Gener: Adult Fantasy
Published: October 8, 2019
My Rating: 4.5/5
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 homicides. 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.
Admittedly, this was my first foray into Bardugo’s works, and – as I’ve since learned – she’s rather celebrated and idolized YA author. With that in mind, I understand some reviewers’ shock and distress over the ‘dark’ and ‘gore’ of Ninth House. Adult literature is a far cry from YA, so if you’re all excited to see Bardugo’s name on this one, maybe proceed with caution. Ninth House starts unapologetically with a scene of chaos and blood and I admire this YA author’s in-your-face approach to warn her devoted young readers of what’s to come and this new direction of hers.
Ninth House takes you somewhere unexpected. Beneath the gothic-revival towers, brownstone clad libraries and manicured lawns of Yale; insidious meetings of black-robed clad elites are held. Bardugo takes the reader down into the shadows and amongst the societies that are manipulating the world; foretelling stock market crashes, creating some of the most creative and influential minds of history, disrupting physics and the natural laws and doing it all in the midst of a bunch of college kids. And like any group of invincible-minded youth, there’s scandal, drugs, lies, unnecessarily on-point frat boy revulsion and, of course, murder. What college experience is complete without, amIright?
We follow the story of Alex Stern, a girl with more than a bit of a past, who is inducted into this world beneath Yale’s prestigious gleam because of a ‘talent’ she has for seeing what others deem isn’t there. Riddled with unlikeable traits and a questionable moral compass, Alex is forced to transition from ignorant rookie to full-fledged gatekeeper against the magic of this dark world and the unsuspecting students that walk above it. The narrative unravels between seasons to connect the present with the ramifications of the past drawing on the development and the re-emergence of old, less subtle habits Alex has as she navigates this new world and a murder case that runs deeper than anyone anticipates.
Warning: Toeing the waters of violence and vulgarity, Ninth House deals with some adult themes, such as PTSD and abuse and may be triggers for some, so this book isn’t for everyone.
I found Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo to be a somber and thrilling read – a slow burn that leaves you feeling the heat long after you’ve closed the pages. It’s a story brimming with ancient mysteries, ghosts, magic, powerful relics and the promise of danger that takes its time weaving a plot that is sure to spin you around on more than one occasion. Although my impressions of our main heroine, Alex Stern were lackluster, to say the least, I did enjoy Bardugo’s ability to paint diverse and formidable characters that are able to threaten a reader’s expectation of what a protagonist is. Everything felt very intentional and the writing perfectly emphasized and complemented the dark, atmospheric vibe of the plot.
All in all, I liked this book but found that I wasn’t invested in the characters. That said, I definitely acknowledge the potential. There was a lot of build-up here. Lots of explanations and world-building, and going in not having it in my mind that I was reading the first of a potential series definitely had me theorizing about where this story could go next. The ending screams “more to come” and I look forward to watching this story progress somewhere more plot-driven now that all that groundwork has been laid. It’s clear that Bardugo still has many layers to this world to unwrap and mysteries she’s carefully bookmarked for later.