NINTH HOUSE – LEIGH BARDUGO
485 pages – October 2019
Galaxy 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 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?
As a massive fan of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology, I was pretty excited to hear she was releasing an adult novel. Her wonderful writing combined with something darker, gritter and a little bit murderous? Yes.
Ninth House follows Alex Stern, Yale’s least likely new student, who is recruited to monitor the magical activities of the school’s secret societies. She also sees dead people, and quickly finds herself drawn into a mystery that winds between the dead and the living.
This one was a mixed bag for me.
As promising as it sounds, Ninth House had a rocky start. I did wonder if this would happen, considering that it takes place at Yale and I’ve never been overly intrigued by books with an academic lean, but it was also slow. Untangling what was happening took a while, as the timeline jumps about, and the buildings and societies took some getting my head around. I spent the first quarter of the book suspecting I’d be disappointed, but as the plot picked up and delved more into the fantastical areas of the world Bardugo has created, I became incredibly invested in unravelling the mystery at the heart of the book, and I started to love it.
Ninth House is atmospheric, well-written, and the world-building is brilliantly thought out. It’s twisty, a little creepy, and a lot feminist.
It’s also absolutely not YA.
This isn’t a happy book. Ninth House talks about trauma and abuse, and the people who live through it. It contains drug use, abusive relationships and sexual assault, and doesn’t hold back when it comes to the subject of privilege and power, and how much of it rests in the hands of rich, entitled boys who can buy their way out of trouble.
This isn’t my favourite book by Leigh Bardugo. The characters aren’t as relatable as the crew from Six of Crows, but they’re interesting in their own way. Alex is a complex, hard-to-love character, and she’s the kind of heroine I didn’t know I wanted. While the mystery kept me guessing, it didn’t have quite as satisfying of an ending as I’d hoped. But despite everything, I ended up really, really enjoying it, and can’t wait for the sequel.
“If you were going to hell together, murder seemed like a good place to start.”
You can also find this review on Goodreads.