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Ninth House by Leight Bardugo is a dark adult thriller that is not for the faint of heart. I loved this book. It had so many great twists, the non-linear story was done exceptionally well and the ending was the biggest surprise of all and extremely satisfying. It’s a college fantasy story, with elements of action, horror, and crime, and is around 476 pages long. Leigh Bardugo is most known for her YA fantasy novels, such as the Six of Crows duology, and The Shadow and Bone trilogy. While I haven’t read these previous books (yet), I’ve been told Ninth House is darker and for a maturer audience than her previous books.
Read on for the full review of Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, or skip right to the conclusion.
The book follows the journey of Galaxy “Alex” Stern, raised in Los Angelos by a hippie mom. Though she dropped out of school early and was sucked into the world of drug dealers and much worse, she still ends up at Yale. She survived an unsolved homicide, and at her hospital bed, she is given a second chance. Her job is to monitor the activities of Yale’s secret societies, together with Daniel Arlington – or Darlington, as he’s called. The societies practice all sorts of different magic, many alumni being the most powerful politicians or Hollywood stars. Their activities may be more sinister and extraordinary than expected, and Alex soon has to deal with more than she bargained for.
The book tackles a diversity of issues, such as victim-blaming, assault, drug use, and rape. If any of these things trigger you, I wouldn’t recommend reading it. It gets dark, and it gets real. None of the subjects are particularly fleshed out, but Leigh doesn’t shy away from them either.
“Peace was like any high. It couldn’t last. It was an illusion, something that could be interrupted in a moment and lost forever.“
We come to know Alex as a quiet girl with a troubled past. Little drips of information on Alex’s background are given throughout the book, and you can’t help but feel empathetic for her. Her backstory is dark and she has to hold on to many secrets, keeping up a facade while she’s at Yale. I loved her character and I loved seeing her evolve, gain more confidence, and show more of her true self.
The other characters in the book were also layered and enjoyable to read. Darlington is an interesting character, a true junkie of knowledge, desperate for there to be more to life than can be seen at first glance. We follow part of his journey as well, giving another perspective of Alex, which was interesting. His background is also not what you would expect for a Yale student.
I could not have a review of Ninth House without also mentioning Dawes. She’s another great character, who got in deeper than she wanted; all she wants is to do research and support Alex and Darlington when necessary. There’s also Turner, the good-guy detective who doesn’t truly believe in magic until he actually sees it; Mercy, Alex’s friend who knows nothing about the world Alex dabbles in; the Dean, who seems to care more about the continuation of their activities than if any of them get hurt; and many more.
“But the worst damage didn’t leave a mark.“
Any book review, so also with Ninth House, isn’t complete without decent world-building. I always enjoy it when the story is set in our contemporary world, and yet there is magic. I think people like the idea of having magic in the real world, just like Darlington. The magic portrayed in Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, however, is often dangerous and needs complicated rituals involving blood and gore. It was a good portrayal that magic isn’t just fun and fairies, but there is a dark side to it as well.
“This is a night of compacts, between the seers and the seen, a night when people enter false bargains willingly, hoping to be duped and to dupe in turn for the pleasure of feeling brave or sexy or beautiful or simply wanted – no matter how fleetingly.“
As far as the whole ‘Yale elite University vibe’, it sounded realistic to me. Here in the Netherlands, we don’t have the type of campuses as in the USA, so I’ve never had that experience, nor was in a society (let alone a secret one). However, the struggle of getting all your readings and assignments done in time, still have somewhat of a social life, and find time to sleep, is still a universal experience I think.
“Suffocating beneath a pile of books seems an appropriate way to go for a research assistant.“
The writing in Ninth House was easy to read, with some great prose in there, mostly because Darlington wanted to say something profane. There were also plenty of light bits in the story, and often funny banter between Alex and Darlington, or Alex and Turner.
The structure of the story is a bit different than most books because it wasn’t told linearly. I’ve read a few of those lately, and as I review Ninth House, I must say Leigh Bardugo does it exceptionally well. Every bit of information is given at the exact right moment for creating maximum impact on the reader. It might be confusing if you’re not used to it, but I promise if you stick through it, it will become easier. No piece of information seemed to be given without reason, though I did have the feeling sometimes pieces of information were repeated. However, that didn’t really matter to me.
“You know how people say two wrongs don’t make a right? They’re full of shit.“
The review in short: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo a thrilling read bound to keep you up at night. If you’re looking for a darker take on magic, want to explore the secret societies of Yale, while also follow the threads to solve a murder, definitely give this book a try!
Have you read the book? What are your thoughts on it? Did you enjoy it? Why did or didn’t you? Let me know in the comments!