Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Published by Flatiron Books on October 8, 2019
Series: Alex Stern, #1
Genre(s): fiction, fantasy
Format & Length: hardcover, 458
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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.
Leigh Bardugo’s first foray into adult fiction, Ninth House is a dark fantasy with secret societies and magic. The premise had me so intrigued, this was the book that made me decide to start a Book of the Month membership.
This story follows Galaxy “Alex” Stern, who has been offered a full ride at Yale University because she has a special skill: she can see ghosts. It unravels in a few different timelines to uncover the answers to various mysteries, from the death of a girl in New Haven to the secrets of Alex’s past and the disappearance of her mentor, Darlington. The strands are woven tightly and each reveal brings more questions.
The world of Ninth House is fascinating. Mostly realistic but with just a few magical twists, it is steeped in history and full of eerie atmosphere. It drops the reader in without preamble, letting bits and pieces emerge naturally as the story progresses. Because of this, the first third or so of the book feels slow as it takes time to acclimate. The middle portion does pick up and adds new levels of intrigue and depth. And the last third speeds up significantly, with plenty of action and wrapping up nicely while still leaving a clear opening for a sequel.
Ninth House isn’t what I’d call an easy book to read. It’s well written but densely packed, forcing the reader to fully focus. It also deals with dark themes and is full of graphic content. Several moments within these pages made me very uncomfortable, to the point where I considered not finishing it multiple times. This book certainly won’t be for everyone, and this is one of those cases where I’d recommend taking some time to research it a bit before deciding whether it might be for you.
“Did she seem depressed? She was distant. She didn’t make many friends. She was struggling in her classes. All true. But would it have mattered if she’d been someone else? If she’d been a social butterfly, they would have said she liked to drink away her pain. If she’d been a straight-A student, they would have said she’d been eaten alive by her perfectionism. There were always excuses for why girls died.”
In the end, I did like Ninth House. The story was intriguing and some of the topics, although dealt with in a dark manner, are important and well worth working through. I am curious to know what happens in the sequel but don’t know if I actually want to read it, especially if the dark and graphic content continues.