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Literature / Nona The Ninth

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"Do you know who I am yet?"

WARNING: Late Arrival Spoilers for prior books in the series.

Nona The Ninth is the third book in The Locked Tomb series by Tamsyn Muir. Originally planned to be just the first act of Alecto the Ninth, Nona was split off into its own book as it grew out of control, turning the planned trilogy into a series. It was released on September 13th, 2022.

Nona's body does not belong to her. It belongs to someone else, either a sword-wielding cavalier or a necromancer bone adept. Eventually, Nona is going to remember which of them she is, and then they will get on with their life without her.

Nona isn't too worried about any of that, though. She's fine with her life as it is, with her friends and family, with school and six-legged dogs. All she really wants is to take long walks on the beach, to continue living with Pyrrha and Camilla and Palamedes.

Everybody around her seems really bothered, though. Bothered about the giant blue sphere hanging in the sky, bothered about the necromancer forces trapped in one last facility. Everybody says that the sphere will kill them all, or the Emperor Undying will return to save his necromancers and kill them all. Everybody says that the city has been infiltrated by zombies, or that it's okay if they get conquered because it's still better than what they have.

Nona really doesn't see what everyone is worried about. She just wants to continue her life as it is, with her friends, with her family. She likes the city, with its many cultures, and she's only had two tantrums in her life, so that's good, right? Doesn't she deserve a reward? Maybe... a birthday party?

Really, her biggest problem is the woman with the skull-painted face that she dreams of every night.

Nona the Ninth provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The John chapters take place at a nebulous point somewhere in the 21st century; global population has increased to 10 billion, humanity has invented FTL and is working to colonize the solar system, and some of the political alliances have shifted, but from the facility John and his colleagues worked at, and later acolytes, the world is largely recognizable to audiences in 2022.
  • Aerith and Bob: Nona takes place outside the Empire for the first time in the series, in addition to featuring Blood of Eden in a major capacity and several characters referred to primarily by nicknames. That combined with the fact that Nona's narrative perspective involuntarily translates non-English names into their literal English equivalents leads to major characters being named We Suffer, Hot Sauce, Born In The Morning, The Angel, Crown Him With Many Crowns, and... Kevin.
  • Agonizing Stomach Wound: Camilla receives one from Ianthe. She nearly succumbs to blood loss before she and Palamedes merge to become a Lyctor.
  • All for Nothing:
    • Harrow spent her entire life obsessed with the resurrection of her House, and the Emperor ultimately granted her several hundred new members. The Ninth ends up destroyed regardless, with most of the new members being killed by the devils, a foe even God claims to not understand.
    • In the flashbacks, John's horrendous actions to become God are ultimately for naught. He kills every person on Earth, the Earth itself, and all of the solar system to become strong enough to kill the trillionaires who escaped Earth. It wasn't enough, and by the time he recovered, started the Resurrection, and set an army against them, the original criminals were long dead and he was left waging a symbolic war against their innocent descendants in a vain, petty attempt at revenge.
  • Animal Motifs: After John takes a herd of livestock and transforms them into a barricade around his compound, cows became a running attack line by his critics. Cows can watch the sunset, make friends, and are sacrificed to gods.
  • Arc Words: Several, all of which tie into the themes of love and change that run through the book; taken as a whole, they form a question, an answer, and a response:
    • "Who are you?" recurs frequently throughout the book, with Nona specifically getting variations where she asks others variations on "Who am I?"
    • The answer to the above forms another set of words that repeat frequently: "Someone new", applied to those who are fundamentally different than they were before, or have changed in ways to make them unrecognizable to the people they knew before.
    • The response is given as either "I still love you" delivered by Harrow-as-Alecto to John, loving him despite everything awful he has done, with the sentiment echoed throughout the book by others bound by love, or "I don't recognize you anymore" for those who have changed in ways where their previous companions no longer understand them.
  • Awkward Kiss: Alecto's attempt to kiss Harrow ends with Harrow bleeding from the mouth, because all Alecto knows about kissing is "it involved the mouth and teeth."
    And Alecto said to her, Why are you not appeased? That is how meat loves meat.
  • Black Speech: While posing as Harrowhark in front of Ianthe, Nona gets out of responding to a difficult question by feigning a fit of blue madness and using her Omniglot skills to scream for help in the language of a Resurrection Beast. Doing so causes water to come out of her nose, mouth, and ears, seems to accelerate the rate at which her body is degrading, makes the electric lights flicker, and drops every necromantic body in the room. Ianthe, who is remotely piloting a corpse, notes her real body just vomited.
  • Book Ends: Nona's life began with her muttering "No, no," and draws to a close with Ianthe screaming "No, no!" as Nona approaches the Tomb to return to her body.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": Apparently dogs have "arboreal limbs" now, or at least the kind of dog Noodle is. (The Angel says that Noodle has only one pair of arboreal limbs, suggesting that six legs may be on the low end.)
  • Call-Back: Nona, like Gideon, appears with mysterious origins and is named based on the only thing said at the moment of her "birth": Wake's ghost named Gideon by virtue of cursing her killer when summoned, while Nona only mumbled "No, no."
    • Pyrrha Dve snags Gideon's sunglasses to avoid revealing that she's not the Saint of Duty right before the climax of Harrow, pretending to be him throughout the finale. Palamedes and Camilla extensively use Gideon's sunglasses throughout the book for the exact same thing, with each mastering the other's body language so they can conceal when they switch out mid-conversation.
    • The language used between Camilla and Palamedes in their conversation over the recordings "I hope you know that I adore you, Scholar," "Indubitably, Warden," is reminiscent of their first on-page conversation in Gideon the Ninth, where Cam pokes fun at him by using a series of increasingly elaborate one-word responses.
    • Kiriona Gaia ends up reprising her Elective Mute role from Canaan House, this time by pretending to be dead throughout much of the book.
    • Camilla challenges Ianthe to a duel, on the basis that the Third challenged the Sixth for their keys back at Canaan House, and that the challenge was never officially retracted or answered by either party. And exactly like Gideon's duel with Naberius, Camilla technically loses but materially wins, taking a gut wound from Ianthe to get her to drop her guard so Palamedes can possess Naberius' corpse.
  • Cassandra Truth: In the flashbacks, John and his team try over and over again to prove that the FTL ship scheme is a con by the trillionaires to escape while leaving everyone else to die and that they're using up the last of Earth's resources, but the world governments refuse to listen. When they succeed and escape, John snaps and kills all of humanity.
  • Central Theme: Following on from bonds in Gideon, and grief in Harrow, Nona centers on love.
    • Gideon and Harrow both deeply hate themselves, while Nona loves being Nona, has a strange but loving family, and says "I love you" to practically everyone. In her dying hours, she admits that she doesn't really understand love, even if she says it all the time; as Alecto, she can't even understand it, and the fear of going back to being like that terrifies her.
    • Camilla and Palamedes' love is unquestioned and total, but the circumstances of his partial resurrection mean that they can never see each other, and Palamedes runs the risk of killing Camilla accidentally. They complete their Lyctoral bond in a grand display of love, dying in the process to create someone new.
    • John's backstory is revealed to ultimately be a twisted love story: the Earth chose a man who loved her deeply, and his love turned rage and hate for those who abandoned her, leading him to eat the Earth's soul and reshape her into Alecto.
  • Contrasting Sequel Protagonist: Nona is wildly different than both Gideon and Harrow, which is part of what makes the Driving Question of which she is so hard to answer. Unlike Gideon, Nona is innocent and sincere, and is viewed as someone needing protection rather than a protector. Unlike Harrow, Nona is unintelligent and outgoing, and leans on others for help easily. Unlike both of them, Nona is a child, which they never were. Nona is openly loving, untroubled by her past, and has both a loving family and friends, despite growing up in even more dire situation than the impoverished and abusive Ninth.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The only thing that stops Ianthe from being immediately obliterated by Alecto is the fact that the latter forgot she had a sword and merely punched her so hard she went flying.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Paul's birth is equal parts wedding vows and suicide pact as Camilla and Palamedes deliberately complete their Lyctoral bond, with the ever-stoic Camilla bursting out in tears of joy.
  • Drama-Preserving Handicap: The Resurrection Beast hanging out in orbit weakens all necromancers present and prevents Ianthe from steamrolling everybody the second she arrives.
  • Driving Question: Who is Nona? Harrow the Ninth ends with Gideon drowning in the River and Harrow laying down to sleep or die in (someone's mind-version of) the Locked Tomb; after being saved from the brink of death and spending weeks recovering, the person who awoke in Harrow's body was totally amnesiac and practically newly born. Dubbed "Nona", her personality and mind are radically different from both Gideon and Harrow, to the point where her "family" is still stumped on who she is. Contradictory lines of evidence point to her being one or the other, with stranger possibilities such as being a fusion of both not definitively ruled out. During the middle of the book, once Nona reveals that she's dying, Eden becomes convinced that she is Gideon. It takes Kiriona making it known that Nona isn't Gideon before the truth, that Nona is Alecto, or a part of her, possessing Harrow starts to be revealed.
  • Dude, She's Like in a Coma: Nona kisses Gideon's corpse on the mouth in order to transfer her soul back to it... except it doesn't work: Gideon isn't dead, only stunned silent that Harrowhark's body appeared out of nowhere with a smooch.
  • The Elites Jump Ship: Ten thousand years ago, the Earth was on the cusp of climate apocalypse, and the man later known as John Gaius was the lead scientist on cryostasis technology that would allow the entire human population to evacuate to a habitable exoplanet aboard a fleet of generation ships. Until, that is, the world's trillionaires pulled strings to get the project shut down, and its resources diverted to fund their own, private evacuation effort, and leave the rest of humanity to die. The callousness of it all, along with the flagrant lies and corruption required to keep the trillionaires' project going and convince the population that everyone would still be saved, is the reason for the Emperor's 10,000-year-long vendetta against their descendants.
  • Even the Loving Hero Has Hated Ones: Nona, who relentlessly loves even people who shoot her in the head with intent to kill, immediately dislikes Kiriona for her abrasiveness and hostility. However, she picks up that Kiriona has a crushing case of Sour Outside, Sad Inside.
  • Genre Shift: Much like the prior book, Nona features a markedly different tone than its predecessors, this time combined with a very different setting and protagonist. Taking place outside the Empire on one of the last three non-Empire planets in a politically unstable city filled to bursting with refugees and militias and gangs and on the edge from the threat of the Empire and a Resurrection Beast, viewed through the lens of Nona: a Kindhearted Simpleton who is overflowing with love for her family and friends. Muir summarizes:
    Muir: "Nona lives in a genre where the back blurb is, 'How do you deal with the world’s most embarrassing family — AND school?! How do you cope when the biggest jerk in the universe … turns out to be your secret crush’s out-of-town cousin?!?!' Everyone else in the book is living in a docudrama where you get a message at the beginning saying, 'Caution: Disturbing scenes will follow.'"
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: John and his friends just wanted to save humanity by getting everyone off the planet. By the end of the story, he'd nuked the planet, killed just about everyone on Earth and gone after the other planets in the solar system.
  • Human Popsicle: Prior to being given Necromancy, John was an influential cryonics researcher who was one of the leaders in a multinational attempt to evacuate the Earth, with A— and M— being his research colleagues. Ultimately the ultra-wealthy trillionaires chose to yank their funding, which kickstarted John's furious path to becoming God.
  • Just Before the End: All the John chapters, which detail the year leading up to the Resurrection and eventually the events that happened to make John into God.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Given Nona's Healing Factor and childlike innocence, even really bad injuries tend not to upset her much, at least not directly.
    Nona: Someone shot us through the window and now the carpet's gross! This is the worst day of school ever!
  • Meaningful Background Event: Mention is occasionally made of another planet, Antioch, where Blood of Eden is losing some sort of big battle against the Nine Houses. This provides some context for the pressure being put on Pyrrha, Palamedes, and Camilla regarding Nona. Ianthe, however, claims offhandedly that Blood of Eden is just a sideshow, and the Nine Houses are on Antioch to fight something else — revealed in the last stretch of the book to be "devils", a Zombie Apocalypse of the same creatures that possessed Colum Asht back in the first book. And they've already spread to the Nine Houses themselves.
  • Meaningful Echo: "It is finished" is used in Gideon to refer to the completion of the Eightfold Word, and appears as an Ironic Echo when Mercy murders John. Paul says a variation to Nona to console her in the final hours of her life, and to reassure her that her time as Nona meant something: "It's finished, it's done. You can't take loved away."
  • Meaningful Rename: A running theme throughout the book is of becoming someone new; this is most explicitly symbolized with most major characters from the prior books adopting new names or being granted one. Their reactions to it also indicate their emotional arc and their reactions to change: the antagonist Kiriona is very different from the hero Gideon, the Saint of Awe trumpets her title even as she mocks the man who gave it to her, Crown is as much a synonym of Corona as it is a reinvention, Paul chooses their new name after a grand act of love and sacrifice, and Nona spends the entire book desperately trying to cling to that part of her that is Nona and not Alecto.
    • John's habit of referring to others by initials is also revealed to be a remnant of an early affectation of his, where he symbolically renamed the two corpses of U— and T— to Ulysses and Titania, with it being implied he renamed all his disciples.
  • Mistaken for Prostitute: When a local teacher came to talk to Pyrrha and Camilla about Nona attending school, Nona's comments about how Pyrrha isn't her father had the teacher believing that Pyrrha is Nona and Camilla's pimp.
  • Mood Whiplash: The extremely portentous, dramatic moment during the epilogue where one character swears to another is capped off by Gideon yelling "get in line, [you] big slut!" at Alecto.
  • Motive Rant: As in Harrow, a secondary narrative plays out while Nona is asleep, that of John recounting the events that led up to the Resurrection as a dream, to his companion: Harrow, seemingly as a stand-in for Alecto. His justifications for the events that led up to the death of Earth are equal parts noble, traumatic, and vindictive.
  • Multiple Narrative Modes: As with Harrow the book is divided into two threads, with the main one following Nona and her family, and the second being a dream of a memory of Harrowhark-as-Alecto and John remembering his first days with Alecto, where he recounts the events of that led up to the Resurrection. The final chapter also shifts perspective, and is written in the style of the KJV Bible from the perspective of the reawakened Alecto.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Nona pretends to have the blue madness at one point and starts shrieking "help". Unfortunately, she puts a little too much oomph into her performance, spooking her audience into violence and accidentally convincing Varun/Number 7 that it needs to protect her by dropping its Heralds on the planet.
  • Pants-Positive Safety: Hot Sauce keeps her gun down her pants. Nona scolds her for it, saying that Pyrrha told her that people who keep guns in their pants "eventually shoot their balls off".
  • People Puppets:
    • Ianthe uses the body of Naberius Tern as a puppet, and they assume she's doing the same with Gideon's body. Camilla manages to transfer Palamedes to Naberius' body temporarily, and then he takes over puppeting it.
    • Varun uses Judith's nearly comatose body as a venue to talk directly to Nona/Alecto/"the salt thing".
    • A while after he first gained his powers, John was paid an enormous amount of money to turn an unnamed head of state into one of these, on behalf of the government of the same, in order to cover up his recent death. This included giving his corpse a pulse and a normal body temperature, although making him talk was a little troublesome.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Although Blood of Eden's compartmentalization usually serves them well, in the case of the Angel and Nona, not telling one massively important asset that they were in close contact with another massively important asset leads to an internecine massacre that nearly takes out Camilla, Pash, and the Angel. (It also gets Nona shot in the head, twice, but that's not a big concern for Nona.)
  • Possessing a Dead Body:
    • Ianthe can use Naberius' corpse as a necromantic Remote Body from across the galaxy by virtue of possessing his soul. It drastically limits her power but protects her from the Blue Madness, and lets her maintain control of the body regardless of its injuries.
    • Later, when Camilla grabs Naberius' wrist, Palamedes' soul jumps over through the contact, subdues Ianthe in a Battle in the Center of the Mind, and takes control.
  • The Reveal: Nona clarifies the how and when and much of the why of early necromancy, before the Resurrection. The Earth herself gave John the power over life and death because of how hard he had been fighting to try and save her, and then John took that power and used it to kill everybody on Earth, and the Earth herself, to make himself a God and punish the people who abandoned Earth instead of giving him the money to save it.
  • Running Gag: Ass jokes are something Nona's family keeps track of, and recur semi-frequently.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: Gideon gives Crux an angry speech about how she's the Emperor's daughter, so every time he mistreated her, he was wronging the daughter of God. Crux's response is basically 'It doesn't matter, you're still a useless whiny brat that only ever dragged Harrow down'.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: The ultra-wealthy trillionaires who bankroll the evacuation of Earth are the major antagonists in John's backstory, but never named or seen directly. Additionally, an unnamed government turns to John to conceal the fact that their head of state is dead to prevent political instability. The former abandoning everyone else on Earth gives John the motive, and the latter gives John the means to murder Earth and the Ten Billion by triggering global thermonuclear war..
  • Sophisticated as Hell: The final chapter is narrated with the flowery language of a religious text, as befits Alecto's revival - but since one of the people present is Gideon, this leads to things like "...a voice on the opposite side of the shore was raised, exceeding wroth, and Alecto heard it shout in a very great shout: Get in line, thou big slut."
  • Take a Third Option: Is Nona Harrow or Gideon? Turns out she's neither- she's Alecto.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The backstory of how John ascended and performed the resurrection is narrated (inside another flashback) by John himself, who is a well-established liar; at one point the person he's talking to directly points out a clear contradiction in his story (he said that G-'s nuke went off first, then later says something that lets slip that that wasn't the case) and he just shrugs and says it doesn't matter.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The nun in the John flashbacks (presumably the person resurrected as Cristabel), who kills herself in the hope that John will be able to touch the soul and thus gain the ability to save the world. The first part works. The second, not so much.
  • Vengeance Feels Empty: Killing Crux brings the killer no peace, despite the fact she spent years pining for just that.
  • Wrong Context Magic: Nona has incredibly strong and fast regeneration, can instantly understand anything said in any language, her tantrums have horrific effects on the people around her, she can read body language to a degree that she can recognise people in disguise by the way they move, and she can understand the Resurrection Beast in the sky and is immune to its effects. Pyrrha, Palamedes and Camilla have no idea how or why she can do these things, especially since neither Harrow nor Gideon could do anything similar. Nona's abilities make more sense when her identity is revealed as Alecto, the soul of Earth that John stored in a constructed human body.