The Locked Tomb trilogy by Tamsyn Muir is a New Weird Genre-Busting series of books centered on the Galactic Empire of the Necromancer Divine, the King of the Nine Renewals, our Resurrector, the Necrolord Prime and the Nine Houses of his domain, filled with dark necromancies and powerful lineages.
Or, to paraphrase a particularly quotable review, it's also about lesbian necromancers in space.
The trilogy centers on two young women from the Ninth Houses, located in a dark shaft cracked into the core of a dead planet, which safeguards and worships the eponymous Locked Tomb. The Locked Tomb contains the greatest enemy of the Empire, a foe so dangerous that God Himself could defeat it once, but not twice.
Gideon Nav is a foundling who was taken in by the Ninth House, and has tried to escape the decrepit and abusive Ninth since she was four years old. Holding her back is the Reverend Daughter Harrowhark Nonagesimus, an exceptionally powerful necromancer and Gideon's lifelong tormentor. When a summons comes from their Emperor and God, they get bound up in the greater conflicts of the Empire and are forced to confront the tangled and broken relationship between the two of them.
Books in the The Locked Tomb trilogy
- Gideon the Ninth (September 10, 2019)
- Harrow the Ninth (August 4, 2020 note )
- Alecto the Ninth (2021)
- "Camilla the Sixth" (presumptive name, short story set prior to Gideon the Ninth) (June 2nd, 2020)
All individual character tropes should be placed on the Characters page.
The Locked Tomb series as a whole provides examples of:
- Aerith and Bob: Normal and common names like Abigail and Camilla exist alongside some unusual names from mythology, like Palamedes or Protesilaus, and a few invented ones, like the majority of the Ninth House, who get names like Harrowhark and Aiglamene.
- The Ageless: The body of a Lyctor is preserved at the exact point in time they achieved Lyctorhood, meaning they don't get older and can't die from old age, but can from sufficient trauma or suicide. Certain experiments that were also created at Canaan House also have this apply, such as Teacher and the preserved skeletons.
- Animate Dead: Well, this is an Empire of necromancers. There are even different specialties of preserving and animating corpses, manipulating bones, and anchoring souls.
- The Antichrist: Whatever is trapped inside the Locked Tomb is implied to be the equivalent: the Emperor's greatest enemy whom he defeated once, but cannot defeat again, and thus must never wake.
- Badass Boast: Harrowhark is prone to this.Harrow: I have bested my father. I have bested my father and my grandmother—every single necromancer ever taught by my House—every necromancer who has ever touched a skeleton.
- Bad with the Bone: While most necromancers are limited to renaminating skeletons, some particularly talented ones (namely Harrow and Cytherea) are capable of using bone itself as a medium to be shaped and manipulated as easily as clay, and can even make it regenerate.
- Brains and Brawn: Pretty much all necromancer and cavalier pairs, though cavaliers are often more Down to Earth and practical than unintelligent; it's basically part of the job description to be part bodyguard and part minder.
- Cannon Fodder: This is the reputation of the Fourth House, who are reckless and loyal to a fault and enlist in the Cohort in droves. Jeannemary the Fourth even explicitly, angrily declares that her House is more than just this trope.
- Cast from Hit Points: Necromancers are often drawing from their own thanergy and/or thalergy to power the bulk of their magic.
- Cast Full of Gay: Downplayed but present, as both of the primary protagonists are lesbians. However, most other characters romantic orientations go unmentioned.
- The Champion: This is what a cavalier primary is meant to be for their necromancer, every ounce of their duty revolving around this one person. Only a few actually hold up to the pressure of the role at Canaan House.
- Child Soldiers: Jeannemary and Isaac of the Fourth House are only fourteen at most, but intend to enlist next year, and would have already been enlisted if Isaac hadn't gotten the mumps during the recruitment period. It's said noble scions of Fourth House are often on the front lines well before their sixteenth birthdays; for the Second, who are even more tightly connected to the Cohort, Judith joined at the age of six. Even Gideon herself, who's wanted to be a soldier since she was eight and was training with a two-handed sword she could barely lift, finds it a little disquieting.
- Deadpan Snarker: Many, most notably Gideon, Harrow, and Camilla.
- Death of a Child: Harrow notes the death of a baby always releases vast necromantic power. Her parents took advantage of this.
- Dem Bones: Bone constructs are everywhere in an Empire of necromancers, but are the Ninth's specialty, and Harrow's in particular. Constructs are generally weak, given bone without muscle isn't very strong in its own right, and require "programming" of their actions, so they're mainly used as an untiring labor force, and when they are used in combat, they tend to be used in large numbers or as a surprise factor. While most constructs are humanoid, ones created by more talented adepts can come in far more unusual and monstrous forms.
- Emergency Transformation: It is implied that several of the original Lyctors did not have much of a choice in the matter, and Cytherea admits that she became a Lyctor because she and her cavalier thought it would help her live. This also ends up happening to Harrow; with three of the last survivors of Canaan House cornered and all heavily wounded, Gideon kills herself to force Harrow to become a Lyctor so that at least she and Camilla can survive.
- The Empire: The details are left vague, but it's clear the Nine Houses comprise a galactic Empire that has been waging war for 10,000 years on... something. And losing, at that. Mention is made of occupied worlds, appointed governors, and rebellious insurgencies. Gideon sarcastically uses the word "fascist" once, but the politics of it aren't brought up again during the first book.
- Eye Colour Change: A very unsettling example occurs with Ianthe, after she consumes Naberius's soul. Her eyes keep flickering between her natural eye color and his, sometimes just becoming entirely pupil-less and white. It's implied that all Lyctors take the eye color of the cavalier they consumed, as Cythera's blue eyes are noted as being "someone else's fire," and Harrow refuses to look at her reflection in the epilogue after she consumed Gideon.
- Eye Motifs: Eye color specifically is drawn attention to for all of the major characters, and the Lyctorhood process has a side effect of granting a necromancer the eye color of the cavalier they consumed.
- Fantastic Science: Necromancy is treated more like a science than anything else, requiring study of the proper theorems to pull off. Different specialties are treated less as innate magical differences, and more like academic specializations.
- Friendly Skeleton: In the Empire in general, but especially in the Ninth House, animated skeletons are just a part of life, and take care of menial tasks like farming or cooking. It's not necessarily the case for other Houses, as the Fourth mention they're scared by them, while Gideon's so used to them that her narration barely comments on their presence. Of particular note are the skeletons of Canaan House, who turn out to be not just animated skeletons puppeted by the priests, but actual souls bound to skeletons who are sentient but unable to talk due to their physical limitations.
- Glass Cannon: Palamedes explicitly calls necromancers this. It's why they need cavaliers and other melee soldiers protecting them to be effective.
- Guns Are Worthless: The soldiers of the Empire use swords, as do the various cavaliers. There's a gun in a ten thousand year old workshop, and Gideon notes that it's the first time she's ever actually seen one that wasn't just an illustration. It's possibly related to common use of necromantic abilities, but goes otherwise unexplained.
- Healing Factor: Lyctors are capable of this to an insane degree, provided they have enough Life Energy to draw on, either their own or someone else's.
- Holier Than Thou: The defining characteristic of the zealous Eighth House, and its heir Silas Octakiseron exemplifies this perfectly.Palamedes: The Eighth House thinks there's right and there's wrong, and by a series of happy coincidences they always end up being right.
- Human Resources: Pretty much all necromancy requires some form of this, whether it be bones, blood, or thalergy/thanergy.
- Human Sacrifice: The actual reason Harrow is so powerful. Before conceiving her, her parents sacrificed 200 infants and children of their own House in a ritual to ensure Harrow would be a necromancer, and an immensely talented one at that.
- Immortality Hurts: Lyctors can be killed permanently in battle, but due to their powerful Healing Factor it is difficult to do so. They feel every bit of pain from any horrible maiming they suffer that would kill normal humans. Lyctorhood also never removed the cancer from Cytherea's body, only trapped her in a permanent, agonizing advanced stage of the disease for the last 10,000 years.
- Interfaith Smoothie: Empire religion draws from both Abrahamic faith and Greco-Roman faith, and while Gideon the Ninth barely cares about it, it's set to be more detailed in Harrow the Ninth. The Underworld is visited and traveled to by crossing a river, yet Harrow's narration also calls and conceptualizes it as Hell.
- Interrogating the Dead:
- This is supposedly the Fifth House's necromantic specialty. It's part of the reason why Abigail was Cytherea's first victim.
- The Ninth necromancers also tried to do this with Gideon's dead mother after finding her corpse and an infant Gideon at the Ninth's doorstep. Her ghost was not very cooperative and only screeched "Gideon!" three times, which was how they decided to name the baby.
- Silas Octakiseron did this to Sister Glaurica, explaining how he knows a lot more about the Ninth House than he should.
- Knife Nut: Most of the cavaliers at Canaan House use a parrying knife as their offhand weapon, in keeping in tradition with the real world use of rapiers.
- Life Energy: Thalergy (life energy) and thanergy (death energy) are both important when it comes to fueling necromancy. The Second House specializes in draining thanergy from their dying enemies and using it to bolster the life energy of their cavaliers; getting drained of either your thanergy or thalergy is supposed to be an agonizing process.
- Living Battery: The Eighth House, whose necromantic specialty is soul siphoning, has a reputation for breeding their cavaliers to basically be this for the necromancers. The avulsion room challenge is also about turning a cavalier into this. Gideon lets herself be a battery for Harrow twice, but Harrow refuses to siphon from her again the third time after seeing what happened to Colum.
- Magic Knight:
- The Lyctors are this because becoming a Lyctor requires a necromancer to consume and integrate the soul of their cavalier, gaining the prowess of both.
- Coronabeth appears to be this, unusually fit for a necromancer and eager to test her swordfighting skills against Gideon. But averted when she's revealed not to be a necromancer at all.
- Master of All: Lyctors, in contrast to most necromancers, seem to be extremely skilled at all disciplines of necromancy.
- Master of One Magic: Each of the Houses has a sub-discipline of necromancy that they specialize in, though it's more like an academic focus than an innate characteristic of their magic. Of particular note within the story is that the Ninth specialize in bone constructs, the Sixth in Psychometry, and the Eighth in the extremely dangerous soul siphoning.
- Merger of Souls: Becoming a Lyctor boils down to this, requiring the necromancer to extract, consume, and successfully integrate the soul of their cavalier. It kills the cavalier in the process, but if Ianthe's struggle with Naberius Tern's soul is anything to go by, something of the cavalier still lives on inside the necromancer.
- Necromancy: The Empire is built on this, and the royal scions of all eight Houses are powerful necromancers with different areas of specialization, ranging from bone constructs to spirit channeling to soul siphoning.
- Numerical Theme Naming: House surnames are almost exclusively themed on puns based on the number they belong to, though they range from the obvious (Palamedes Sextus) to the obscure (Protesilaus Ebdoma, which is a latin term for a week).
- Our Souls Are Different: There's mention of souls and spirits, as well as departing to another plane. While most necromancy only uses thanergy (death energy), a few actually consume souls entirely, such as the Lyctor process.
- Parental Abandonment: Gideon is a Foundling who's never met her parents, Harrow's parents were Driven to Suicide when she was ten, and Jeannemary says this trope is rampant in the Fourth House, where most kids have lost one or both parents to some brave, suicidal deed on the front lines of the Cohort.
- Powered by a Forsaken Child:
- A necromancer becomes a Lyctor by sacrificing their cavalier and consuming the cavalier's soul. This grants immortality, a superhuman healing factor, and unlimited necromantic energy, among other things. It's unclear if the cavalier is aware following this process or not, but it does seem like the process goes more smoothly if the cavalier dies willingly.
- It's mentioned that human sacrifices can power necromantic spells, and babies and children in particular release an enormous amount of energy.
- Power-Strain Blackout: There are a few times when Harrow passes out after overextending herself with her magic.
- Psychic Nosebleed: "Blood sweat" is a very common side effect of necromancy, and Harrow frequently gets this along with nosebleeds, blood from the eyes, and even exploded blood vessels when really letting loose with her magic.
- Religious and Mythological Theme Naming: There's a divide between the Houses on this for given names. Houses affiliated with the Empire's military, such as the Second and Fourth, have given names from the Bible, while most of the remaining Houses have names that derive from Greek and Roman mythology, though there are also a few exceptions such as Dulcinea and Colum. Averted for the Ninth, as they don't match either theme, with most of the names in the Ninth being Latin-sounding but original. The unknown "Gideon" at Canaan House who may have been Gideon Nav's namesake was seemingly from the Second, making her name fitting the biblical theming a subtle hint into her Mysterious Past.
- Sacrificed Basic Skill for Awesome Training: Since necromancy is a complex academic art, most necromancers dedicate themselves to necromancy and very little else. Most are weak and sickly as a result and many have barely functional social skills.
- Schizo Tech: Characters travel via spacecraft, then fight with swords.
- Science Fantasy: Spaceships, LED lighting, and comic books coexist with necromancy powered by the fundamental energies of death and life, animating skeletons, and summoning ghosts.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: The entity (who/which looks like a girl) sealed inside the Locked Tomb is this, at least according to Empire religion.
- Squishy Wizard: Necromancers. Immensely powerful, but pretty much universally out of shape and physically fragile. The Empire's entire military is effectively built around masses of infantry solely to protect their necromancers.
- Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: What little rules shown of Necromancy reveal it to be Magic A Is Magic A - necromancy is described in rules, theorems and experiments. And Necromancers are a combination of scientist and academic as well as solider and fighter. Toyed with later on. The Lyctorhood process indicates that a lot of held conventions of necromancy as characters understand it prior to coming to Canaan House are arbitrary and capable of being circumvented by sufficiently skilled necromancers, but this seems to be more due to information being suppressed or lost rather than genuinely being wrong.
- The Underworld: Set to be a larger focus in Harrow the Ninth
Gideon the Ninth
Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis wont set her free without a service.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will be become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideons sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.
Of course, some things are better left dead.
- 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 with 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 Loads and Loads of 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, or at least Harrow's hallucination/memory of Gideon, 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.
- Book-Ends: The final fight of Gideon the Ninth has a number of symmetries with the earlier parts of the story.
- The very beginning of the book has Gideon and Harrow fighting each other, and the ending sees them fighting side by side for the first time
- 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.
- One of the first uses of her necromancy that Harrow demonstrates aside from bone constructs is creating a bone shield, something that fascinates Palamedes. When cornered by Cytherea, she escalates the same technique by making an entire wall of regenerating bone, though the effort exhausts her to the point of near-death, and Gideon is truly impressed that Harrow managed such a feat.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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. It's left unclear whether Harrow is hallucinating her as a coping mechanism or if it's the last remnant of Gideon's soul saying goodbye to her somehow, though Gideon herself leans towards hallucination.
- 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 twenty 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Final Speech: Gideon gives one right before her Heroic Suicide:Gideon: Harrow, I can't keep my promise, because the entire point of me is you. You get that, right? That's what cavaliers sign up for. There is no me without you. One flesh, one end.
Harrow: Nav, what are you doing?
Gideon: The cruelest thing anyone has ever done to you in your whole entire life, believe me. You'll know what to do, and if you don't do it, what I'm about to do will be no use to anyone.
Gideon: For the Ninth!
- 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: A significant amount of later plot reveals are hinted at throughout the story.
- In an attempt to get Crux to let her leave, Gideon suggests that he say her shuttle exploded. The shuttle itself did explode after Ortus and Glaurica stole it, from a bomb planted aboard it by Crux.
- The Canaan House staff are extremely concerned that the Third brought twin necromancers, which Teacher shrugs off as their own problem that won't affect anyone else. Only one could become a Lyctor even if they were both necromancers, since it requires one sacrifice per ascension.
- Ianthe cryptically warns Gideon early on that it would be unwise to irritate the necromancer of the Third. The slip is notable because she says "necromancer", not "necromancers." It's not until much, much later that it's revealed that Coronabeth isn't a necromancer.
- Tying in with the above, there are tons of small hints towards this reveal throughout the story, such as Coronabeth hanging out with the cavaliers instead of the necromancers, not showing signs of exertion trying to call back the spirits of the Fifth, her familiarity with duels, and being unable to recognize fresh human cremains.
- During the Fifth's dinner party, Gideon overhears part of a discussion between Abigail and Dulcinea about Lyctoral history and deems the conversation extremely boring. It's actually the impetus for why Cytherea decided to kill the Fifth as soon as possible.
- Ianthe has a disconcerting habit of consuming parts of Naberius for a short term necromantic boost. She's the only necromancer to willingly choose to ascend to Lyctorhood, and does so by murdering Naberius to burn his soul forever.
- After Protesilaus goes missing, Teacher says that the First will search all of Canaan House except the Lyctoral labs and the quarters of each House, on the off chance he's there. Several chapters later, Gideon finds his severed head in Harrow's wardrobe.
- In a bit of thematic foreshadowing more than literal foreshadowing, near the end of Act 3, the Fourth discover that two bodies have been burnt up in the incinerator beyond all recognition, and most of the remaining cavaliers end up examining this discovery. Being burnt up forever is the ultimate fate awaiting those cavaliers should their necromancers consume their souls to become Lyctors, and by the end of the book it's happened to both Naberius and Gideon (willingly, in her case).
- The revelation of the true secret of Lyctorhood, that a necromancer has to consume their cavalier's soul to burn them for energy forever is very extensively telegraphed by comments the First makes, the Arc Words of Gideon the Ninth, and parenthetical references by Palamedes being disgusted by it, to the point where it's Hidden in Plain Sight.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Broadly speaking, of the principle cast that ends up working together, Gideon is sanguine, Harrow is choleric, Palamedes is melancholic, and Camilla is phlegmatic.
- 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.
- Haunted Castle: Canaan House, at least according to Teacher.
- 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!"
- 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.
- Lame Pun Reaction: Nobody but Coronabeth reacts to Gideon and Magnus's puns with anything but disgust.
- Like Brother and Sister: A couple of the House necromancer and cavalier pairs have this dynamic, most especially the Fourth and Sixth, though Camilla is heavily implied to have a crush on Palamedes.
- 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.
- 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.
- Never Found the Body: The last time Judith is seen she's bleeding out from a mortal wound, and Gideon's Heroic Suicide leaves her corpse resting in the open, but Judith isn't found alive or dead, and Gideon's corpse 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 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 heretical), 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Uncertain Doom: Although both Camilla and Corona are still alive when last they're seen, 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: Judith Deuteros 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. Camilla the Sixth swiftly proves her House is not to be underestimated.
- 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.
Harrow the Ninth
She answered the Emperor's call.
She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only friend.
In victory, her world has turned to ash.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath ― but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.
Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor's Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?
Unmarked spoilers for Gideon the Ninth
- Eldritch Abomination: The Resurrection Beast, a creature the size of a city which is already dead but still threatens the living.
- Mysterious Note: In the portions of the prologue currently released, Harrow has a letter addressed for her To open in case of your imminent death.
- Pyrrhic Victory: Examined as a theme. Harrow wanted to be a Lyctor more than almost anything, but it coming at the cost of Gideon's life has left her emotionally and mentally devastated.
- Second-Person Narration: As opposed to her narration at the end of Gideon the Ninth, the prologue is narrated in second person about Harrow.
- Spoiler Cover: The cover indirectly spoils Gideon's death, as Harrow is pictured with Gideon's Supernatural Gold Eyes and her two-hander.
- The Underworld: The true purpose of Lyctors is to cross beyond the river and into the land of the dead to fight the the dead who still threaten the living.