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A Book Review of “Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo

Author:

Rose is an enthusiastic writer and reader who publishes articles every Thursday. She enjoys all book genres, especially drama and fantasy.

What’s the Big Deal?

YA fantasy author Leigh Bardugo is arguably an irreplaceable staple of the fantasy community. She began her illustrious career with the critically-acclaimed Shadow and Bone series, of which the first book was published in 2012, and after that the popular duology Six of Crows. She’s been praised by authors such as Stephen King, Lev Grossman and Kelly Link, and is enjoyed by readers of all ages. Last year, she released the long-awaited Ninth House—which has a sequel currently in the works—and I’d argue it’s her best novel yet.

“Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo

“Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo

Plot Summary

Galaxy “Alex” Stern can see ghosts. And not just the traumatic ghosts of her past—real, creepy specters called Grays. See, Alex is a part of something a little bit sinister: Yale’s secret societies. These ancient societies really exist—but in Ninth House, they exist as magical, almost paranormal places that work in secret, receiving money from famous alumni who are important enough to pull some strings and keep things hush-hush, thus keeping the societies and their “tombs” running for centuries.

Alex gets thrown into this when she’s lost everything and has no other options to agree to. One of the book’s main characters, Daniel Arlington, comes to her as she’s vegetating in a hospital bed with illegal drugs emptying from her veins, and tells her that Yale is her one chance to start over. He knows that she can see ghosts, an extremely rare occurrence even in the magical world of Yale; they need her, more than Darlington would like. Alex and Darlington have no other choices—they need each other. Alex realizes this and agrees.

As soon as Alex arrives at Yale, nervous but fierce, her training begins. She learns beneath Darlington’s wing, struggling to balance her past, her academic life, and her life as Dante (her formal role in the societies). Things get even murkier when a murder clouds things up; a murder that the police claim doesn’t have anything to do with the societies, but Alex knows better.

In investigating this crime, Alex will use magic in ways she shouldn’t, meet and negotiate with multiple Grays, and literally travel to the underworld and back. By the end of the book, Alex is beaten, bruised, and in a hospital bed again, but she sure as hell isn’t broken. That’s the thing about survivors—they just won’t die.

Quick Facts

  • Author: Leigh Bardugo
  • Pages: 458
  • Genre: Dark fantasy, horror fiction
  • Ratings: 4.1/5 Goodreads, 4/5 Barnes and Noble
  • Release date: October 8, 2019
  • Publisher: Macmillan Publishers

To Read or Not to Read?

I recommend this book if:

  • You’re an avid fantasy reader with a taste for the cynical
  • You’ve enjoyed books by Bardugo or Stephen King, or thrillers like The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham or A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell
  • You don’t have a weak stomach or sensitive mind (the book can be gruesome and in most cases wouldn’t be considered a YA novel; trigger warnings for sexual assault, drug abuse, and violence)
  • You’re interested in Yale’s secret societies
  • You’ve lived through a traumatic or difficult time in your past

This was why he had done it, not because of guilt or pride but because this was the moment he'd been waiting for: the chance to show someone else wonder, to watch them realize that they had not been lied to, that the world they'd been promised as children was not something that had to be abandoned... that everything was full of mystery.

— Leigh Bardugo, “Ninth House”

Reviews

“A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience.... With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Already a hugely successful YA novelist, Leigh Bardugo is delivering fantasy to a new demographic. Her adult debut, Ninth House, is wry, uncanny, original and, above all, an engrossing, unnerving thriller.” —The Washington Post

Leigh Bardugo, the book’s author

Leigh Bardugo, the book’s author

The Takeaway

Though the occasionally uncomfortable Ninth House might be a little much for your average reader, it’s a breath of fresh air for those looking to do away with the classic “loveable-hero-defeats-dastardly-villain” scheme, especially because of Alex. She’s wily and guarded, sarcastic and funny, and she’s got more than a few skeletons in the closet.

Because of Bardugo’s realistic characters, tormenting back-and-forth chronology, and scenes that make your skin crawl as you rapturously flip the pages, Ninth House will keep you busy well into the night with a flashlight and a pocket knife by the bed—just in case.

If you’re interested, you can buy the book here.

Comments

Noel Penaflor from California on May 01, 2020:

i just started this book. Loving it so far.