I read Ninth House years ago and to prepare for Hell Bent, I reread it, opting for the udiobook this time. Well it’s still as impressive if not more than before!
Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?
Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.
The mesmerizing adult debut from #1 New York Times bestselling author Leigh Bardugo.
Here is what I said in 2019 and is still accurate to a T!
6 freaking stars!
WARNING: long review ahead! Sorry guys I have much to say!
I get it now, the Leigh Bardugo bandwagon, the fandom and all!
When I read the Shadow and Bones series many years ago, my rating went from 4 stars to 3 stars by the end of it. Not a success…
I decided to take a chance on Ninth House because of the controversy about the book (there are triggers in this one like drug, violence, murder, rape …) and because I was thinking that “if everyone is so enthusiastic about that author, I must miss something so let’s try again”.
The beginning of Ninth House was … laborious.
I struggled with the concept of modern world and magic without magicians.
I am used to read books with magic either because you have faeries, either because you have supernatural beings (think Shadowhunters series), either because you have sorcerers born with abilities (think Harry Potter). Not because magic can be summoned simply by “everyone” who would be initiated and know the right words, be at the right place etc. So yes, I was lost and could not really understand the concept of the Houses.
I could not fall into it as I did not understand what I was reading! I had to read a page twice and still I did not get it. I feared this would be another failure.
It also did not help that you alternate between present and two past times with few clues in the beginning about what happened to Alex in each of these past times!
But by page 50 I began to understand that world and once I got my baring I literally could not stop anymore! I ended up reading late and doing nothing else while I knew I had to reply to comments, blog, bookstagram etc because I just wanted to stay in that story!
Why you should read that book in a few pointers:
- Magic at YALE
First you are in a modern world at Yale prestigious campus where very rich and future leaders play at being kind of gods. You have special fraternities as you have eight Houses each owning a tomb (save one who lost its right to) that is akin to some temple I guess.
Every House specializes in a kind of magic from illusion to shapeshifting to ….
But of course, as in the past things went south and “ordinary” people got hurt you have a Ninth House, the Lethe who is kind of the headmaster, charged to make sure things are running smoothly, without too large incidents.
The trick is that the Lethe has authority upon the other houses but is also financed by the other houses.
Kind of like the State you give your taxes to.
“Lethe was responsible for keeping watch over the Houses of the Veil, but it also relied on them for funding. This was a re-up year and the societies had gone so long without an incident, there were rumblings that perhaps they shouldn’t di into their coffers to continue supporting Lethe at all.”
From that starting point you will have plenty of rituals in this book, many with gore and kind of horrific. I was really impressed by Leigh’s imagination creating this whole world of houses, akin to secret societies if you wish, imagining all these artifacts and ceremonies.
- The high and mighty theme
Second the main theme here is kind of “the rich and powerful” can do everything they like even if it turns wrong, they’ll only have a slap to the wrist while the commoners will die or get maimed or be abused or …
Lethe must ascertain that justice is served but as in the real world, not everyone is a noble knight! Special mention here for Darlington, a true gentleman who believed in Lethe’s values and wanted to serve justice and fairness. I won’t talk about him in this review or I’ll need too many space but I am TEAM DARLINGTON all the way!
- Galaxy (Alex) Stern and Darlington (xoxo) and all the side cast.
Third asset in this book: the characters! I love Holly Black for her morally grey characters well let’s say that Leigh Bardugo is a champion in that category too!
Our main female character, Alex Stern comes in all shades of grey. Because she’s had no luck in life and had to survive. When you learn to survive you quickly realize that good intentions and principles will only lead you so far when you are under extreme duress. Sometimes, you need to stop being the good guy and have to toughen up, just roughing people up a little if you want to get things done like solving a murder case!
Alex’s direct and unorthodox method where a huge contrast to the “hush hush” rules of the houses and the polite civility of Lethe house!
And that was gleeful to see “white trash” Alex trying to fit in the new mold because yes, she got a chance at a new life and wanted to walk the line until her true nature came back full force because when you are chased by ghosts, try to solve a murder case, lost your mentor to another dimension and witness girls being abused you resort to what you know works best: intimidation, roughness and barter in favors!
“You’re a flat beast. Got a little viper lurking in there, ready to strike. A rattler probably.”
The contrast between commoner Alex and her mentor, the polished handsome white knight Darlington was utterly delightful!
Alex has lived through trauma many times and they’ll be revealed throughout that story.
She is the least shiny and polished female lead that you could find as she was an addict, did everything that it usually entails to get her drug and dropped out of school long before finishing high school. She even robbed her beloved ones as she had to survive.
When she is given the opportunity to have a full ride at YALE she will seize it with both hands, frantically trying to swim and follow. She has no real manners.
But even if she is shady, she has her heart in the right place.
And she refuses to stay silent and abandon a case when a poor girl has been murdered if het guts tell her there is something more.
That’s what I admire about her: her determination. Her loyalty to her friends and fierce protectiveness were also something to praise!
And of course, I loved the big reveal about Alex but I won’t spoil your fun!
You have mystery, murder, magic, action, betrayal, horror, morally grey and complex characters with a dash of gentleman mentor on top. And let’s not forget the building of a crew throughout the story.
What are you waiting for?
Oh and a cliffy of course and I really need the next book now!!!!!
About the 2023 reread: special mention to Lauren Fortgang who did an amaing job narrating the story!
Thanks for reading!