***This post contains affiliate links. I get a small commission when you use my link to buy from Book Depository or IndieBound (at no extra cost to you). CODE: renstrange***
“Mors irrumat omnia. Death fucks us all.”
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.
So, I know like a week ago I said I DNF’d this book. But then I kept seeing really amazing graphics for it on Tumblr and decided to un-DNF it. This was a book I anticipated rating 5 stars, a book that let me down the first 20%. Was it worth giving a second chance?
Allow me to give you a word of warning: do not read this book if you’re in a reading slump. Granted, that’s good advice for any book but I feel it’s especially apt here. If you’re a fan of Leigh Bardugo, this book will take a little getting used to. It’s not like her other novels. This is a mystery/thriller with fantastical elements, not a fantasy with a mystery. If you’re in a slump, this will throw you off big time.
So read it when you’re not in a slump because then you’ll read 70% of it in one day. You won’t be able to put it down. Was it worth giving a second chance? Hell yeah.
Ninth House isn’t anything like I thought it would be, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love these characters, this world, this plot. Everything about this novel is fantastic. It deserves every bit of hype it’s gotten.
Alex Stern is a wonderful protagonist. She’s so deeply flawed, changed by years of trauma. She’s a wild card, but all in the name of doing the right thing. She’s working toward redemption, while also embracing her darker side. I’m so proud of how far she’s come and can’t wait to see where Bardugo takes her character next.
Darlington is the Gansey of this series, except without the wealth. He’s just a huge nerd who loves Lethe and New Haven. Though he can be a touch judgmental, he’s able to acknowledge when he’s misjudged someone (case in point: Alex).
Dawes is also a huge nerd, but in a different way. She loves knowledge for knowledge’s sake, as opposed to knowledge of something she cares about. She loves being able to take care of her friends and come to their defense.
Detective Turner is more idealistic than one might expect, a stickler for rules so that justice can be served. He reluctantly serves as the Centurion for Lethe House, but he does his job well. He really grew on me over the course of the book.
The plot starts out slow, but becomes exciting around the 20% mark. Bardugo takes time to establish the rules of this world before jumping headfirst into the excitement. That’s not to say she info-dumps because she doesn’t. Bardugo knows how to balance exposition with plot.
The story follows two points of view during different time periods: Alex in the present and Darlington a few months back. This allows Bardugo to weave the exposition and the plot together in a natural way, while also keeping both interesting.
And the plot twists! When I say I trusted no one and still didn’t see a single twist coming, I mean it. There’s no way to predict who the killer is, even as you watch several mysteries weave together. There’s so much going on, and yet it’s never confusing. Probably because it’s all connected.
The world-building is Bardugo’s biggest departure from her previous works. In the past, she’s had to create intricate magic systems and other worlds. Now Bardugo is working in our world with a supernatural twist. She only needs to determine how the magic works here and how it interacts with the mundane world.
Thematically, this is a story of redemption and handling trauma. It’s also a sad lesson in what the rich, white, and powerful can get away with. Plus, there’s a found family vs. blood family element in the form of Lethe House.
On top of all that, Ninth House is incredibly diverse. Alex is Mexican and Jewish. She also deals with mental health issues due to her trauma. Dawes is implied to be autistic, but it’s never explicitly stated. Turner is a black man. The story itself is an attempt at giving a voice to disenfranchised and marginalized women.
You may have heard about the controversy from when people were getting Ninth House ARCs. Yes, there is both implied and on-page rape in this book. Yes, one incident happens when a character is twelve. But it’s not very graphic and is a part of the character’s story. It’s handled with care, in my opinion. I also read somewhere that Bardugo wrote about the topic as a coping mechanism regarding her own sexual assault. Basically, it’s not there for shock factor but it is there.
I am so, so, so, so glad I let Tumblr appeal to my vanity by making graphics that are exactly my aesthetic. Otherwise, I may never have picked this book back up. A couple weeks ago, I was perfectly okay with never knowing what becomes of these characters. Had I stuck to my guns, I would’ve missed out on an amazing story.
Ninth House is a marvelous adult debut. Leigh Bardugo has truly outdone herself and in a very new way. This isn’t Six of Crows or Shadow and Bone. Instead, it’s a fast-paced thriller with just enough fantasy to appeal to my sensibilities (there’s a magical library and a pseudo-living house, guys). Everything about this book is just what I needed it to be. Death may fuck us all, but this book sure won’t.
Self-harm, drug use/abuse, sexual assault, child sexual assault, statutory rape, body horror/violence, drowning, & domestic abuse
Have you read Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo? Share your thoughts in the comments!