Title: Ninth House
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Series: Alex Stern #1
Genre: Adult, Fantasy
Published: October 8th, 2019 (Flatiron Books)
Synopsis: 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.
Alex Stern has always been different. Not only can she see ghosts, something normally possible only by taking a special elixir, but she has also had some pretty horrific experiences with them in the past, which in turn, is the reason her life went downhill. When she ends up as the sole survivor of a multiple homicide, she draws the attention of the House of Lethe, which monitors the occult activities conducted by Yale’s secret societies. They are interested in her ability to see ghosts, or Grays as they are known, and offer her a chance to attend the elite university on a full ride if she will agree to join them. And that is how Alex winds up as a freshman at Yale, being introduced to a whole new world of magic under the guidance of her new mentor and member of Lethe, Daniel Arlington.
It has been said multiple times, but it can’t hurt to say it once more – this is not a YA novel, is accompanied by a whole lot of content and trigger warnings and can be quite disturbing at times. This is not a book you can speed read, and it takes some real effort to get through it. I’m not sure what I was even expecting from this book, but it was definitely not a murder mystery (albeit one with a heavy supernatural element). There are three timelines running in parallel, which makes a great buildup for the mystery and while I usually find a non-chronological narration irritating, it worked very well in this instance.
If this wasn’t a book by Leigh Bardugo, I might have DNF’d it for simply how confusing and slow paced it was after struggling through the first 150 pages or so. It was only after that point that things started to make sense and the story became much more interesting as it became clear just how many layers there are to this story. The world-building was wonderful, as was the eerie atmosphere maintained throughout – and downright scary at times too. A more detailed introduction to the Houses of the Veil through the story would have been useful though (and we haven’t even seen all the Houses yet!), and I find the magic system to be overall rather vague.
Darlington was a nice character, but we only ever get to see him during the Fall timeline and as a result, while I’m curious how his arc is going to work out in the sequel, I found it rather hard to connect to the character. Alex on the other hand…I wouldn’t say I liked her, but she makes for an incredibly strong central character. She is by no means a conventional heroine, but I loved how she found her footing again after all she has been through and really embraced her role at Lethe, especially once Darlington disappeared.
Overall, I have to say I rather preferred the writing style in Six of Crows to Ninth House, but this was an interesting read and most definitely my darkest read to date. Leigh Bardugo does an excellent job at building and maintaining the full pressure of the suspense throughout the book, and the world-building is detailed enough that as a reader I could almost imagine Yale with its secret societies and a magical world right alongside the real one. Highly recommended!
What did you think of this book? Let me know in the comments below!