The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Officially laid off and in quarantine, I have been on a bit of a book budget. And strange a book went on sale on Amazon a while ago. I wasn’t sure about it. It was about a college, secret society, and magic. Living in a world where the Magicians and Harry Potter exist, I had a “been there, done that," feeling about it. But for a dollar, I thought to give it a try. And now here is my review of the Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo.
So what is it about? It’s about two things. First, it’s about Alex Stern. She is a girl with a tragic history. But while lying in the hospital from an overdose, an official from Yale visits her. He has learned that she can see ghosts. He will pay for her to be at Yale, if she will help keep the ghosts out of their magic rituals in the secret societies. Alex takes the second chance at life. But months into her stay, there is a murder on campus. In the corpse she sees a girl no one cares about or worth investigation. She sees herself in this girl and wants to find justice for her. Her investigation takes her down a rabbit hole into dark magic and corruption among the various secret societies.
The second story is Darlington. Darlington is a college student who shows Alex the ropes of the college and rules of the secret societies. He has an intriguing background and has a powerful friendship with Alex despite being the polar opposite of her. But he vanishes in the story, presumably lost to the other side and the college is scrambling to get him back.
Now the good and bad. Let’s start with the good. First off, Alex Stern is a fascinating strong character. She is an absolute train wreck with a heartbreakingly tragic past. She’s trying to look forward in life. She couldn’t care much about a degree but is glad to feel safe in a stable environment. She has trouble trusting people and after she’s been through, she tends to make the wrong choices because she believes people may double cross her. She like a wounded semi wild animal the world is trying to tame. She’s smarmy, an asshole, but somehow charismatic. Her developing friendships are fascinating. She is just such an interesting character to follow. The other characters are great as well, but Alex is the real star.
Beyond the character, the world was fascinating. This is a dark fantasy, with emphasis on dark. These societies dapple with dark magic with connection to the world of the dead. Hey disembowel corpses for future telling, organize elaborate orgies to create illusions, or grow a special kind of pot that allows you to control the minds of others. And though its not clear, it seems to be only for the personal gain of Yale itself and no one else. And the ghosts can be downright creepy. The story has this dark grim undertone even when things are fine. It carries the same vibe of Constantine/Hellblazer if you ever read or watched the movie. Nothing ever seems quite right all the time. Something spooky is always heavy in every word written down. Alex’s ability to see ghosts gives constant creepy visuals as well.
Now the bad. With all that said, you might wonder what’s bad about it? Well, I will say parts of the story don't live up their full potential. The murder mystery starts great, but in the second half it begins to hit familiar beats. Especially if you read supernatural detective stories often. If you read Laurell K Hamilton, Jim Butcher, or Devon Monk, you can predict how things will play out. And if you read a lot of supernatural young adult books, you may be able to guess how Alex will have to beat the bad guy. The familiarity did not bother me too much, but it was such a shame to see it shift to that after the story was so fresh and original up to that point. Also the Darlington story, as great as that was, it was never resolved. I was literally in the last ten pages of the book going, “What about Darlington?” And then in one of the final lines, Alex says she knows how to get him back. So instead of concluding a primary storyline in this book, it’s going to be concluded in the sequel. And I really hated that. If it was a cliffhanger from an event in the last few chapters, that would be fine. But the Darlington story started on page one, which means half of the book is sequel bait, which was really unfortunate.
Overall, this is a dark spooky little book with a fascinating lead. Though it’s not perfect, it is one of the more original, spooky, and entertaining dark fantasy made in recent history. I have no problem saying this is a must read.
Overall Rating: A Spooky Tale of Ghosts, Murders, and Secret Societies.
Have You Read This Book?
SamieFoster (author) on November 15, 2020:
@Rose McCoy Sure thing. I wouldn't mind taking a look.
Rose McCoy on November 14, 2020:
Oh my goodness! This feels like one of those “who wore it better” challenges! I reviewed “Ninth House” closer to when it came out, although your review is admittedly more interesting than mine. Maybe you can get some ideas from my version. :)
Noel Penaflor from California on November 14, 2020:
I liked this book a lot and am looking forward to reading more of the series. Excellent review.