2020: #22 – Ninth House (Leigh Bardugo)

2020: #22 – Ninth House (Leigh Bardugo)Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Series: Alex Stern #01
Published by Flatiron Books on October 8, 2019
Genres: contemporary fantasy
Pages: 459
Also by this author: Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising, Six of Crows

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 Leigh Bardugo’s first foray into the non-YA arena, and I think she does well. This is a dark, twisty, contemporary fantasy story set at Yale.

At this Yale, the secret societies all practice magic, and one society, the House of Lethe, is there to watch over them and keep them in line. Though “house” and “society” may be a little generous, as the House of Lethe seems to consist only of 3 members — Virgil, the lead member; Dante, basically Virgil’s apprentice until Virgil graduates; and Oculus, who maintains the residences and acts as research assistant. Peripherally, there is also Centurion, who is a liaison with the police force, and the Dean who watches over them all.

Galaxy (Alex) Stern has had a very hard life, until she is unexpectedly recruited from her hospital bed to come to Yale and be Lethe’s Dante. Why Alex? She can see ghosts (Grays), which is very helpful in a world where ghosts may be trying to interfere with the magic being done by the secret societies. Alex’s Virgil is Darlington (Daniel Arlington), a lonely young man who has devoted his life to becoming Virgil and figuring out how to see the ghosts himself.

The story starts out with Darlington and Alex working their first society ritual together, where the Greys get a little bit rowdy. Later that night, Alex is asked to check out the scene where a local girl has been murdered — just in case it has to do with one of the societies. What we soon find out as the story weaves back and forth in time is that Darlington is gone…. somewhere…. and there is much more to the murder of this girl than first appears.

I thought this book was good, but it’s not a quick read. The plot gets quite twisty and intricate, and sometimes you have to work a little to tell the differences between the houses. While there are some threads that are left untied, you get answers to some important questions. Overall I enjoyed it, and I will likely be reading the next one when it’s released.

I read this for the PopSugar Reading Challenge this year — this book fulfilled the “book featuring one of the seven deadly sins” prompt.

Other reviews:

  • “Another main issue I had with it was it’s a massive mess of genres and demographics. It’s pretty much an urban fantasy, half murder mystery and half fantasy. But there’s also a lot of coming of age and just generic fiction in it. It’s also supposed to be adult, but it felt like new adult to me. The characters are young, like I was reading a YA, but of course the content and language (lots and lots of swearing) makes me think adult. It just felt like a weird mix to me.” – Madame Writer
  • “Overall this was truly a five-star read for me. I certainly understand this book will not be for everyone: it’s very dark and has a lot of heavy topics and themes. However, I just loved the setting, the world-building and the characters. I can’t wait for what’s next and hope Bardugo continues to bounce back and forth between young adult and adult novels.” – Star-Crossed Book Blog
  • “Overall, it was definitely an interesting read. I’ve never read anything like it, and it was a very refreshing and unique take on the genre. I’m not completely hooked, but I have a feeling that the next few books will really get to me that ending was a tad bit brutal, Leigh! I just need a little more convincing, that’s all.” — Cups & Thoughts

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