of the children of the Ninth, but doesn't go into any detail. The true details of this event are discussed much much later, the darkest secret of the Ninth that explains Gideon's upbringing and the twisted relationship between her and Harrow.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Psychometry, the Sixth House's knack for reading and tracing the echoes of life that death leaves on objects. It's how Palamedes realizes Dulcinea is behind the murders, when his hand brushes against the message on the wall she left in the last locked Lyctor room.
  • Childless Dystopia: Childless because of a vent flu 18 years ago wiped out almost every child of the Ninth, making Gideon and Harrow literally the only members of their house's entire generation. Dystopia because of the monastery's general state of decay and disrepair, then underlined with the fact that everyone on the planet is getting old and gray with no one to replace them, and that the "flu" was actually nerve gas that Harrow's family used to kill 200 children to ensure Harrow's conception as a necromancer.
  • Closed Circle: Caanan House was deliberately cut off from the rest of the universe so that the necromancers can focus on achieving Lyctorhood. This becomes a problem when people start dying, as no one can escape or call for help.
  • Cooldown Hug: Gideon gives a crushing one to Harrow, when she has a breakdown after laying bare her soul and demanding Gideon to strike her down for everything she'd done to her.
  • Cool Sword: Mentioned but ultimately subverted. While some of the affluent Houses have gorgeous weapons, the more dangerous cavaliers have plain or even tattered looking weapons, and Gideon's beloved two hander is noted as being plain and perfect for it.
  • Covers Always Lie: Reviews and blurbs about the book always bring up Gideon's dirty magazines. They're mentioned twice, never shown, and aren't remotely plot relevant.
  • Creepy Basement: The locked lower levels of Canaan House where the Lyctor challenges are located.
  • Dead All Along: Protesilaus. And Teacher and the other two priests. And the real Dulcinea Septimus.
  • Dead Person Conversation: The penultimate chapter before the Epilogue has Gideon comforting, guiding, and teasing Harrow after the former's Heroic Suicide before she fades away completely.
  • A Death in the Limelight: Several times over, in fact!
    • In Chapter 15, the Fifth host a dinner party for their anniversary, which is the first time Abigail, the Necromancer of the Fifth, gets a chance to speak, and alludes to her and Magnus being unable to conceive, a manuscript about Lyctoral history that she's been working on, and her necromantic specialty. She and Magnus are the first to be killed by the end of the next chapter.
    • In Chapter 25, we finally spend more time with Jeannemary and Isaac, and get to learn more about their backstory. They're both dead by the end of the chapter.
    • Chapter 28 has Gideon actually sit down and talk to the Eighth for the first time, revealing a lot about their House and the relationship between Colum and Silas. A few chapters later, Chapter 34 is the first time the Eighth show their fighting skills, and end up dead.
  • Demonic Possession: Teacher warns something like this is bound to happen if you leave a soulless body in an insanely Haunted Castle for any amount of time. Silas does not listen, and both he and Colum pay for it.
  • Downer Ending: Gideon the Ninth ends in a very sad place as a set up for the next book: Gideon, Palamedes, and all of the supporting characters are dead or missing, with only Ianthe and Harrow found alive by the First, and Harrow is utterly devastated by Gideon's death and near suicidal.
  • Dwindling Party: The body count begins with Magnus and Abigail, and only grows from there. By the end of the first book only two of the nineteen named characters at Canaan House are found alive, with three others last seen alive but missing, and one vanished corpse.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: Gideon briefly tries to pretend this was the case with Palamedes, telling Camilla his last words were, "Tell Camilla I love her." Camilla does not buy this for a second, and Gideon immediately backtracks.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: Gideon indulges in this a lot, usually when Coronabeth is flouncing around her in skimpy nightgowns or a wet swimsuit, though her attraction to Dulcinea is more chaste and often fixated on her eyes and hair. Harrow isn't immune to Coronabeth either.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Canaan House is ridiculously haunted, and there are constant suggestions that something is down in the labs. When a bone golem starts killing people in impossible ways, it's almost a relief. Canaan House itself ends up not being the real danger, with Cytherea and her construct behind the murders of the Fourth, Fifth, and Seventh. But Silas finds out first-hand that the vengeful ghosts of the First are not just an ominous warning when a number of them possess Colum's empty body and stab the necromancer through the throat.
  • Elective Mute: Vows of silence are common for religious penitents of the Ninth. Harrow, who has been puppeteering her parents' corpses for seven years, claims they'd both taken the vow. Most of the other Houses also assume Gideon is under a vow of silence for the first half of the book, as Harrow ordered her not to talk to anyone for fear of her saying something stupid.
  • Exact Words: The first step in achieving Lyctorhood is to understand precisely what Teacher means by "You must never enter a locked room without permission." He is in fact encouraging them to ask his permission, in which case he'll hand you the key.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Downplayed. Act 1 has a Time Skip of three months, and there are several boring weeks at Canaan House brushed aside in the beginning of Act 2, but the middle of Chapter 12 until the end of the book takes place in under a week, getting increasingly compressed over time, such that half of the book (from Chapter 22 onwards) takes place within 72 hours.
  • The Faceless: Present but subverted and even lampshaded due to it applying to the primary protagonists. With the combination of thick hooded robes, heavy face paint, and coverings over the eyes, the Ninth House falls right into this trope from the perspective of outsiders. Gideon even finds some benefit to concealing her emotions, for all that she otherwise loudly complains about it being a pain. However, her narration sees right through all of it, because she has spent her whole life around it, especially for Harrow.
    [referring to Harrow being flustered by Palamedes trusting her]
    To an outsider, it would have just been a blank Ninth House mask twinging from darque mystery to cryptique mystery, giving nothing away, but to Gideon it was like watching fireworks go off.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Eighth really hate the Ninth, to the point that Silas won't even tolerate eating breakfast in the same room as Gideon.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Aside for an unclear reference by Aiglamene about using "powder" as an offhand weapon, there is exactly one gun in this book, a 10,000-year-old but perfectly preserved carbine rifle, Gideon’s amazed reaction to which implies that the empire hasn’t fielded firearms in a very, very long time. Interestingly, this trope is rather aggressively averted in the sequel.
  • Final Speech: Both Palamedes and Gideon get one, as the two characters who commit Heroic Suicide rather than being killed suddenly. Palamedes' speech to Cytherea doubles as a Shut Up, Hannibal! speech, while Gideon gives one right before her Heroic Suicide.
  • Foil: Most of the other cavalier and necromancer duos at Canaan House parallel Gideon and Harrow, and the relationship between them, in some fashion, though it's strongest with the Sixth, Third, and Eighth.
  • Foreshadowing: The series features a lot of extensively foreshadowed events, so much so that they're listed separately here.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Broadly speaking, of the principal cast that ends up working together, Gideon is sanguine, Harrow is choleric, Palamedes is melancholic, and Camilla is phlegmatic.
  • Furnace Body Disposal: Soon after two participants in the Lyctor trials are murdered, the survivors find more human cremains in an incinerator. Being Necromancers, they can easily tell that the ashes are of two people who died before the trials began — apparently impossibly, since the participants are completely isolated.
  • Genre-Busting: Gideon the Ninth blends a lot of different styles, from magic and spaceships, murder mysteries, thrillers, coming of age, and even some romance elements, to the point where even published reviews often comment on how many genres it crosses.
  • Hands-On Approach: Gideon gets up close and personal to Harrow to teach her how to grip her longsword. Except this is after Gideon's dead and Harrow's absorbed her soul, making this possibly the most heartbreaking and metaphysical use of this trope ever.
  • Happily Married: Abigail Pent and Magnus Quinn of the Fifth House have been married for over a decade, and are the most well-adjusted duo of the entire cast. Naturally, they're the first to die.
  • Hated Hometown: Gideon feels nothing but resentment for the Ninth House, is beyond delighted to leave it behind, and loves the idea of the whole place just dying and disappearing. Character Development eventually has her letting her hatred go, and it's a major sign of growth that her last words are "For the Ninth!"
  • Haunted Castle: Canaan House, at least according to Teacher.
  • Held Gaze: Gideon and Harrowhark do this a lot.
  • Heroic Suicide: Both Palamedes and Gideon end up killing themselves to try to stop Cytherea. Palamedes detonates his thanergy reserves in a Fantastic Nuke, and Gideon skewers herself in the heart so Harrow can extract her soul and become a Lyctor powerful enough to kill Cytherea to save both Harrow and Camilla.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: All the cavaliers have swords, technically, but Gideon has a special enthusiasm for them and is the only one to favor a longsword (a Zweihander, specifically) instead of a rapier.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The secret of Lyctorhood is not just hinted at, but indirectly stated very early on, but is not explicitly commented on until Ianthe asks why there were sixteen acolytes and then only eight Lyctors. As early as the very first summons from the Emperor, the First often refers to necromancers being "joined" with their cavaliers as they ascend to Lyctorhood.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Isaac and Jeannemary both die impaled by dozens of bones. The last we see Judith, she has one pierced in her gut, and Palamedes says there's nothing that can be done for her. It's also how Gideon kills herself so Harrow can extract her soul and ascend to Lyctorhood.
  • In-Series Nickname: Harrow calls Gideon "Griddle," to the point that Gideon is surprised and delighted on the very rare occasions she uses her proper first name. Coronabeth and Ianthe use the nickname "Babs" for their cav Naberius.
  • Insulted Awake: Palamedes calls himself the greatest necromancer of his generation, offending Harrow enough that she surfaces from her blackout for a few seconds just to refute him.
    Palamedes: Thought that would wake her up.
  • Killed Offscreen: Many of the dead are found just after they've been killed. Starting with the Fifth, and extending to Marta and Naberius, but the most dramatic being Jeannemary, who is killed while Gideon is in the same room as her while they're both sleeping.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: Nobody but Coronabeth reacts to Gideon and Magnus's puns with anything but disgust.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Several of the House necromancer and cavalier pairs have this dynamic, most especially the Third, Fourth, and Sixth, though Camilla is heavily implied to have a crush on Palamedes.
  • Man of Kryptonite: When the bone golem shows up and starts killing people, Gideon repeatedly says she wishes Harrow was around, since she'd see it as little more than a fun puzzle to be dismantled. When it does appear before Harrow, bigger and more terrible than ever before, she acts exactly like Gideon thought, and just orders Gideon to distract it for a moment. Gideon calls her its natural predator.
    Harrow: Nav, show them what the Ninth House does.
    Gideon: We do bones, motherfucker.
  • Many Spirits Inside of One: It's revealed that Teacher is in fact a thousand souls stuffed into one corpse, the result of some horrific Canaan House experiment. This also happens briefly to Colum, as a number of malignant forces possess his unoccupied body while Silas was siphoning from him, leading to some very disturbing Body Horror and both Silas and Colum's deaths.
  • Meaningful Name: In fact, the book even features an appendix where the author discusses how she chose the characters' names, in many cases based on their personalities or roles in the story; a memorable example is Dulcinea, who, as a reference to Don Quixote, is someone who "you really want to exist, but who really doesn't". Meanwhile, everyone's last name is a reference to the number of their House in some language. For instance, Nav is Breton for 'nine', Ebdoma is Greek for 'seventh', Sextus is Latin for 'sixth', and Chatur is Sanskrit for 'four'.
  • Mind Meld: The first Lyctor challenge Harrow and Gideon undertake involves this. Harrow also uses this ability to access Palamedes's photographic memory of a key he wants Harrow to recreate.
  • Muscles Are Meaningful: Cavaliers are all very fit and muscular—Jeannemary is jealous of Gideon's biceps. In fact, it turns out that the tradition of cavaliers using rapiers is because they need to use a blade that the generally less-fit necros can handle. When Ianthe absorbs Naberius, despite getting his fighting skill, she quickly has to switch back to necromancy while fighting Colum, who's twice her size (though Naberius actively struggling against her certainly isn't helping). It even extends to Lyctors, as despite a myriad of experience, Cytherea too has to rely on necromancy to avoid being physically overpowered by Camilla and Gideon. And although Gideon is able to help Harrow use her two-hander immediately after they merge, she says that Harrow's going to need to do a lot of push-ups.
  • Mysterious Note: The Lyctoral labs are full of them, largely untidied scraps from the original Lyctors and their cavaliers. Most are mundane, but Gideon finds a partial scrap of a note in the Second's Lyctoral study in which her name is mentioned, a fact which alarms her greatly but that she doesn't find time to address. It's not until the next book that the note is explained: Gideon is the name of the Lyctor who used that study.
  • Never Found the Body: Gideon's Heroic Suicide leaves her corpse resting in the open, but her body was never located when the Emperor's forces when search Canaan House.
  • Never One Murder: Abigail and Magnus are found dead at the end of Act Two, but they're far from the last to die. Protesilaus goes missing not long after, and it all escalates from there.
  • Not the First Victim: The investigation into two murders in the Closed Circle of the Lyctoral Trials is complicated when they find two burnt bodies who were killed before their arrival. One turns out to be an entrant whose identity the murderer stole.
  • Not What I Signed on For: All the necromancers have answered the Emperor's summons to potentially become Lyctors, which they regard as a signal honor. Of the four necromancers who survive long enough to figure out what this process entails, only Ianthe willingly does so. Palamedes and Silas reject the entire concept (the former on morals, the latter as blasphemous), and Harrow ends up not having a choice and tries to undo it afterwards.
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: Hilariously, Harrow has gotten away with doing this with her dead parents for seven years, telling people her parents have taken vows of silence and fasting, among other things. A more serious version occurs with Protesilaus, the very boring Seventh cav who turns out to be a corpse perfectly preserved and puppeted by necromantic forces. Harrow is one of the only people to pick up on it right away, having had experience with her parents.
  • Parental Substitute: The Fifth House pair Abigail and Magnus seem to be this for the Fourth House kids Isaac and Jeannemary. Gideon's tough old mentor Aiglamene, who taught her swordplay, is also the closest thing Gideon has ever had to a parental figure.
  • Pen Pals: Palamedes Sextus and Dulcinea Septimus, for twelve years before the events of the book. They never met in person, but he even proposed marriage to her at one point.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: All but one of the Ninth House's children died when Gideon was an infant. It was blamed on a flu in the monastery's ventilation system, but it was actually nerve gas deliberately deployed by Harrow's parents as part of a ritual to ensure they would conceive a powerful necromancer.
  • The Promise: Harrow asks Gideon to promise her that if Harrow dies, Gideon will return to the Ninth and protect the Locked Tomb in her stead. In the end, Gideon refuses to honor that promise because she won't let Harrow be the one who dies.
  • Pungeon Master: Gideon and Magnus. Gideon even says she assumes puns are automatically funny.
  • Really 700 Years Old: "Dulcinea," who is actually Cytherea the First, one of the Emperor's first Lyctors and over 10,000 years old. Also true of Teacher.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Because there are a lot of revelations at the end of Act 4 that are well foreshadowed in advance, there are a lot of details that fit better into the story once all the mysteries are revealed, particular with regards to Cytherea's Double Meaning laden conversations throughout the book, almost all of which are cast in a very different light knowing that she is a Lyctor impersonating Dulcinea.
  • Running Gag: Several characters run through multiple synonyms to sarcastically make a point to someone throughout the book. Gideon's take on it, in the form of addressing Harrow as "my [creepy adjective] [leader/witchy noun]" note  also crops up several times.
  • Safely Secluded Science Center: The God-Emperor summons Necromancers from the Nine Houses to a palatial laboratory complex on his own planet, which he abandoned and sequestered nine thousand years prior, to challenge them to rediscover the process by which his first servants were transformed into immortal Lyctors.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: When Judith argues that imperial law still applies at Canaan House, Teacher points out that imperial law is derived from the Emperor, who set their directions personally.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Gideon tells us early on that Harrow killed her own parents, but we find out later on that it was more complicated than that.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: The largely comedic Fifth are killed off at the end of Act 2, which is the first time the story truly begins to become serious; when the Fourth are also killed at the end of Act 3, the comedy becomes far more downplayed with their deaths and Gideon's ensuing Survivor's Guilt.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Gideon's entire narrative style, as well as her dialogue.
  • Spotting the Thread: A rare subversion. Cytherea makes several slip ups in her Dead Person Impersonation of Dulcinea, including knowing how Gideon fights (which "Dulcinea" had never seen) and calling Protesilaus's death an accident, when Harrow knows he was stabbed through the heart. However, these moments go unremarked on by the protagonists, and Cytherea is not revealed until the final chapters, after her plan has largely succeeded.
    • Dulcinea guesses that Gideon isn't really a cavalier by deducing that she's used to a heavier sword than a rapier. It goes from a guess to a full on deduction when Gideon doesn't recognise the phrase 'One flesh, one end', which a cavalier and their necromancer would say to each other when the cavalier officially accepts the role.
  • Survivor's Guilt: As the bodies begin to pile up at Canaan House, several characters are left grappling with their survival when others have died. Most especially Gideon after Jeannemary died when Gideon tried to protect her, questioning why she was spared as Jeannemary was nailed to a bed while Gideon slept, but Judith after Marta's death and Harrow's grief after Gideon's death are both partially due to this as well.
  • Technicolor Blade: Some of the cavaliers have rapier blades that match the colors associated with their House, but this is entirely an aesthetic sensibility.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Gideon and Harrow have hated each other for their entire lives, so being forced to work together starts out as this, with Gideon only coming with Harrow to Canaan House for a chance to leave the Ninth and never see her again. This changes after the deaths of the Fifth, though it takes some time for them to fully set aside the animosity between them.
  • There Are No Rules: Teacher tells the necromancers and cavaliers that the one rule in the Lyctoral challenge is "never open a locked door unless you have permission". A few murders in, he clarifies that that's the only rule — all other laws are suspended for the challengers by the Emperor's divine fiat.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Magnus and Abigail are the kindest and most mature adults of the entire group, serving as the Team Mom and Team Dad. Magnus is also the first person to befriend a deeply lonely Gideon. So of course, they're the first to die.
  • Treasure Chest Cavity: How do you hide something from post-cognitives, necromancers and mediums? You hide it inside the body of a murder victim, after she's been examined. Cytherea hid one of the challenge keys needed to unlock a door within Abigail's torso, waiting until after everyone had examined her to actually hide it. It was almost a foolproof strategy, but Ianthe, who had been keeping track of the number of keys in secret, deduced it must have been hidden there. That hiding it inside of Abigail also erased the psychometric finger print that would have pinned her as the killer was a bonus.
  • Uncertain Doom: Although Camilla, Judith, and Corona are still alive when they're last seen by Gideon's narration, the latter two also being heavily wounded and incapacitated, they're nowhere to be found when the Emperor's forces search Canaan House.
  • Undead Abomination: The bone construct that Cytherea uses to kill Isaac and Jeannemary, as well as fight the survivors at the end, is massive and inhuman, can shoot bone spikes as projectiles, and can get into places that it by all rights shouldn't be able to.
  • Underestimating Badassery: The three Houses expected to bring the worst cavaliers to Canaan House based on the reputation alone are the librarian Sixth, the siphoning Eighth, and the decrepit Ninth. Guess who three of the best cavaliers at Canaan House are? Gideon quickly demonstrates early on that she is an exceptional cavalier, and the rest of the Houses remain too intimidated to duel the Ninth for the remainder of the book. Judith Deuteros instead challenges the Sixth House to a duel to make an example of them, and everyone thinks they're about to see a soldier beat up a librarian. Everyone except Gideon, who's fought Camilla, and who can barely supress her grin. Camilla the Sixth swiftly proves her House is not to be underestimated.
  • Unseen Pen Pal: Palamedes and Dulcinea became close friends over twelve years of letter-writing, but live on different planets and meet in person for the first time when they join the Lyctoral trials. This causes him to miss that she was killed and replaced by Cytherea just before the trip.
  • Wham Line: Gideon the Ninth has quite a few as the reveals pile up in the final act, but the biggest comes when Gideon and Harrow finally reconciling leads to Harrow revealing the darkest secret of the Ninth, one that explains why Gideon grew up hated by her entire House:
    "Why leave me though?" [Gideon] demanded. "They murdered the rest of the House, but left me off the list?"
    There was a pause.
    "We didn't," said Harrow.
  • You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: Both times Harrow actually calls Gideon by her first name instead of "Griddle" or Nav, Gideon calls her out on it. The first time happens when she's scared Gideon is about to die, and the second occurs when she asks Gideon to make her an important promise after a heart-to-heart.