Title: Ninth House
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Series: Alex Stern #1
Length: 459 pages
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Release Date: October 8, 2019
Recommended for Fans of: paranormal fantasy, ghost stories
Triggers: rape/sexual assault, drug use, possession
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 “Adult Fantasy.” It is really more of a paranormal book with a dark mystery. The main characters are college students, but the themes and gritty descriptions are definitely more mature than her YA writing.
This book had a very slow build. Throughout the first half of the book, chapters jump around in time and alternate POV between Alex and Darlington. The information about the different secret societies, their histories, and their rituals was also overwhelming; I thought it was fascinating, but even by the end of the book I struggled to tell them apart. This all made the beginning of the book difficult to follow.
I preferred Darlington as a narrator because I thought he provided better insights. It took me awhile to figure out Alex, but once I understood the horrors she overcame growing up in Los Angeles, I admired her strength, her tenacity, and her idgaf attitude. Her outsider status made her a threat to the careful balance between the societies and Lethe.
I didn’t think the story really took off or made sense until Chapter 9 (about 150 pages in). At that point, I was HOOKED. I was so invested in the mysteries surrounding Darlington’s disappearance, the local murder, and the societies’ potential involvement. I did not see the major twists coming and was shocked when the truth was finally revealed. The climax of the story was a whirlwind that sets the stage for book 2.
I think it is worth sticking with this book to the end, but I know many readers will be turned off by the slow and confusing build.