Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Publication Date: October 1st 2019
Series: Ninth House series #1
Blurb: 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.
Ninth House is Bardugo’s adult debut and it is phenomenal. It’s dark and violent and utterly enthralling. She has crafted a world that leaves you both desperate to be a part of it and wanting to run far, far away from it.
“All you children playing with fire, looking surprised when the house burns down”
In New Haven, eight secret Houses operate from the shadows within Yale. They shape the future with magic both intoxicating and dangerous. Lethe House is charged with ensuring the Houses are kept in line, that they follow the rules and their rituals are conducted properly.
Alex Stern is a survivor. She’s lived through things no child should have to experience. Her talent for seeing Grays lands her on the Lethe House watch list and when Alex is found in the centre of a gruesome and violent multiple homicide Lethe House steps in and offers her a place at Yale and in the House. Darlington is the gentleman of Lethe House. He was ready to select his Dante, the one that would eventually replace him as Virgil. Someone he would show the wonders and mysteries of Lethe House to. Instead he got Alex Stern.
Alex was such a fantastic protagonist to follow. She’s unapologetic and I love her strength and her hunger. Over the course of the book you see the real Alex, the one she tucked away to fit in at Yale, start to uncoil and it’s glorious.
I’ll admit, in the first chapter or so I was hit with the worry that maybe I had over-hyped this and it was going to bite me on the ass. Partly because I hadn’t realised that it would be dual POV with one in the current year and the other set a number of months beforehand but once I settled in and got used to the switching timeline, any doubt I had was promptly put to rest.
Something that I love about the magic and those who use it in Ninth House, is how utterly believable it all is. These are college students playing with power that should be beyond them, some of them are foolish with it, some use it for their own gain, others abuse it for fun. It’s almost no stretch of the imagination to believe this could be happening in some shadowy corner of the world.
There are some fantastic side characters in Ninth House. Dawes, Oculus to Lethe House and who I wrote off a little at first but ended up loving. Detective Turner, Centurion and done with the antics of the eight houses. Lauren and Mercy, who I hope we’ll see more of in book two.
Ninth House kept you guessing until the very last page. Nothing is what it seems and when you think you had finally managed to work it out Bardugo pulls the rug out from under your feet. The lead up to the end was intense and I both didn’t want to finish it and wanted desperately to know how it would end. I want to sink my teeth into book two already.
Ninth House is about privilege, money and power and the things people do to hang on to them. It’s about trauma and survival and women standing up for other women in a world where justice all to often fails them. It’s everything I wanted it to be and more.
“Mors irrumat omnia. Death fucks us all.”
It’s most definitely a dark book, so do not go into this expecting Grishaverse but aged up a bit. It’s nothing like her previous books, it’s also her best in my opinion. There’s a lot potentially triggering content depending on your specific triggers. Whilst it is graphic I do think it’s handled well, none of it feels gratuitous to me. Given my own experiences as a child, I related to Alex and her anger a lot and whilst difficult to read it was also nice that it didn’t shy away from the realities of it. Not everyone experiences or reacts to triggers in the same way though so don’t take my word, look after yourself first.
Trigger Warnings: graphic violence, mentions of drug addiction, drug use, statutory rape, rape aftermath, rape of a minor, forced eating of human shit under the influence of a magical drug (the rapist is the one being forced to).